An extraordinary thing occurs a third of the way through the program by the Lado Folk Dance Ensemble of Croatia at Bovard Auditorium, USC through Sunday.
A woman soloist intones a solemn melody and, as other singers slowly join in, the sound widens into the rich, pungent harmonies of the Byzantine Church. There is a turn through a minorish mode before the song achieves what momentarily seems like all the possibilities in the human diapason.
By comparison, a great deal of familiar Western music suddenly seems anemic and devoid of spirit.
If nothing else on the program seen Thursday quite matched that moment in the Drmes social dance sequence from Zagorje, very little fell far below it.
The 50-member company is on a 12-city tour of the United States and Canada, while fighting continues in its homeland. Despite their fears, company members offered a deeply satisfying program, trusting enough in their culture not to fool around with it too much in presenting it on a proscenium stage.
No overworked, slam-bang, show-biz endings to the dances here. Sometimes, in fact, dances and musical selections just abruptly came to an end, without a big signal to applaud.
There were no endlessly kaleidoscopic changes in steps and floor patterns to hold attention, nor overly clipped editing. Some of the dances indeed seemed to go on a bit too long. But they all accumulated weight and impact.
The company presented no high-velocity virtuosity so far beyond the range of ordinary people that the audience might not entertain notions of joining in. But certainly some of the dancers did impressive turns and balances, just as there are always some of us who dance better than others.
The secret, perhaps, was that artistic director Hanibal Dundovic kept everything at the proper human scale. A sad song of a Medjimurge youth going off to fight in World War I was just that, not an excuse to prove something about an indomitable national will.
The shifts from region to region were persuasive, involving changes in steps, carriage, attitude and instrumental accompaniment, not merely in rich costuming.