Escapism as genre qualifier of traditional dance choreography: Solemn concert of the National ensemble “Venac“ at the National Theatre

 

Traditional dance choreography or, as preferably colloquially called, folk dance choreography, originated, as an autonomous performing arts genre, right after the Second World War as an important long-term political project by means of which the newly instituted socialist government wanted to establish mass forms of culture based on “folk creation”. With that purpose in mind, and along with numerous cultural and artistic associations, two professional ensembles were founded in Serbia: i.e. “Kolo” in 1948 in Belgrade and “Venac” in 1964 in Priština.

Since it had been active in the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, “Venac” ensemble had been partaking in the fate of this part of the country for over fifty years. Founded under the name “Šota”, “Venac” only got its present name during its refugee days in Niš, where the ensemble spent four years (from 1999 to 2003). After it was stationed in Gračanica (since 2008) “Venac” got the opportunity to start with continuous and focused work. After many years of wandering, thanks to dedication and perseverance of its director Snežana Jovanović, and to somewhat more positive attitude of the state, the situation was stabilised after appointment of artistic director Miloš Cile Mitić at the beginning of this year. With fresh energy and bubbling enthusiasm of a young man, in his work with the ensemble, Cile Mitić focused on elevating its concert possibilities up to the level of performing full-length programmes. The aim of the “Solemn concert” held on December 11th at the National Theatre was to present the ensemble in a new light to the Belgrade audience.

 

Photo: Selena Rakočević

 

Considering that the prevailing semantic paradigm of choreographed folklore in Serbia in the last couple of decades, that is, from the breakup of Yugoslavia, has been the idea of preserving tradition, or, as it has been recently noted, intangible cultural heritage, the current repertoire policy of “Venac” has been focused on presentation and promotion of the Serbian dance and musical heritage of Kosovo and Metohija. Therefore, the Belgrade concert was entirely dedicated to past dance and music practices from our Southern province. In addition to seven choreographies based on the tradition of various parts of this region, numerous songs from different regions were performed, selected and prepared by ethnomusicologist Dr. Sanja Ranković. This time the male ensemble was more inspired and harmonised in their interpretation. Performance of the song “I went for a walk”, by talented and very young vocal soloist Tamara Kapetanović, whom Sanja Ranković, an experienced pedagogue, singled out personally, showed that “Venac” had young members whose time was just coming. Repertoire of the traditional dance choreography performed at this concert consisted of seven separate works of art. As mentioned above, they mostly represented dances from different regions of Kosovo and Metohija in keeping with the “preservation of tradition” principle, based on respecting structural and performance-stylistic characteristics of individual compositions, contrastingly connected in a so-called medley. With individual dances and in choreographies of this genre, it was possible to present specific features of local customs, which was done in performances of “Harvest customs from Metohija” by Zvezdan Đurić (arrangement by Darko Ćitić) and “Wedding customs from Kosovo Pomoravlje” (arrangement by Zdravko Ranisavljević). Maintaining the “preservation of tradition” principle, the choreography for “Dances from Central Kosovo” was done by Zvezdan Đurić and Zdravko Ranisavljević, along with the choreography “Town dances from Prizren” by Vjaćeslav Slavko Kvasnevski (arrangement by Darko Ćitić) and “Dances from Peć” by Đorđe Lakušić (arrangement by Miroljub Džimi Todorović), all part of the standard repertoire in “Venac”. Apart from these performances, and based on the stage reinterpretation of individual dances from certain regions, two “variations” were performed where dance heritage was used as a model for free choreographic creations. They were dominated by poetic interpretation of gender positions in the mythologized patriarchal model: emphatic sophistication, restraint and daintiness of women in “Archaic women’s dance from Gračanica” by Radojica Kuzmanovic (with music by Pavle Aksentijević) and assertive masculinity, compactness and physical fitness of men in “Gilanka” by Dejan Milisavljević (arrangement by Miroljub Džimi Todorović). The entire concert was meticulously directed, rounded up by effective introductory and final images, which emphasized, in a metaphorically creative way, through circular positioning of dance pairs dressed in beautiful folk costumes from different parts of Kosovo and Metohija and the archaic sound of kaval performed by the musical Dušan Đukić, the symbolism of wreath as a local joining element of the traditional culture.

 

Photo: Selena Rakočević

 

All the mentioned choreographies were performed with special energy and emotional quality which dominated the entire evening. Regardless of the relation to dance and music material from traditional practice and its more or less artistically reinterpreted content, all choreographic achievements were dominated by ideal-typical representation of the Serbian dance and cultural heritage and bearers thereof, based exclusively on the union between uniform emotions: cheerfulness, vigour, joyful living energy and optimism. Although, as may be noted, the fairytalelike character has represented the basic genre feature of this stage and dance form, since its creation until today, in traditional dance choreographies from Kosovo and Metohija it takes on a prominent meaning that paradigmatically reflects the escapist attitude of the entire folklore community towards the traditional cultural heritage. Even though it is possible to critically evaluate and judge the uniformity of its emotional and dramatic content, such attitude towards cultural heritage can and seemingly needs to be interpreted affirmatively, at this moment in time. In discord with the burden of fateful and ongoing daily misfortunes which the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija faces, and clashing with a prevailing feeling of uncertainty which dominates the future of this part of Serbia, the choreography of traditional dance with its genre-based cheerfulness demonstrates metaphorically and poetically an engaged attitude towards reality dominated by the mythical notion of good prevailing over evil. Though constantly in disagreement with the spirit of times, and especially current political moment, the choreography of traditional dance interpreted in such a manner becomes an emancipating form that can provoke action. It is precisely in this light that this text should be interpreted. However, in spite of the prevailing affirmative attitude, the intention of these lines is to encourage all admirers of choreographed folklore to engage in deeper reflection, with the purpose of developing creative potentials of traditional dance choreography as an autonomous and potent dance and stage artistic genre.

With plenty of sweat, positive energy, and meticulous dramatic composition of the evening, as well as compassion and cheerfulness of the audience, “Venac” accomplished its original intent at its Belgrade concert. Not only did it promote the dance heritage of Kosovo and Metohija, but it also demonstrated that great effort and focus contributed to better quality, and that, even though there was still room for fine tuning of all aspects of performance, the basic goal of the concert held last December was accomplished. In this regard, it is necessary to warmly congratulate everyone who participated in realisation of this programme and wish the ensemble to persevere, despite uncertain future, with their intention of developing and nurturing patriotism and affection for fatherland by means of artistic stage performances of the traditional dance.

Selena Rakočević