The group prompted standing ovations three years ago with its energetic leaps and gymnastic moves, authentic costumes and Serbian musical instruments such as the frula, which resembles a small flute.
“We enjoyed the warm hospitality, great audiences, parties and beautiful nature,” said Dragan Pantelic, art director and choreographer for the troupe.
Pantelic’s assistant, Simonida Stojanovic, said the premiere performance at Folkmoot was the group’s first visit to the United States. He said the experience was very rewarding.
“We were greeted at the highest level. Our guides were always with us and took us to the most beautiful places of Waynesville. All people from the festival were very kind, from the janitor of the school to the director of the Folkmoot festival,” said Stojanovic.
“The whole group was thrilled to have an opportunity to show our culture and customs to the people of Waynesville, and we were very glad because they enjoyed our performance and our dance. The people of Waynesville are very kind and we have nothing less than positive thoughts and memories,” she said.
Anna Stringfield of Waynesville served as a guide for the Serbian group and said they were very organized and extremely professional.
“Dragan runs a tight ship and that is very impressive, particularly since many of the performers are so young,” Stringfield said.
“The group had such a great stage presence and interacted wonderfully with the crowds, “she said. “I think they definitely set a precedent and people should expect to see another great show this year.”
Talija was established in 1998 in Belgrade, with a professional troupe and a children’s amateur dancing school. Talija members live in Serbia and form an organization of about 200 professional dancers and musicians who travel the world sharing their culture.
Serbia is a country of 7.4 million people. Serbia shares borders with Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Hungary.
“We now have 25 adult couples and about 180 young dancers,” Pantelic said. “For this tour we have 29 dancers, 15 to 18 years old, and four musicians,” he said.
At the age of 5 or 6, performers begin practicing daily. After years of this kind of dedication, routines become like second nature. Still, performers are aware that some of the lifts and flips involved with the choreography are not without risks of injury. So, stretches are done before each show and performers are constantly aware of what is going on around them, Pantelic said.
“All our dancers are professionals. During their training, they are receiving positive support and knowledge by renowned choreographers,” Stojanovic said. “Our dances are very dynamic and have a lot of acrobatics steps, but we are well trained, so we are not facing with so many injuries.”
“We take care about other dancers on the stage, but it is best to not think … just do it,” Pantelic added.
“The most important is to enjoy what are you doing, and to love to dance … and everything else come easy,” Stojanovic said.
Talija performs dances that represent the heart of Serbia. Original Serbian folk dances are described as delicate and beautiful, while other dances are a blend of spiritual culture and traditional stylized dances. The regional folk dances of Serbia are highly influenced by other cultures such as Bulgarian folklore.
The Serbian performers rehearse for two hours twice a week, using the elements that are part of their routines, like sticks for the Vlasko dance and whips for the Kazachok dance.
“Each dance represents the culture and custom of that part of Serbia. Shumadia represents the heart of Serbia, where you can find the most beautiful and the most interesting original Serbian folk dances. The tiny and delicate steps of these dances are connected in filigreed dance which has ethnographic and historical significance interwoven with customs,” Stojanovic said.
“Dances from east Serbia, where people called Vlasi used to believe that tripping could drive out the spirits of the earth, offer quick steps that represent the most interesting part of this dance,” she said. “A dance from south Serbia represents the mixture of noble and oriental dancing style.”
“Since we have been 500 years under the Turkish influence, you can see a lot of similarity in the costumes,” Stojanovic said.
The authentic national clothing owned by Talija was acquired from people in different parts of the country or was made by artisans to resemble cultural dress. The costumes represent the district from which the dances originate. Shepherd’s clothes made of sheep’s wool are the costumes used for The Shepherd dances, along with walking sticks.
“We have some diligent mothers and grandmothers in different parts of Serbia who help make the costumes, and some professional tailors who preserve and fill in this rich treasury of the national clothing,” Pantelic said. “We usually use summer costumes and it’s much easier to dance with them. Sometimes it is too hot, but that is part of the show,” he said.
Talija has been performing at the Drummonville festival in Canada and are scheduled to arrive in Haywood County on July 18. They did a long tour in Ecuador and Peru in February and March, and will continue on to Florida after Folkmoot.
— By Peggy Manning