Split Tribal Festival in Croatia
by Paola Blanton
photos by Marin Culic and Dunja Cuk Podolski
posted January 18, 2011
Imagine performing in a historic Roman palace – its time-worn pediment rising high above as the audience finds its place among ancient marble columns and stairs. Colored lights cast a mystic glow as the music lashes out, grabbing the public’s attention and holding it rapt as international soloists and troupes cast their spell onstage.
For three days and nights in August, the Split Tribal Fest gave us that stage setting – and much more. Croatia’s second largest city is the site of Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace on the seaside and a living museum of antiquities. In Split, it is not uncommon for one’s home to share a wall, a column, or an ancient walkway dating back to antiquity . Romance and history converse in its streets as the salty Adriatic breezes waft through its corridors, invoking a sense of timelessness.
Organizers Suncica, Dunja, and Slaven began their preparations a year in advance, sponsoring Sharon Kihara, Kami Liddle, the Uzume , and myself to present workshop topics for a diverse assembly of European dancers. Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Italy, and Russia were represented in the workshops and nightly shows, showcasing the wealth of talent from the heart of Europe.
Croatia is one of Europe’s up-and-coming tourist destinations, and for many good reasons. The Adriatic coast winds sinuously down the west of the country, where jagged fjords meet crystalline-blue waters teeming with the fruits of the sea that grace the country’s excellent cuisine. Foodies, don’t think twice for here is a Mediterranean marvel, offering some of the region’s best wines, olives, produce, seafood, and of course, the famous smoked meats of Croatia, like prosciutto.
It’s like an Italy that one can actually afford, due to the fact that it is not yet an European Union country, and therefore not subject to the massive cost of living spikes of EU member nations.
Croatia’s dry summers boast endless sunshine tempered by sea breezes, olive groves, vineyards, and cypress forests. There is something about the light there, romantically Mediterranean, golden and reflective in a way that makes everything a touch more beautiful.
Combine its history, architecture, climate, food, wine, and warm Balkan hospitality, and you have a perfect setting for an international gathering of dancers who showcased Tribal, Fusion, and related styles. Our workshops were held in the Hajduk Soccer Stadium’s modern cultural complex – a set of well-appointed studios with an upstairs café that served a hearty vegetarian lunch every day to festival participants for less than $5.
Nightly performances at Diocletian’s Palace were a Festival highlight, spanning creative Tribal Fusion and featuring international stars like Sharon Kihara and Kami Liddle. I myself presented my Balkan Fusion style that derives directly from my own yearly research and festival in nearby Macedonia, sister republic to Croatia in the Former Yugoslavia.
Innovation marked every aspect of this Festival. I saw Tribal merging with lyrical expression from “Les Petits Bijoux” of Slovenia, comedic character-play from Stania and Irena of the Czech Republic, and pumped-up Electronic Trance fusion from Nina Stepic Cupic of Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. It goes without saying that Sharon Kihara and Kami Liddle were both gorgeous and inspiring onstage, crystallizing the impact the event had on the awed public. The Adriatic and Central European dance community is in love with belly dance in all its manifestations, as evidenced by the regular visitation of international stars like Kihara, Kami Liddle, Petite Jamila, Morocco, and Michelle Joyce, just to name a few. For a first-time project for Dunja, Suncica and Slaven, it was world-class in all aspects.
The novelty and originality in the application of related dance forms and sensitivity to good fusion extended to great live music as well. This was showcased in the electrifying performance of the Mantra Fusion Band, of which Suncica is the violinist. They wrapped up one of our shows in front of the Palace with a high-impact set cross-breeding Balkan music with Oriental and Indian tones, along with a dash of Rock to keep you on your toes.
As an instructor, I enjoyed working with a highly organized team who took the time to anticipate my needs and to make me feel at home. Volunteer helpers like Josipa Vulic were always on hand to pick up, drop off, have a coffee or a wine, or just chat. I felt like I was surrounded by friends because I was. In the Balkans, hospitality is in the blood, and a generously warm and friendly spirit pervaded all aspects of this Festival.
In 2011, they will do it again, and you’re invited! Imagine yourself on the ancient shores of an ancient land, surrounded by centuries-worn marble, dancing to your soul’s content among new friends in the heart of Europe. Raise a glass of cold white wine, enjoy a platter of steamed mussels, and enjoy the show. Split is a unique, world heritage setting, and Split Tribal Fest is a unique festival that will steal your heart and fire your imagination until you come back to the embrace of new friends in the spirit of our great Dance.
Russian Tribal Mafia Dance Company from Russia
Les Petite Bijoux Dance Company from Slovenia
Belly-Freaks Dance Company from Croatia
Author Paola dancing to "Da Zna Zora" – by Sandy Lopicic Orkestar – Balkan Gypsy/Cabaret fusion.
Stania and Irena from Czech Republic
Tribal trio – The Uzumé and Sharon Kihara
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