Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lilla Serlegi at the Croatian American Cultural Center

About five years ago a young Hungarian musician arrived in the Bay Area to learn English. Last night she graced Bay Area audiences with a solo concert as part of the Croatian American Cultural Center’s Culture at the Crossroads Series. In those five years Lilla Serlegi has found her place in the Bay Area Balkan music scene as lead instrumentalist and singer in two local bands, noted tamburitza instructor, and frequent guest musician. 
It is misleading to consider Lilla simply Hungarian, though she is that and more. Lilla grew up speaking Croatian and Hungarian, and absorbing the musical influences from the three cultures of her childhood village. As she explains in the program notes, 
I am from a small Croatian village in Hungary near the Austrian border in the area called Gradišće. Our population Gradišćanski Croatians on the two sides of the border is approximately sixty thousand people. This area has been populated by Croatians from the sixteenth century. Our culture, to this day, is a blend of Croatian, Hungarian and Austrian. It is obvious in our music and in other aspects of our life. Tonight I will bring music to you from Croatia, the old country, a bit from Hungary, and music with the taste of the Austrian influence.
                Last night’s concert was completely introduced by Lilla (and yes, she did achieve her English learning goal). Her lively personality engaged the audience immediately, and I found Lilla’s introductions and back story associated with each song to be one of the best parts of the concert.   
For example she introduces the song Kad me lupi tambure:  “This is about the good feelings of playing and listening the tamburitza. Why is the next song important to me? I remember when Caroline Bahr of Novi Stari Tamburaši gave me this song to sing with them. This was the first song I sang solo with them. It has become the song of Lillian Ruzich, my dear Lillian, and me. It is a Slavonian song.”
The program included music from Hungarian, Croatian, Austrian, Dalmatian, Romani and Moldavian traditions. She selected each song for a personal association. For each section of the concert she invited her favorite musicians to the stage:  The Slavonian Traveling Band, Novi Stari Tamburasi, and the Ferenc Tobak Family Band. Though I’m struck by the musical quality of Lilla’s solo work, the presence of the various bands highlights the cultural range of her musical  repertoire.
          Lilla’s expertise on the strings and vocals, as well as her energy and enthusiasm to share her tradition with Bay Area audiences is a blessing to Bay Area Balkan music enthusiasts. Her style and repertoire is unique to my knowledge. We are all fortunate to have this emerging musician in our midst. With Lilla’s energy and talent I expect to see her as an emerging young leader in this musical scene.

     This short video captures Lilla's lively personality and love of music, as well as samples for last night's concert.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dancing High in the Sierra Foothills

 CODA: Grace Edith Callaway, 1987-2011
We miss you Amazing Grace, and we love you. We celebrated your life today with music, kind words, videos of your dancing, as the snow was falling outside the church.  Your mother shared her dream, where she met you and you told her, " Now I need to learn to dance in a different way." Love to you - Nancy

I live in the San Francisco Bay area where you can see the most innovative dance in the world, so I was amazed to find a dance company in the sleepy town of Grass Valley that outdid any performance I've seen around here recently.

Last week-end our friend and aerial dancer Grace Callaway invited us to a concert by the AirAligned Dance Company. (Grace is the dancer in the far left of this photo). Aerial dance I've learned, has been around since the 1970s, but it was new to me.The dance form consists of  acrobatics and and dance performed from long strips of cloth hanging from the ceiling. Dancers climb, fall, slide, twist, dance together and apart with incredible skill and grace.

Another highlight of the show was Shredder Hoops, the performs with hoops from her neck, her torso, her legs, and her tippy toes. With memories of my hula hoop days, I know the skill it takes to get one or two hoops moving in the most logical parts of the body. And Shredder worked up to 10 hoops at time!  My admiration for her work only grew when she told me she practices five hours a day. Also to note are company director Tresa Honaker both for her beautiful dancing, her choreography and her ability to put together a show as professional as this. Musician Craig Thomas tied things together with keyboard, guitar music and vocals, and brought the house down with  a sexy David Bowie rendition.

This tightly produced show consisted of aerial dance, hoop dance, modern dance,  show dance and a little hop hop bound together with a loose narrative around a masquerade theme. Each dancer created a character and created a short piece around the character.They put on a show once a year. Definitely worth a trip to the Sierra Foothills!

Air Aligned has a number of videos on YouTube so you can see for yourself. Here is their demo tape:

And here is one of Grace's solos