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Tamburitzans not living in the past

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Published: Thu, February 7, 2019 @ 12:05 a.m.
 

By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The Tamburitzans are the longest-running live stage show in the United States.

The Pittsburgh-based troupe is now in its 82nd year of performing the traditional folk music and dance of Eastern Europe and beyond.

The Tammies will return to Youngstown on Saturday afternoon for a show at Ford Family Recital Hall. The troupe last visited the Mahoning Valley eight years ago.

Keeping an act together for more than eight decades is an amazing feat. Constantly changing tastes in entertainment, and Americans’ screen-addiction, have forced many long-running franchises out of business .

But while the troupe is justifiably eager to point out its longevity, it also faces the daunting task of staying fresh and attracting new audiences.

“We’re proud of it, but it is a challenge to [keep it going] in this day and era,” said George Kresovich, artistic director of the Tamburitzans. “The Ringling Bros. Circus and the Ice Capades closed up shop years ago, but we keep surviving.”

The trick has been to branch out while staying true to the Tammies’ roots.

“We’re trying to build off our history, maintaining the essence of what we have been, a traditional folk ensemble, but expanding to new cultures, becoming more diversified and adding a bit of a contemporary approach and a larger stage production. Hopefully, that will plant a seed with the younger generation.”

In recent years, the troupe has become more contemporary by adding multi-media screens, more auxiliary lighting and an enhanced sound system.

But more importantly, it has added the sights and sounds of nations beyond Eastern Europe. The show now includes Irish and Latin song and dance, as well as a segment on the Roma culture of India.

When the Tamburitzans started, and for decades afterward, appreciation of Slavic culture was easy to find in the Northeast United States. That has changed.

“There was a time when people were more aware of their ethnic heritage, but there are not many first-generation Americans in the country now,” said Kresovich. “Still, there is a resurgence of people wanting to know more about their heritage. I see the ads on television where you can get your DNA results [to trace your ancestry]. The Tamburitzans fit in with that.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the youthful energy of the touring troupe, which comprises 29 college-age performers.

At any given point in the show, there will be 16 to 20 dancers on stage, with nine more playing in the band. All members switch off between dancing, singing and playing an instrument – often an obscure one from the old country.

As the dances originated in about a dozen countries, the performers are also constantly changing costumes.

Every dancer wears 15 to 20 costumes in the show, said Kresovich. “That is one of our biggest challenges,” he said. “With only 29 performers, there are performers changing costumes at all times.”

For information about the show, go to thetamburitzans.org.



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