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Reviews of Westwind

DDPoster S.F. Examiner, Mon. June 7, 1982    page E8

Westwind troupe at best when it’s briefest

by Allan Ulrich

Examiner dance critic

 IF AN ENGAGING amateurism is sufficient to carry the evening, then Westwind International Folk Ensemble bore home all the laurels and then some, last Saturday night. That was the second of its annual performances at San Francisco State University’s McKenna Theater. The oldest surviving omnibus ethnic troupe in the Bay Area, Westwind exudes all the fresh, spontaneous appeal of your first college musical. As a presentation of diverse songs and dances from different countries, this show ran the gamut from Norwegian celebration of the winter solstice to the irresistible clog dancing of Appalachia. Throughout all eight numbers Saturday, the emphasis on authenticity of musical scores, instrumentation and costuming and the unflagging energy displayed by Westwind proved it’ strongest suits. 

            Westwind does more than dance. It attempts to recreate the social situations in which people of various cultures give vent to their feelings through traditional patterns of movement. As far as that goes, the company succeeds.

            What you don’t find here is polish, precision, elegance, virtuosity or much hint of professionalism. Then again, not every Ukrainian village boasted a Nijinsky among it’s peasantry. So, maybe Westwind has a point after all. 

            But it’s still annoying to have to wade through a lot of incidental material to get the meat of the matter. And it’s infuriating, and even insulting to endure a series of quasicomic ethnology lectures by kids sporting a series of bogus mustaches and equally bogus accents.  

            Westwind is at it’s finest when it’s at it’s briefest. A Bulgarian Kukli or doll dance, places two shuffling girls bobbing like floats in a typhoon, introduces a Keystone cop and a white hatted shepherd and has everybody’s strings get tangled, all to delicious comic effect.

            The Moiseyev Ballet contributed another of the evenings hits, the “Russian City Quadrille.” Here, the peasantry mimics the gentry trying to negotiate the French dances in vogue, in Russia in the early 19th century. The exaggerated dips, arched backs and lascivious winks of the four couples was comic dancing at it’s sharpest. 

            On the other hand, there is nothing remotely amusing about people getting drunk at Ukrainian weddings, or anywhere else for that matter. That kind of crude buffoonery interrupted some truly lovely moments as the bride’s and groom’s friends approach each other at a measured pace, legs effortlessly suspended in air. 

            For thrills, Westwind trotted out some intricate Bulgarian ensemble work, a blizzard of shifting torsos, crossing legs, stamping rhythms and enchained arms. The Rockettes, Sofia style, set to the accompaniment of lute and bagpipe. And there were the more intricate (sp?) Norwegian dances, similar to American square dancing. For boisterous high spirits, the Turks came through with another wedding celebration. This one involving the shaving of the groom, punctuated with pistol shots.

             Thanks to Westwind, the next best thing to being there. Probably better.

Webmaster's note: There were no "bogus mustaches".  Allen Nixon