To judge by the question-and-answer periods between sets, the Center for Traditional Music and Dance’s annual show for Lincoln Center Out of Doors gave its audience a serious case of déjà vu: the Crimean Tatars sounded Celtic, the Turkic court music Andalucían. The four-hour musical orbit round the Caspian Sea seemed to have cast a spell on us. We saw everything connected to everything else, across centuries and continents.
All four of these New York émigré groups – those led by Afghan rubab player Quraishi and Turkish classical singer Ahmet Erdoğdular, as well as the Crimean Tatar and central Asian Shashmaqam Ensembles – featured species of early lute that rang with the lush sweetness of the zither. For Shashmaqam, it served as anchor. When the three fine singers relinquished themselves to flamenco-style howls, tar master David Davidov kept the grace notes coming. Against their expression of ancient tribal bonds, his exquisite demonstration of craft.
Whatever the men were doing, the two women in the nine-member troupe – the dancers – remained decorative and ingratiating. Here, as in many folk forms, the women were mainly active in the arms. Gowns worthy of Merlin obscured their legs as they glided back and forth as if on wheels and spun like dervishes. But their hands and arms unfurled, fluttered, shook, interlaced, wafted – like wings, arabesques, ripples on a lake, a manic housewife on a dusting spree.
The Tatar women performed many of the same steps. But as soloist Dinara Faizova executed them, at least, the moves were slower and more clearly etched: a distillation of an idea sustained over the dance rather than pictograms scribbled one at a time on the air.
One move, a flicking back and forth of the palm, broke with the dominant, undulant mode. Why this isolated mechanical gesture? The sudden sense of the inscrutably foreign is the flipside of déjà vu. Maybe this glow of the unknown is what the woman was testifying to who stood up during a Q&A and said she knew nothing about this music and dance and could not afford the subway ride but was glad she came. It was moving her greatly. “Thank you,” she said, “from the poor people of New York.”