A rare treat from Croatia

  • By Theresa Goffredo / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, September 28, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

This show has got a lot going for it.

History: Think the Christians vs. the Ottoman Turks.

Endurance dance: Think huge calves.

Drama: It’s a play about war.

Brilliantly colored costumes.

And finally, the swords.

The show is a performance of ancient sword dances unique to the island of Korula in Croatia.

Folklorno Drutvo Kumpanija is an 18-member group of highly talented sword dancers from the city of Vela Luka. They will present a colorful rendition of these authentic sword dances, otherwise known as Ples od Boja, beginning this weekend, in Everett, Anacortes and other Western Washington cities.

The dance dates back to the mid-19th century. Kumpanija originated from the organized peoples’ army, which had been defending the island from different conquerors and invaders for centuries, according to the Kumpanija Web site. An instrument similar to a bagpipe, called a minjice, accompanies the dance along with a drum.

In the old days, a pig’s head was cut off at the end of the dance to show that they were a force to be reckoned with, and that the same could happen to intruders.

The sword dance group, impeccably dressed in traditional costumes, will be joined by the Klapa Vela Luka singers, one of the best male singing groups from the Adriatic coast.

This is the first time such a performance will be seen in the United States, in part because it’s difficult for the dancers to leave their island, where they help support the tourist industry, said Nikki Lovric, a Croatian-American who is also the event coordinator for the show.

“No one ever has tried to bring them here and the thing is, it’s really hard for them to leave. The tourist season is the main focus of income for Vela Luka,” said Lovric, who has been to the island three times. “There is a physical therapy place and a shipyard and that’s pretty much it.”

These few shows could be a one-time visit to the United States also because of the cost of bringing the dancers over, Lovric said.

The total cost came to $65,000 and was made possible in a joint effort by the Anacortes Sister Cities Association in conjunction with Anacortes’ sister city Vela Luka, located on the west end of Korula. The cost was covered by several grants with money also coming from the government in Croatia.

Lovric said the experience of watching the dancers will be like seeing a slice of history. And for the 300 or so Croatian families who immigrated to Anacortes, many of whom came from Vela Luka, this may the only time in their own lives to see this part of their culture.

“What we’re doing is bringing a piece of their home back to them because they may never get back and it’s really something heartfelt for all of us to be able to do that,” Lovric said.

The dance itself is a spectacle – energetic and athletically demanding. The dancers range in age from 19 to 31 and they practice several times a week.

Duane Clark, president of the Anacortes Sister Cities Association, first saw the Kumpanija Sword Dancers and the Klapa Vela Luka singers on a visit to Croatia in 2004.

“As we watched these highly talented and energetic performers, in their colorful traditional costumes, we made up our minds right then that we had to find a way to bring them to Washington,” he said.

Arts writer Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424 or goffredo@heraldnet.com.

Croatian sword dancers perform Sunday in Everett.

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