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Desa Djordjevic (Serbia, Yugoslavia)

Methods of work and their problems when working with different groups of folk dancers in Serbia

Djordjevic, Desa: “Methods of work and their problems when working with different groups of folk dancers in Serbia”…

My presentation has aim, at first place, to point to several problems we find when working with different groups of national dance and music performers in Serbia. Our intention is to notice the problems and make any kind of efforts in that respect, trying to find adequate solutions in order that our musical tradition is presented in the best possible way and preserved in the future. The problems I am talking about for this purpose are of different kinds and within various groups of performers. We can place them into four categories.

The first category present the traditional groups of national dancers who act in rural regions, giving performances at local or regional village assemblies. On different occassions they take part in traditional folk music festivals of bigger significance, whether they are held in our country of abroad. Doing selection and making programs for these groups is a responsible and complex work. The easiest job while making programs is in those rural regions where the musical tradition is still alive within the people. Then, it is enough that musicians and dancers gather there together and show off their skills at stage. These meetings offer a special opportunity for us to choose the best and at the same time the most precious details about folk music and dance from their region. Unfortunatelly, this is not the case. We often find the situation in which groups of fοlk dancers are gathered and taught dancing skillσ or how τοplay songs and music by the villagers themselves, or by someone who does not belong to the region. In this case the problems concerning pureness of style, dancing skills or authenticity of dance and music motives, even music accompaniment, appear.

Under the influence from everywhere, even under the TV influence, they make their programs neglecting characteristic music and dance specifics from their region. They create new steps and tunes which are not original, dancing and playing rythms are sped up, and all kinds of choeographies are made. This leads to giving wrong information and impressions on the folklore of the certain region.

And what about when making selection of groups at local stage? Selections and estimations are often made by people who ignore these problems and are not familiar with them. There are few experts and there doesn’t exist the unique criterion according to which the groups are chosen and selected for their future acting. We can only ask ourselves for how long and in what a way it is possible to act in order to preserve our traditional music inheritance in these regions.

The second category present so-called folk dancing music groups/ensemblies within amateur companies in the country or in towns. In the days after the Second World War, as it had been planned according to the cultural development of the country, numerous amateur folk companies appeared everywhere: in rural districts, towns, schools youth clubs, in factories, in cultural centres. The integral part of the amateur companies were folklore sections with the task to teach their members how to dance and how to cherish their folk dance, songs and music then how to put it on scene and show it to the audience all over the county and broader. It was a good chance that a great number of members, ( afterwards called folk dancing ensemblies get to know about the beauty and the rich of their folk music tradition and its inherutance. They had accepted and performed their folk music and dances with a joy and then, as newly created so-called artists, perforemed them making them familiar with contemporary audience. The programs of folk music and dance were becoming very popular with audience. The number of folk dancing companies rapidly grew. The repertoire of the companies was large, but artistic quality of the technique varied from one to other company.

The problem we now come upon is how dances were previously prepared and made to be put on scene. Mostly, two types of arrangements were accepted and done. One of them is more traditonal type, where the dancing elements or music are close to their origin. Of course, there is no word of the real originality, because when the dancing arrangements are made to be performed on the stage, they shoul undergo certain kinds of reaarangements and must be adapted for the scenic appearance.

The other type of falk dancing arrangement is so-called stylization --her, the folk dancing motives are treated with more freedom and are not so closely tied to their origin. They are performed in free style, while the dancing style, or the tune themselves, determine and show the region they were taken from. The music which accompanies the dance is, in most cases, newly written, or rearranged. Both approaches of making folk dancing arrangments are present in our folk dancing companies. Yet, the first one more than the other one. But, we must face, now, certain problems, which appear here and try to solve them. Since a great number of companies exists in Serbia, there, has recently come up the tendency of being fed up with their existence. It can be seen in frequent repeating of repertoires or in copying choreographies. This fact, by itself, doesn’t represent the problem. The real problem is program quality and folk dancers performing abilities and their skills at scene.

Now, we come to the point whe the question of proffessional qualified guidance with amateur ensemblies arouses, as well as, the qyestion of qualified and correct work with them. This is not case in everyday life -- there is lot of wandering, while the unique working methods are not applied.

While some folk companies support the first method of arrangement making, which is leaning on tradition, on the other side, we find folk companies which favorize new tendencies of modernization in which the link with the tradition is rather loose and foreign technique of playing and dancing is accepted. Many new detals, which are not an integral part of our folk music ingeritance are used. It is only important that the audience is fully satisfied. For this purpose newly made steps are created, the old-fashioned ones twisted, the tunes are changed and the rhythm is sped up. In this way the dancing technique and original style are spoikt. In the end we have to ask ourselves: whosw national dance is this one that we want to present in public? At this spot the ensemblies’artistic directors undertake a big responsibility. It’s up to their knowledge and pedagogical approach, or sensitive feelings towards folk art itself, that the quality of their group’s program depends on. Their role in preserving and cherishing their traditional folk art is rather big.

The third category, no less important, present children and the work on folk art with them. On this occasion I wouldn’t like to talk about the usefulness and need of teaching children how to dance.

I’d like to underline certain problems which occur when working with children. Recently, almost every folk company has its children’s ensembly. Sometimes the ensemble is divided into several pre-groups which depends on children’s age. There, in ensemblies children are not only taught how to dance or how to play folk music, but the programs for the scenic appearance is also, made. Immediately there aappears the problem about scenic arrangement. Often folk dancing is not in accordance with children’s age. This happens because of the performing technique or because of the complex steps. Children’s psychophysical ability is not being taken care of, and sometimes, technically complex in performing, these hart-to- teach motives, are almost unacceptable for them. It is often case that audlts performing choreographu is applied in the children’s arrangement. Then the natural experience of dancing is spoilt. Thus, the conception done wrongly, may cause the contra effect. Instea of enjoying in and accepting the play, it is becoming a kind of burden to them. It makes them feel tired, that’s why they escape it sometimes.

Somewhat different picture is in childredn’s dancing gropus at schools and in the country. Here, we can find examples when children are taught how to play and dance, according to their age with no choeography and scenic arrangement to be used. The playing and dancing experince is more spontaneous and joyful.

Finally, a few words on work and its problems in proffessional folk dancing ensemblies in Serbia. There are three of them. They are the ensemble "Kolo" from Belgrade, the "Venac" from Kosovo - it temporarily works in Ni{ and the "Sota" from Pristina.

The oldest, the ensemble "Kolo" was a pioneer in this branch. It had a task to find out new ways of arrangement making technique and national dance performing skills on stage. The very early concerts of the ensemble "Kolo", in our country or abroad, confirmed that they had chosen correct approach and style. They made a good balance between the original folf dance and successfully transformed one, prepared for the scenic performance, Thus, transformed, but authentic in the core, the national dance found its audience. The program, made up, out of folk music and dance and taken from all regions of the former Yugoslavia completely preserved its authenticity in style and its performing technique of the national dances. The scenography stayed within the frame of shapes and forms according to the tradition al inheritance. It was the same with the music accompaniment - every part of the tune preserved its authentic colour and the sound of the region it had come from. The similar approach was introduced more or less into other proffessional enseblies in our country.

Nowadays, we can also, find certain kinds of problems in the phase of stage making repertoire. We should point to them. First of all, I consider that proffessional folk dancing ensemblies should preserve their pioneer role they had had at the beginning of their career. They should keep on searching for new, unrevealed areas, they should ,make such choreographies which will first be put on the stage within their own ensemblies. They should be the road sign for the numerous amateur groups which are following them. They also shouldn’t take over different choeograpfies from amateur ensemblies although they easily rearrange them in proffesional way.

Now we come to the point when we are looking for some new approaches and methods of work, in our cultural environment there is quite lot of people who share the opinion that -up-to-known method of work is methodologically out dated. The folk ensemblies remind us of old fashioned museum exponats. There is, also, opinion which support the idea of founding national ballet ensemble. It would use the ballet technique as the basis of its scenic appearance, while folk motives would be used in choeography making. Some East European ensemblies did it in their work.

Now we come to the question: Is now the right moment for such a thing? Why start new contents and choose new styles when it is well known that our Serbian folklore is alive within the people? Finally, there are still regions in our country whose folklore was not performed. Isn’t it up to proffessionals to be the first to show and to perform the music and dance from these regions thar are not well known to the audience? Maybe the idea of funding the national ballet will stay for some future generations having corresponding conditions for successful work.

Let me finish my presentation. By presenting all these facts and problems I have tried to point to some problems and to provoke different reflexions on possible solutions. Our experts in musicology, in ethnology, who are good knowers of our cultural inheritance, could help by using their knowledge and engaging themselves in trying to find the adequate solutions. Everything is aimed in preservation and saving of our cultural inheritance and its good observation.

Desa Djordjevic

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Wednesday the 19th.