The Virsky Ukrainian National Dance Company paraded into town Saturday afternoon, overtaking the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the trademark precision of an army regiment. It took just three dances for the audience to erupt in rhythmic clapping; by the end they called back the company -- 60 dancers and 15 musicians -- for a double encore.
The ensemble dates to 1937, when ballet dancer Pavlo Virsky shaped a group of folk dancers into a crackerjack ensemble. Its Russo-Soviet roots show in its grandiosity, but the Ukrainians now proudly represent their own state, independent just since 1991. The ballet legacy remains evident in the exacting dancing corps, with its fine, small-boned women and its spirited men, fearless jumpers all. Today Myroslav Vantukh directs the Virsky, and while he's an expert of Ukrainian folk culture, he's also no slouch as a crowd pleaser. His formula for revving up the house begins with the first bombastic chords of the onstage orchestra, and rides through to the full-throttled swirl of vibrantly clad dancers, intertwining in lines, spinning in circles, leaping and bounding nonstop across the stage.
From the lavishly costumed opening, "Ukraino, My Ukraino!," when quick-footed women skimmed the stage, to the stirring finale, "Hopak," with its breathtaking solos for the men, who spin on a dime, jump into straddle splits and barrel-leap parallel to the floor, the program swelled in momentum.
In between, the men attacked a traditional Cossack warrior dance with 10-foot lances and glinting sabers, and, in a lovely homage to needleworkers, "Vyshyvalnytsi," or "Embroideresses," the women wove long skeins of colored rope. Throughout, the Virsky punctuated their physical feats with shouts of "Hey!" Each time, the audience thrilled at the results.
-- Lisa Traiger