It wasn't surprising that the men of the Don Cossacks of Rostov could jump twice their height and spin on their heads. Exuberant, athletic dancing is as much a part of our image of Cossacks as is their military costume: bloused trousers tucked in boots, a long, belted tunic and either a cap or a tall, furry hat.
What made this company stand out was the elegance of that dancing and the subtle sophistication of the show. The company, directed by Anatoly Kvasov and presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Sunday, combined song, dance and rambunctiously colorful costumes in a tautly directed performance that never disappointed.
The Don Cossacks combine popular and traditional songs and dances to portray a culture centered on soldiering. One number, "The Cossacks Were Guaranteed in Billets," might be an ancient example of spin: In this version, the villagers choose which soldier each has the privilege of housing and feeding. The warrior dances--think "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" times three, with swords--are wild, short, intense and stunning, each man having a virtuosic "trick" no one can better. These dances are used sparingly, like pungent spices.
The heart of the program is the songs of sadness and parting, sung with the clear, sweet tones that characterize Russian choral, as well as folk, music; deftly performed comic sketches of daily village life; and songs and dance games celebrating love and nature.
All these soldiers have to have someone worthwhile to come home to, and the Don Cossacks' young women are saucy as well as charming, and audacious flirts. They toss their kerchiefed heads and dance with small, quick footwork and some impressive turns of their own.