“The uniqueness and wonder of Folkmoot USA is not the performances on the stage, but what happens when the performers come off the stage,” explains festival representative Michael Weaver, adding, “It’s a … rare microcosm of cultural exchange, right here in the Appalachian Mountains.”
And how. This year, Folkmoot USA — the largest international dance festival of its kind in North America — will bring 350 dancers and musicians from 12 different countries to Western North Carolina. Headquartered in Waynesville, they’ll share cultural traditions through their art and — perhaps most importantly — through personal interactions between and among nations. Greeks and Turks, Soviets and Americans have all come together at Folkmoot USA, often bedded down in cots side-by-side in a Waynesville junior-high school. This year’s festival will showcase dancers from Italy, Mexico, Peru, Turkey and the Ukraine — as well as newcomers to the festival from Ecuador, the Ivory Coast, Russia’s Kalmyk Republic, Malaysia and Nepal — with traditional musical instruments and costumes that are sure to leave audiences dazzled.
In fact, part of the original mission of Folkmoot USA (in addition to the rich cornucopia of music and dance) was to encourage interaction between nations — helping people realize that we’re all just that: people, with much the same needs, wants and goals. Jackie Bolden, Folkmoot USA’s general manager, relates a particularly vivid story of how the festival helps promote not just multicultural, but purely human, understanding … in sometimes-unexpected ways. Last year, for instance, a dance troupe from Macedonia was apprehensive about hosting a program for disadvantaged children. When the festival ended, however, the Macedonians realized that this program had been the most meaningful part of the experience, for them — prompting the troupe to create a special poster for the children, to express just how meaningful the interaction had been.
This year’s festival was particularly challenging to arrange, notes Bolden, with immigration laws more stringent than in previous years and world politics in a state of upheaval. Folkmoot USA is strongly affected by current events: A Bosnian group scheduled to perform at this year’s extravaganza was unable to obtain the required visas for obvious political reasons.
Renowned musicians and dancers from across the globe dream of performing at Folkmoot USA, often working for years or even going into debt to get a chance to appear there. “We can’t find such a sum,” says Peter Nadbitov, choreographer for the Kalmyk State Folklore Dance Theatre, referring to the $50,000 it cost to bring his troupe of musicians and dancers — complete with instruments, costumes and props — to the festival. But through sheer perserverance, the group managed to borrow enough money to make it this year. And a dance troupe from the Ukraine wanted to participate in the festival so badly that they offered to stay in Western North Carolina and harvest summer crops, in order to pay their way.
“Working with the groups and getting them here has been the most exciting aspect of the festival,” explains Bolden, noting, “It can take years to get a group [to Folkmoot USA].”
Folkmoot USA schedule
In addition to these main-stage performances and events, certain groups will perform in schools and communities.
• Friday, July 16, 1 p.m. Parade of Nations, Main Street, Waynesville (free), all groups.
• Friday, July 16, 7:30 p.m. Opening performance, Stompin’ Ground in Maggie Valley, all groups.
•Saturday, July 17, 7:30 p.m. WNC World Tour, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, all groups.
• Sunday, July 18, 2 p.m. World Friendship Sunday, Stuart Auditorium, Lake Junaluska, all groups.
• Sunday, July 18, 8 p.m. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, all groups.
• Thursday, July 22, 7:30 p.m., Haywood Community College, Clyde, all groups.
• Friday, July 23, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m: Festival Extravaganza, Stompin’ Ground in Maggie Valley, all groups.
• Saturday, July 24, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.: International Festival Day, Main Street, Waynesville (local and regional artisans and crafters will join international groups in selling their handiwork; free, day-long performances by six groups).
• Saturday, July 24, 7:30 p.m.: International Celebration, Haywood Community College, Clyde, all groups.
• Sunday, July 25, 7:30 p.m.: Candlelight Closing, Stuart Auditorium, Lake Junaluska, all groups.
Main-Stage-event tickets are $16 (reserved seats), $13 (general admission). Contact Folkmoot USA toll-free at (877) FOLK-USA for more info, or visit the festival Web site at www.folkmoot.com for a complete schedule of events.