For would-be world travelers on a budget, this year's best foreign bargain may be on domestic soil. Six dollars and the gas it takes to drive to Springville will allow any Utahn to sample the culture and history of 16 countries.
The Third Annual World Folkfest has brought 500 dancers, vocalists and musicians to Springville. Dressed in colorful native costumes, they have leapt, slithered, bounded and strutted their way into spectators' affections. And dancers have warmed to Utahns, too."We feel Utahns are very friendly," said Kang Shizhao, spokesman for the Beijing Folk Troupe, through interpreter Wang Shilin. "Our host families are so kind, many of us feel as if we are at home.
"And we are amazed by what America has been able to do with itself in just 200 years."
Shizhao's troupe and groups from Poland, Hungary, Turkey, the Soviet Union and Salt Lake City performed for an audience of 2,000 Wednesday night at the Marriott Center in Provo. Organizers had hoped to sell about 6,000 seats.
"We didn't have as much money for advertising this year, so the Salt Lake and Provo crowds were smaller, but the Springville audiences have been larger than last year," said George Frandsen, festival general director.
Frandsen's interest in folk dance began when he traveled the world with a Brigham Young University dance group, and later with a group he founded. He met talented foreign troupes, and wished there were a U.S. festival to bring them together. A musician with the group who was from Springville wondered if "Art City" might be interested in sponsoring a festival. It was.
Springville supported the festival with money and city services for the first two years, but stopped the cash funding this year.
Frandsen said the main goal of the Folkfest is to bring people from different cultures together to promote understanding and world peace. According to Shizhao, the plan is working.
"This Folkfest is very good for strengthening the friendship between people of different countries," he said. "We like America. We feel harmony in the lifestyle. The people are kind, honest and peaceful.
"I have traveled to some big cities in the East, but Springville helps me understand the real America."
Shizhao's only complaint was American food.
"After awhile, you get tired of hamburgers. I would like to find some hot food."
Another visitor, who asked not to be identified, said fast food seemed like a mixed blessing.
"We would love to have it in my country because it is so convenient, but sometimes I think it all tastes the same. We would miss the variety of flavors if we gave up our foods."
For Jozsef Kozma, leader of Kek Duna (Blue Danube) of Hungary, the strangest thing about Utah is the distances.
"If people say something is close, it is not close at all. Close is 100 meters. Five or 10 miles by car is not close."
He said Hungary is a small country, shaped by 1,000 years of tradition. "America is large, but has more phones and super highways. We have many different dances that developed in small, closed areas. Our habits and feeling have developed according to a small country."
Kozma said his dancers were enjoying America's higher standard of living, but were lonely for friends and loved ones.
The leader of the Biawena, the Polish troupe, was also surprised by Utah's size.
"It is vast," said Janusz Izbicki, through interpreter Ryszard Gatazke. "The sun is beautiful, but it is too hot."
Despite the heat, Isbicki said he could not get used to the ice Americans use in drinks.
"The amount of ice is striking. In Poland, we use ice sometimes in fruit juice or tea, but never in plain water or other drinks.
"And the amount of greenery, in spite of the harsh conditions, is surprising. They told us Utah was a desert. The number of sprinklers is amazing."
He said the trip was expensive, but seeing new people and things was an enriching experience.
Frandsen said most troupe members spend about $1,000 to get to Springville. Living with host families cuts expenses once they arrive. Local costs for the festival are between $150,000 and $200,000, he said.
Native food, crafts and music tapes will be available before the remaining performances, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Springville High School. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and $3 for children. Call 489-3657 for more information.