Set against the dilapidated stone walls of the Citadel’s Opera, the Serbian/Montenegro company Branko Krsmanovic’s musicians and dancers performed wholeheartedly to a fairly small crowd on Monday.
Influenced by Balkan bass and folk sounds, Branko Krsmanovic displayed the tradition of fast-paced Balkan dance and music, accompanied by ornate, colorful costumes and big grins on the performers’ faces. Originally founded in 1945 by conductor Bogdan Babich, the troupe has toured the world using different names at different times for over 60 years.
The concert is part of the 18th Annual Citadel Festival for Music and Singing, running from Aug. 10 – 25. Other groups performed that evening as well, some on the patio near the Police Museum overlooking Cairo’s city lights.
While such an unusual style of music and folk-inspired dance was exciting, the two hour performance left its Cairo audience chatty and inattentive. After as little as half an hour, the music and the dance seemed repetitive, perhaps with just a few variations in notes and footwork.
Nevertheless, the music was beautiful and the dancing upbeat, with the male dancers decked out in black fur-emblazoned top hats and form-fitting pants as they stepped up and down in syncopated steps.
The music by a band comprising a bassist, guitarist, two violinists and an accordion player was fast-paced and energetic. Most compositions ended with a rapidly increasing rhythm punctuated by the impressive footwork of the dancers. Intricate and involving many steps, toe points, stomps and sequences, the dance tended to isolate the lower half of the dancer’s bodies while their torsos and arms remained stationary.
Although harmonious, cheerful and enthusiastic, the music was simple in terms of melodies, with few dramatic tones, high notes or deep low notes, except perhaps for the occasional cries by female dancers. The fact that they sang without microphones was commendable, though between the wind and the talking of the audience it was difficult to hear them. It did, on the other hand, conjure up images of meadows and small villages.
True to folkloric tradition the male dancers try to impress the women while the women played coy.
The female dancers were petite in their billowing colorful skirts, their feet adorned with simple shoes that curled up at the end of their toes and featured little bells that rang throughout the show.
Overall, the dancers were almost perfectly coordinated, performing in a beck and call style, adding a sense of fluidity and naturalness to the performance. The music, light-hearted and never overbearing, complemented the dancers’ movements without overpowering them.
The downside was that the show was simply too long, each set blending inconspicuously into the other. This made for an uninspired ending, though it was not without a few enchanting moments.
Catch the Branko Krsmanovic performance tonight, 9 pm, at the Cairo Opera House’s Open Air Theater; on the 16th at Alexandria Opera House, and on the 17th at the Salah El Din’s Citadel.