Folkmoot USA, North Carolina’s official international festival, performed at Western Carolina University’s Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center on July 25, at 7:30 p.m.
In the production, dancers and performers from France, Philippines and Hawaii dazzled the small audience with their traditional dances. Unfortunately, there was no brochure or pamphlet to help the audience understand what happened on the stage. Instead, they were left to puzzle and make their own conclusions.
France performed first with several young female dancers emerging in different colored caps and dresses. Behind them, a five-person band played flutes in one hand and drums in the other. They danced around a Maypole with their corresponding colored-ribbon in hand in ballet slippers.
France received many laughs whenever their rowdy group of older men performers appeared in traditional clogs for some suggestive dancing with fire puffers. Swinging the fire puffers between their legs then chasing the young girls with them left audience members blushing or giggling. Calling themselves “The Crazy Horses,” the six men returned dressed in large horse suits to gallop around the stage and exhibit several antics, such as imaginary races and circus-like stunts. One gentleman used a silver whistle to usher all the other “horses” around the track of the Bardo stage.
As a grand finale, all the French performers partook in a dance number that was unlike anything Western Carolina had seen previously. With coconut shells on their hands, knees, shins, chests and elbows, the group danced around each other slapping their shells together to make a clacking musical number that gained much applause from audience members.
The Filipino group, ages 12 to 18, performed next. They, too, had a similar coconut dance, but most of their dances had a heavy Spanish flair. In fact, the experience was like watching Filipinos perform Spanish work.
Due to Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, the native culture of that region was heavily altered. Thus, Filipino tradition looks and sounds very Spanish. The girls wore flowing skirts of brilliant colors, mostly gold and red. The dances were flamenco style with clapping hands in the air and stamping feet. At the start of the performance, a single female dancer skillfully waved and fluttered a gold fan around her fan in time to the music.
Before intermission, Hawaii State Senator Malama Solomon introduced the girls who trained at her family’s hula school. The four young girls with a backup band danced to a Tahitian number. The youngest dancer, age 7, was the grandniece of Solomon and performed nearly as skillfully as the older girls. The girls left for a rendition of a Hawaiian cowboy song that was filled with whistles and moos as the song sped up.
After intermission, the Filipino dancers returned for a beautiful, challenging dance that involved swirling around the stage with lighted candles on their heads or foreheads. Then, the candles were wrapped in sheer red fabric and twirled around between the performers. The house lights were completely turned off for a spooky but beautiful effect allowing the audience to focus on only the twinkling light of the candles.
The Philippines’ finale left some flabbergasted and others standing in applause. In English, a female singer belted out the Lee Greenwood hit “God Bless the U.S.A.” with the entire Filipino cast on the stage with her to join in for the chorus. Most of the audience stood and applauded heartily, but others remained in their seats confused by the gesture.
Hawaii returned to end the show with several traditional dances, chants and songs, including “Sophisticated Hula.” When she was not translating for the benefit of the audience, Solomon sang along with the songs. Several of the songs were funny like the number about watching the hula girl’s hands instead of her hips because she would never date just anyone or what happened when Hawaiians first saw the car. Thanks to Solomon, Hawaii graciously kept the audience in-the-know with translations and explanations between each dance.
From Western Carolina, Folkmoot USA continued to perform until July 29 at venues like the Smoky Mountain Center for Performing Arts in Franklin and the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center in Cherokee. Other countries at the 2012 Folkmoot USA included New Zealand, Serbia, Belgium, Puerto Rico, Indonesia and Peru.