Tonight: Polish folk ensemble Slask comes to the Byham Theater


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It's hard to believe that the Polish National Song and Dance Ensemble hasn't performed in Pittsburgh since 2005. I mean, this is the city where giant pierogies run around the baseball park.

So when Slask comes to town, it's cos specjalnego. (Something special.)

Slask, one of the largest Polish folk ensembles, was founded by renowned composer, educator and writer Stanislaw Hadyna in 1953 as a way of keeping the song and dance traditions of his homeland alive and kicking.

This is how their publicity describes it: "The ensemble specializes in presenting Polish, secular folklore, whose characteristic rhythms, expressions, melodic phrases and texts culminate in a unique spectacular performance."

"Spectacular. That's the perfect word," said producer Lani Milstein, who is ushering Slask through its 11-day visit to the United States. "Anybody who comes to see it is in for a treat."

And nobody enjoys Polish treats more than Pittsburghers.

Ms. Milstein was speaking on a cell phone outside the Byham Theater, Downtown, this afternoon while crews unloaded five tons of cargo for tonight's show.

"We have a 30-person choir, a 14-piece orchestra and 36 dancers," she said. "Eighty performers on stage, with more than 1,000 hand-made, stylized traditional folk costumes. The beauty of the costumes is enough to engage anyone. The dances are very lively, very energetic and powerful, and it's all very colorful."

It makes for a dazzling display, as Post-Gazette dance critic Jane Vranish noted when she last saw them in the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

"It was oddly appropriate for the company to be performing here, for Slask harkened to the classical side of the folk idiom," Ms. Vranish wrote. "The dancers were balletically trained, and the music, too, set the company apart, with symphonic arrangements of Polish melodies that were sometimes rhythmically syncopated and harmonically daring. The final suite of dances bordered on operatic.

"The dancers, clad in brilliant colors, seemed to skim across the floor in light and lively renditions of Poland's well-known dances -- the cracovienne, mazurka, polonaise and, of course, a polka or two. ... There was always a swirling kaleidoscope of dance that could come in pounding waves of excitement."

Ms. Milstein, who has been working with the group for a year, said this tour -- the 60th anniversary tour -- is "a special time" for the performers as well as the audience. They've been all over the world, entertaining millions, but it's still a labor of love.

And you don't have to have a grandmother from Gdansk to appreciate it.

"But, of course, if you are of Polish heritage, these are songs that are going to be special," she said. "It could easily stir memories. The sound of the music, the look of the performers. It's should hit home with anyone familiar with Poland."

And, like any celebration, everyone is welcome to participate.

"Oh yes," Ms. Milstein said after speaking with one of the performers -- all of whom are from Poland. "The audience claps along. And there's often former members of the ensemble who will come to the show and encourage the audience to sing along."

There are still tickets -- ranging in price from $23 to $48 -- available for tonight's 7:30 show at the Byham Theater on Sixth Street. Which is somewhat surprising, considering how the Slask performers sell out shows in their native land.

"They are The Rolling Stones of Poland," Ms. Milstein said.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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