With 12 items on the program before intermission and 12 after (many of them subdivided regional suites), the Mazowsze dance company of Poland presented a kaleidoscopic display at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Saturday. Ever try to look through a kaleidoscope for two hours?
Obviously, Poland has a rich, deep and ancient folk tradition but Mazowsze turned all that into processed cheese with its emphasis on mindless variety. Some of the pieces flashed by in barely enough time to show off the costumes and it's odd that the audience was forbidden to take photos, since this kind of relentlessly hectic and cheery tourist entertainment is good for nothing but snapshots.
Partly because it allowed time for character specialties and freewheeling interplay, Witold Zapala's "Carnival Time in the Holy Cross Mountains" did convey some sense of folk culture: the welcome notion of real people dancing for their own pleasure. And the lilting moments of Zbigniew Kilinski's "Kujawiak" seemed to invite you to look at the dancers as charming individuals happily working out a pattern--and maybe even daring not to smile for a few seconds--rather than smirking hordes compelled by choreographic law to execute some hard-sell statement of, um, solidarity.
Song interludes also proved a relief, though, again, the quick-change, variety-show format tended to reduce everything to a glorified costume parade.
The hired help can't be blamed. Except, scandalously, for Polonaise dancing that lacked stylistic authority, a sense of weight and even focused concentration, the company members looked skillful in a program that mostly asked from them only the lowest common denominator of dance professionalism: executing steps in perfect unison. For undemanding audiences--and, obviously, for those Polish-Americans nostalgic for their homeland--that may be enough. Mazowsze is nothing if not diverting. Unfortunately, it is nothing else, either.