International Folk Ensemble
By Dick Oakes
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THIS IS HISTORICAL INFORMATION ONLY
It was about 1976 when a request was received by Joyce Greeley (now Nerad) from a teacher at a middle school in Newport Beach to present a folk dance performance for a festival the school was holding. Joyce referred her to Richard Duree who was a long-time folk dancer and was teaching folk and social dance at Orange Coast College, having recently completed a Dance Ethnology Master's degree from Cal State University, Fullerton.
The conversation that started it all went something like this:
"What countries can you represent?"
"Well, let's see: Hungary, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Bavaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania."
"(Gasp!) But those are all Communist countries! Can you emphasize the German?"
"No, not really. My mother is Hungarian and that's my heritage. I can only have one couple in Bavarian costume."
Silence. Long pregnant pause, then, worriedly, "Well, OK. Can you fill about 45 minutes?"
And so, in 1977, the Dunaj International Folk Ensemble was born. From that first 45-minute demonstration of "Communist" folk dances, Dunaj went on to perform for over 30 years in Orange County, California.
In 1977 and 1978, Richard attended the Hungarian workshop with Sándor Timár in Sárospatek, Hungary and in 1978 produced the Széki Táncrend at the only Pontozó held in Los Angeles, the first time it was performed in the United States.
One of Dunaj's longest playing choreographies was the Appalachian Clog Suite, that was performed for many years to live music from our own five-piece band. The company's Oktoberfest repertoire was performed at Oktoberfests throughout Southern California for more than 25 years. Richard drew upon his vast repertoire to create choreographies from Greece, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Vojvodina, Romania, and from several master choreographers:
Yerevan Suite (Tom Bozigian), Pilzen Suite and Sellacky (Dr. František Bonuš), and Slovak Wine Celebration (Vladimir Urban).
Members of the company were provided the opportunity to experience the creation of their own choreographies as their skill and knowledge would enable.
Sue Simms and Kathy Seabourne, two superb Middle-Eastern dancers, joined the company and produced the Tunisian Sha'abi and Egyptian Ghawazee performances that remained a major part of Dunaj's repertoire for almost 20 years.
In 1998, with California's Sesquicentennial approaching in 2000, Richard researched and choreographed "Ecos del Fandango," a suite portraying the dances of Early California; dances from that suite are still performed and taught to folk dancers and others with an interest in Early California history.
Ragtime dance became popular with the company and an extensive repertoire of Ragtime dance was incorporated into the performance collection. Richard, and his wife Ruth Levin, are still featured teachers at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento every November.
During its lifetime, Dunaj produced and performed many full-length dance concerts in Orange County and throughout Southern California. There have been over a hundred members over the years. The company toured Hungary and Croatia with their Appalachian Clog Suite in 1987.
Most Dunaj members have moved on to other pursuits; many of them have become outstanding musicians and still contribute to the folk dance and music community in Orange County.
Richard Duree, Director