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Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

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Folk Ensemble

By Dick Oakes



Richard Unciano with Turkish davul he bought in Silifke Koroyar Folk Ensemble had a distinctive philosophy: It aimed to be as much enlightening as entertaining; to retain the essence and character of each region's dance and music, and to develop each member's potential to the fullest, all the while maintaining a high level of performance. Thus, performances were as natural and straightforward as possible, true to the spirit and image of the villages. There was a permanent policy of open menbership with the only requirements being a love of the cultures and a willingness to work. Koroyar was always a cross-section of ages, national heritages, folk dance experiences, and occupations.

Authentic folk dances of the Pontian Greeks, Assyrian minority of Iran, Albanian minorities of northern Macedonia, 14 provinces of Turkey, Bulgarian Šop region, Western Armenia, Russia, Greece, Mexico, Israel, and continental Europe were the group's main repertoire. All the dances were collected from direct field research and verified by the leading scholarly institutions of the respective countries.

The company was formed in Los Angeles in May of 1969 by Richard Unciano. It started with ten members and had its genesis in an advanced Balkan class at Falcon Studios in Hollywood. It took several months of persuasion, but the instructor of the class, Richard Unciano, was prevailed upon to be the founder and director. Then came the hard part -- coming up with a name that would indicate the variety of cultures that the group would represent. Many suggestions were made. "Koroyar" was adopted as a combination of the words kolo, horo, oyun, and bar, all from different cultures, but all with the same meaning.

The first performance was at Ellicott Studios, San Diego, on June 20, 1969. From that time on, the group performed an average of a little over once a month in the Southern California area, with the first full-length concert given in 1973. By preference, Kokroyar only did one to three concerts per yaar, and appeared at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Arts Festival, Brentwood-Bel Air Women's Club, Busch Gardens, Cal State Fullerton, Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ojai Folk Dance Festival, San Diego Civic Auditorium, St. Mary's Macedonian Orthodos Church, University of Southern California, Universal Sheraton Hotel, Wilshire Ebell, Temple Sinai in glendale, and many more.

With that first performance, Koroyar became the first group on the West Coast to do any Pontian Greek dances. Later that year, Turkish dances were added to the repertoire, making the group again the first of the West Coast to do so. 1971 was an important year, as a full Pontian suite was first performed in February, a full Šop suite in July, and a full Turkish suite in October. Other full sites that were done for the first time were a Caucasian suite in April of 1973, a North Bulgarian suite in February of 1974, and a Bulgarian-Thracian suite in February of 1975.

A orchestra was added in 1972, and Ron Muller was asked to be its director. His B.A. in music and 20-plus years of music experience made him the logical choice. The orchestra not only played for the ensemble, but also performed on its own, playing mainly for weddings, ethnic functions, and folk dance events. The six musicians brought the membership of the ensemble to 22, with the youngest being 18 and the oldest being 48. The eventual goal was 30 dancers plus the orchestra.

Koroyar was distinctive in repertoire, instrumentation, aesthetic vision, presentation, and philosophy. The aim of the ensemble was to be musically entertaining, artisically arousing, and culturally broadening in equal measure. It also strived to retain a high level of performance and artistic creativity. Material for the repertoire was selected for its intrinsic artistic and aesthetic value as well as for its entertainment, historical, educational, and cultural merit, without regard to difficulty. The ensemble consulted with a multitude of sources, including members of local ethnic communities, to insure that all titles, song lyrics, background facts, etc. were accurate, complete, and properly pronounced, including the subtleties of regional dialect, accent, and style. Performances were natural and straightforward, true to the spirit and image of the village.

The company was noted for several outstanding reasons. It did music that no other ensemble on the west coast, ethnic and/or non-ethnic, dared even attempt. In the western United States, Koroyar was the only exponent of Crimean Tatar tradition, one of the few proponents of Transcaucasian (Azerbajani, Armenian, Georgian, Cherkez, etc.) music, a major advocate of Turkish material, one of the champions of Bulgarian music, and may have been the largest repository of music from Kosovo. It was the first troupe of any kind on the west coast to perform Turkish "Kavkaz" tunes and Pontian Greek melodies. The Romanian shepherd's air "Caval lui Laceanu," Bulgarian compound rhythm "Sedi Donka," archaic Pontian Greek trance dance melody "Letsi," and the Kosovo tune "Imar Kofat Shkoj ne Krue" are examples of numbers that were exclusive to the company.

The artistry of Koroyar was unrivaled in its genre because all the appropriate and typical embellishments, accidentals, accelerando changes, beat pattern variations, internal phrasing, "flavoring," etc. in each melody were employed. Tunes were not simplified and were alll played at the proper tempo, whether fast or slow. So that all the music would sound exotic yet familiar, genuine yet artistically accessible, provocative yet pleasing, the ensemble played authentic folk instruments and standard orchestral instruments in several different kinds of combinations. Programs ranged from archaic to contemporary traditional melodies in a kaliedoscope of rhythms from a standard 2/4 to a double compound 7/8 + 11/8 and of scales from major to modal to synthetic. Koyorar remained unequaled in the number of performances it gave, the wide range of venues it played for, the depth or variety of its playing, and the indelible, visceral impressions it left.

Koroyar ammased hundreds of credits from university recitals to television and from international fairs to banquets, receptions, and weddings.

Richard died on April 8, 2006, of colon cancer, which was discovered at a late stage, taking him quickly. Koroyar managed to survive for a while longer.