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The Cossacks display their culture in a lively program of song and dance. 

Warriors Come in Peace

The Don Cossacks of Rostov are coming! Were this the 16th century, this news would be cause for alarm and the gathering of weapons. This group of Cossack settlers who reside along the Don River of western Russia was known originally for daring raids and legendary military exploits. In the last few hundred years, the Cossacks have fallen in and out of favor with the Soviet government, have been stripped of rights, only to have them reinstated, particularly when their military know-how was needed, the last time occurring during World War II. Military might aside, the Don Cossacks have another noteworthy strength: reveling in song and dance. Coming in peace and bringing great exuberance, they'll perform traditional folk rituals for one night only, Nov. 10 at UR's Modlin Center.

Wearing richly colored heavy velvets and jeweled brocades, this lively ensemble kicks, rolls and squats, lamenting death, celebrating love, honoring a soldier's heroics or relishing snowy winter games. Singing tends toward polyphony, a male solo soaring above the others plaintively, perhaps with a humorous refrain. Customarily, songs are performed without instrumental accompaniment, although the group does use flutes, accordions, trumpets, balalaikas, percussion, and a double bass.

The Don Cossacks Song and Dance Ensemble established itself in 1936, after a few decades of Cossacks being stripped of all privileges. They assembled, with a governmental OK, to sustain their culture, particularly their dance, choral singing, and elegiac songs that accompany weddings, holidays, soldier send-offs and hunts. The aim has been to preserve their culture and to embrace the present.

Artistic Director Anatoly Kvasov experiences great satisfaction with every show, especially those for American and Canadian audiences. Speaking through interpreter and road manager Paulette Zitofsky by cell phone on a bus on the way to Wellens, Ontario, he explains, "Audiences are intimately atuned to what we're doing. In Russia, the audience has been spoiled by so many groups like ours. They're cynical. But audiences here are better predisposed. It gives me great pleasure and great joy."

Like so many of the political changes of this century, the fall of communism has affected the group. For the first time in years, they're able to sing liturgical songs, although they have yet to incorporate them into their current program. "Our freedom is relatively recent and regretfully, we've had no time to adopt them into our show."

His folk troupe of several dozen men and women has been touring Canada and the United States since September.

The Don Cossacks have become one of the best known Russian folk groups in their own country and abroad because, Kvasov says, "The Ensemble strives to present ... not only beautiful relics of the past, but also the living art of the present." They offer an opportunity to glimpse a culture that is four centuries old, and continuing, despite great political
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