Young at heart, attuned to the pulse of life, fascinated with other lands and peoples, and eager to express all that physically - that's the makeup of the dedicated folk dancer.
These folks seem to have more fun than anyone, and they're at it again - on Saturday night, in Kingsbury Hall, at 8 p.m.There you will see the Zivio Ethnic Arts Ensemble, made up of some 50 instrumentalists, singers and dancers, celebrating the folkdance traditions of Balkan and Middle Eastern countries, and the United States. The ten singers who make up Pjevaci will perform exotic music of Bulgaria and Russia, and sing along with some of the dancing. Instruments to be heard are the tambouritza, akin to the mandolin; the bagpipes, made of goatskin, called duda in Hungarian and gajda in Croatian; and the lyrica, a three-stringed fiddle.
Zivio (meaning "to life!") used to be Folkdance Underground, said Craig Kurumada, general director. "We'll still be known by our original name in Hungary, where we will dance at the International Folk Festival in Szeged this summer,' he said. "But we felt that the name suggested something political, or secret, so we changed a couple of years ago."
The group travels abroad biennially, and were surprised but delighted when they took first place in the Balkan Festival in Ohrid, Yugoslavia in 1987, among 20 to 25 groups from 15 countries.
Their Saturday program will include music and dances of Yugoslavia and songs from Croatia, and a Croatian Lakocsa Dance Suite, featuring a men's boot-slapping dance; songs from eastern Europe, and a Hungarian suite. Songs from Eastern Europe by Pjevaci will be followed by a women's dance from Afghanistan, choreographed by Katherine St. John.
The Sangita World Music Group will perform music of India, with Lloyd Miller and St. John, of the Eastern Arts Society. A western swing suite choreographed by Craig R. Miller has a Utah emphasis, including the popular song, "Springtime in the Rockies." Dances of Appalachia by Barry Goldman and Michael Mulholland will have music arranged and performed by the Buckle Busters.
A program highlight will be a Romany Suite featuring Transylvania Gypsy dance, by guest choreographers Steve and Susan Kotansky of New York City. Kurumada noted that Gypsy dance is again in vogue, and the Gypsy people (who prefer to be called Romany) are better respected than ever before. "They are thought of as Hungarian, but they do their own thing," he said. "They only recently began to use guitars. You might find them doing `rolling' singing, which is like scat. Their dance is vocally based.
"Folkdance interest is moving eastward," he continued. "Our program ranges as far as Afghanistan and India, and we don't actually do much western European dance. Our chief incentive to do American dance is that we must do it abroad. But we will do anything we are asked, in our appearances on the Utah Arts Council performance tour, or other programs - Irish, Scandanavian, English, German, you name it."
Artistic director Barry Goldman supervises the dancing and does some choreography. Courtney Ajioka directs the singers, but Kurumada stressed that the company is very democratic and cooperative. "We do this in our spare time, no pay, and we're all very much in love with this work. The dancers rehearse once a week, so do the singers, but we double up when we are going to perform.
"I have pondered what the common thread is that unites us, and there really is none, except a love of folkdance that sometimes amounts to an obsession," he said. "We are so diverse - two linguists, a doctor, two geologists, a genetic counselor, two pharmacists, several people in technical fields, a biologist, and even a folklorist. Our people tend to be well educated. We have five teachers, people in business and the arts, a graphics expert."
Kurumada noted that their dances are highly authentic. "We get them from natives of the various countries, or learn them in folk workshops, such as an upcoming one in Mendicino, Calif., where we will send eight to 10 dancers," he said. "The Mendicino workshop is of competition quality, with teachers either from the country of their dance, or highly trained."
Kurumada acknowledged a certain contraction in the whole concept of performing "folkdance" onstage.
"When you take folkdance from the village and stage it, you have already adulterated it, according to the purist," he said. "But in the village, people are inclined to do the same step over and over, for half an hour at a stretch. That's fun to do, but an audience would leave.
"Folkdancing has undergone `festivalization' everywhere, starting with the big national folk troupes like Masowse or Moiseyev. We try to stay closer to folklore with our dances, but we have gone a little into folk theater."
Kurumada, who sings, plays the gaida (bagpipe) and dances with the group, was born and raised in Salt Lake City. His first dancing was with the local Oban Festival, and he's been with Zivio four or five years. "The first night I went I was so frustrated. They taught a Bulgarian dance in 5/4 meter, and a hard Swedish dance, and I failed at both, but for some reason I persisted," he laughed.
Almost half of Zivio dancers are longterm members. Ten have been with the troupe since 1980, when Folkdance Underground sprang from the Yugoslavian community. Zivio is not associated with the University of Utah, though they do get help from the folkdance clubs there.
Zivio sponsors Utah Slavia, the annual Slavic folk festival at the Old Mill, every June. The group makes its own way, earning most of its $15,000 budget through professional "gigs." "We can send the singers out alone, or a few of the dancers, in many mixes to please the public," said Kurumada.
They are also supported by grants from the Utah and Salt Lake Arts Councils, and by the National Endowment for the Arts and National Folklore Organization.