HUNGARIAN TROUPE AT HAM HALL
By: Hal de Becker
“Gypsy Romance” was the title of a program of music, song and dance presented by the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble at Ham Hall. It wasn’t an altogether apt title.
While there were fiery and romantic Gypsy themes in the music, those elements were missing from most of the dancing. Granted, there is a difference between folkloric and commercial but this program needed more of the latter to be theatrically entertaining for two hours.
The first half of the program was interesting and fairly enjoyable but then, with the repetition of similar steps and movements, the unrelieved level of forceful singing and dancing and a lack of nuanced development, the program’s appeal rapidly diminished.
The ensemble dances, performed by 30 attractive ladies and gentlemen, all of whom also sang, were intricate and eye pleasing but too long and inevitably tedious.
The choreography drew mainly from a limited assortment of steps which, although well executed, became predictable as did the hand clapping and boot slapping.
However, there were welcome exceptions, including one of the few tender, softly lit setting in which a young couple enjoyed some romantic moments. An especially charming scene had 16 ladies gossiping, a cappella, in whispered speech and song about family, boys and other village secrets.
There were some impressive male solos, including an astounding high-speed-body-slapping-routine and another with an ax. Also outstanding was a vigorous, rhythmic dance for a trio of men.
In the finale, two flirtatious ladies moved with sultry grace through the on stage groups of men and finally projected the typical-- albeit commercial -- notion of gypsy allure.
The music was provided by six accomplished players performing on violins, bass, drum, clarinet, two guitar-like instruments and cimbalom. The latter, like a xylophone, was played with hammers as well as plucked with fingers and had an engaging bell-like tone.
The company was formed in 1949 and became renowned for elaborate theatrical stagings of folk material. But beginning in 1980, under new artistic direction, its focus shifted to traditional, authentic folk presentations, presumably like the one we attended.