The National Museum presented ’Khoroshki’, a colourful traditional dance extravaganza from Belarus on Wednesday evening to invitees and those lucky enough to bag tickets, at the Royal Opera House of Musical Arts. The show kicked off with an introduction in Russian from Yuri Bondar, Minister of Culture from the Republic of Belarus with Arabic translation, welcoming the assembled to a wonderful cultural programme. However, they missed the all-essential housekeeping reminder to put phones away.
Seven musicians and two lady singers in national dress filed on stage as projections of flying storks, an old church and lush river plain treated the audience to a tour of the Belarusian landscape. Two fiddles and a flute accompanied the singers in the wordless song, ‘Life is a journey’, in a vocalise arrangement by Melnikov. MC for the night, Dennis Dudinsky gave a warm welcome to the cold Belarus ‘Winter’. He also provided a quick crash course in Belarusian – ‘dzakuj’, which means ‘thank you’! The first dance was performed to button accordion in perfect synchronisation by seven couples, even in breath-taking slow motion. The pulse picked up in exuberant revelry to a bass guitar drone as cloaks were flung here and there in a fast, dazzling climax.
‘Rage out, Strong Winds!’ was an Eastern European solo folksong to more traditional instruments such as the zither with wind effects as the dancers twirled and leaped in splendid colourful costumes. Ten silver-white ladies performed a stunning pageant, turning slowly and twirling like snowflakes in ‘Blizzard’.
Winter melted into spring in ‘Kamarynskaya Peasant Dance’. “From springtime to late autumn a Belarusian peasant spends time on his strip of land growing grain”. The yawning male dancers, awoken from their late night revelry, suddenly burst into a lively athletic harvest dance with summersaults, high leaps, jumps and handstands (soloist, Andrei Makaruk).
‘Peahen walks’ was sung in two-part harmony with shrill ocarina and lyre, and danced by four ladies with impeccable timing. The folktale personified the beauty and grace of a Slavic woman. It was followed by a dramatic display of physical coordination. Soloist Nikolai Grinevich led five ladies in traditionally coloured striped skirts in, ‘The Peacock’, to romantic melodies from flute and violin with clever, tightly controlled choreography. The windmill landscape around Tolkachiki provided a more western folk language, with fiddle and button accordion drones like hurdy-gurdies, as three couples in red and white spun and twirled energetically in, ‘Peasant Dance’, imitating the manual grinding of grain.
‘Oriental Fantasy’ used indigenous instruments such as lyre, whistle and zhaleika (a piercing folk clarinet) on an eastern scale like a Turkish Tango. It segued into ‘Falcon Hunting’ against a projection of trees with evocative, haunting horn and flute melodies over a compelling drum rhythm. It got faster and faster as the drum kit joined in with foxy time signatures, iconic of Eastern Europe. After the hunt the dignified evening in the castle firelight began. In accordance with ancient tradition the young noblemen saw their veiled brides, betrothed in childhood, for the first time. Featuring the zhaleika, there was a renaissance quality to the Bourrée music and stately quadrille of the eight pairs. Soloist Ronodis Arteaga-Rudoy performed the role of King with courtly poise.
The title, ‘Belarusian Tunes’ belied the extraordinary skill of the solo accordionist as his two hands moved at lightening speed; the solo fiddle joined, then zither, flute and drum kit in music so fast it seemed timeless, a Slavic Bluegrass. ‘Saturday’ featured three dancing accordionists with partners against a lovely landscape and creek projection. The company tap-danced to the Polka and the whole cast shone as soloists spun and twirled in feats of virtuosic gymnastics in a brilliant Finale.
During the curtain call Artistic Director, Chief Choreographer and founder of Khoroshki in 1974, the diminutive Valentina Gaevaya was facilitated with awards of ‘People’s Artist of Belarus’ and ‘Laureate of the State Prize of the Republic of Belarus’. Unfortunately good Opera House protocol and etiquette flew out the window; the show began up to thirty minutes late, audience members were talking at the back and filming on phones in front. Professional guests performers to the Sultanate surely deserve respect for their art, even if it is free.
Photos: Khalid al Busaidi