The Origins

Not the “zest” in decadence, excessive “slamming,” coarse and provocative behaviour, which can sometimes incite applause from the audience, but does not educate the spectators’ taste and vulgarizes folk art… These principles served to further flesh out the Ensemble’s mission: to show traditional folk dance on the stage by developing it in the sense of and in line with contemporary demands of performing arts, as well as for traditional dance to start communicating in a new, fresh artistic language—to fuse the past with the present.

 

This is what Olga Skovran understood her mission to be, when she was entrusted with the task of establishing the National Folk Song and Dance Ensemble of People’s Republic of Serbia on the proposal of the Ministry of Education of Serbia in 1948. On these principles, she built a young art institution in the country, which built itself after the destruction of the war. The Regulation on the establishment of the Ensemble was adopted by the Government of the People’s Republic of Serbia, stating as follows: “We dance our folk dances after the liberation in all of our culture and art clubs. Now, with the establishment of the Folk Dance Ensemble of the People’s Republic of Serbia, which is to be under the management of the Ministry of Education, our folk dances should be raised to a higher artistic level.”

The Ensemble started its activities on 15 May 1948, and already on 29 November 1948 it had its premiere on the stage of the National Theatre in Belgrade, accompanied by the orchestra of the Belgrade Opera and the tamburitza orchestra of Radio Belgrade. Indeed, its first appearance kicked off collaboration with renowned Serbian art institutions, which will go on to become a tradition.

The Ensemble grew to be a true national arts team and from the first day brought together the most prominent experts in the field of traditional dance, music, and songs. Olga Skovran, whose assistants were Milena Penić and Nada Patrnogić, was joined by another resident choreographer Dobrivoje Putnik, and acknowledged ethnologist Olivera Mladenović, PhD, was appointed secretary and expert associate of the Ensemble. The Ensemble took its first steps also supported by the eminent Expert Council (Stana Klajn, Dragutin Čolić, Branko Marković, Maga Magazinović), as well as counsel and lectures from sisters Danica and Ljubica Janković.

 

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Stage adaptation of folk dances

The stage adaptation of folk dances in the form of choreographic miniatures as a new direction in performance dance was developed by Olga Skovran in the Kolo Ensemble, emulating the Soviet style of choreography. Many of her works are still on the Ensemble’s repertoire today, serving as exemplars in the creation of new ones.

By 1965, when Olga Skovran retired, Kolo’s repertoire already included 66 choreographies out of 133 they total to this day, 25 of which represent her creations. In 1966, Kolo performed its 2000th concert of about 5500 played in total since its founding.

The concept of choreographic miniatures has remained up to the present day, but in the late eighties Kolo started to focus on thematically selected and directed folk dances, songs, and customs, which will be remembered as a musical and stage rendition and open up a new chapter in the presentation of folklore (the first rendition Devojački san – by: Ratomir Đurović, 1986). Some of the subsequent renditions also include Koreni, Bal u Beogradu, Golgota i Vaskrs Srbije, and Balkanska Odiseja.

At that time, Kolo started to develop special singing programmes with varying degrees of stylization and producing of folk songs (“Cvet u narodnoj pesmi i poeziji” – by: Snežana Mijović Knežević, 1989), and to this day six more such programmes were created.

 

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The Artists in Kolo

The most prominent choreographers collaborated with Kolo and created art in it: Agata Žic, Mira Sanjina, Milica Ilijin, Beata Gotardi, Jelena Dopuđa, Ivan Ivančan, Zvonimir Ljevaković, Iko Otrin, Vaso Popović, Mirko Ramovš, Gligor Vasilev, Vlado Šoć, Milorad Lonić, Srboljub Ninković, Vladimir Logunov, Slavica Mihajlović, Slobodanka Rac…

The background music needed producing, which involved the biggest names of Balkan music: Stevan Hristić, Milenko Živković, Dragutin Čolić, Ljubomir Bošnjaković, Josip Slavenski, Nikola Hercigonja, Đorđe Karaklajić, Krešimir Baranović, Svetolik Pašćan, Pero Gotovac, Dušan Skovran, Ljubiša Pavković, Dimitrije Mikan Obradović, Veriša Miloradović, Dušan Suvajac, Zoran Bahucki, Miroljub Todorović, Slavko Mitrović…

In order to fully complete the task of “raising folk dance to a higher artistic level,” the Ensemble hired the most eminent dance experts: Sonja Dojčinović, Jovanka Bjegojević, Lidija Pilipenko, Duško Trninića, Milorad Miškovića…

 

The Koloists in Kolo

The Kolo Ensemble (the official name of the Ensemble since 1953) gave rise to new artists and experts who would lead the institution (Dragomir Vuković Kljaca, Mihailo Kuzmanović, Milivoje Popović, Dragan Kovačević, Bogdanka Đurić, Radojica Kuzmanović) for nearly four decades.

The Koloists in Kolo Ensemble would go on to prove their choreographic creativity in addition to management skills. In 1954, when Ciga Despotović (in collaboration with Olga Skovran) staged the Rusalija choreography, former dancers started training in choreography. Almost a quarter of choreographic works were staged by the Koloists: Dragomir Vuković, Desanka Đorđević, Borivoje Jović, Ratomir Đurović, Borivoje Talevski, Miroslav Bata Marčetić, Mirko Mutapčić, Radojica Kuzmanović, Miodrag Ciga Despotović, Ivon Despotović, Goran Mitrović, Dragan Kovačević, and Bratislav Grbić.

The Folk Orchestra will give birth to a huge number of world-class musicians and composers. Their creativity, inspired by traditional music styles, came up with some pieces that are widely accepted nowadays (“Igrale se delije,” “Moravac,” “Kolubarski vez,” “Šota”…) Among them are: Petar Josimović, Borislav Pašćan, Borivoje Janković, Žarko Milanović, Velimir Cvetković, Rade Milosavljević, Milivoje Branisavljević, Nenad Stanić, Marko Kojadinović…

 

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Kolo in the World

The breakthrough of the young institution with its new form of performance dance happened very quickly after its founding. Of crucial importance for the breakthrough in the world was the decision of the Yugoslav political leadership to have the Kolo Ensemble’s folk dance precede the diplomatic games in establishing international positions. The breakthrough in Western Europe was set off in 1950 with a tour in Switzerland, and in 1955 Kolo started to make its way throughout the Non-Aligned Movement, visiting countries such as: China, India, Egypt, Burma, Morocco, Tunisia, Indonesia… The non-bloc politics of the Non-Aligned allowed Kolo to appear on stages throughout the United States—where during 1956 it achieved significant success and recorded its first gramophone records—as well as Japan and Australia (1959).  This “art diplomacy” ended with the mellowing of the relationship between the two Cold War blocs during the sixties.

During the seventies and the time of Kolo’s great choreographer Dragomir Vuković, the Ensemble was revitalised, and the repertoire was enhanced with Vuković’s choreographies already celebrated in OKUD Ivo Lola Ribar. Kolo was still popular and often seen on stages across Europe, its success repeated also in the Far East, Japan, and Australia (1973 and 1977). In Belgrade and Yugoslavia, Kolo formed its own audience and relocated its already traditional “Tuesday concerts” from Beogradsko dramsko pozorište to Kolarac.

Although Kolo was ever present in Europe and the Middle East (Israel) and North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia), the years of crisis and wars have made Kolo wait 25 years to start going again on tours across the oceans (Australia 2002 and 2003).

Traveling around the world, Kolo performed at the biggest and most coveted concert halls: Metropolitan, Carnegie Hall, Palais de Chaillot, Teatro La Fenice, Bolshoi Theatre, Cambridge Theatre, Opera House in Sydney…

 

Koloists for All Time

Some of the biggest and still unparalleled names of the stage-artistic presentation of folk dances came from the first generation of Koloists, which dominated the stage during the period of “art diplomacy.”  Some of them are: Živka Đurić, Bratislav Grbić, Miodrag Ciga Despotović, Dragomir Vuković, Desanka Đorđević, Borivoje Jović, Janko Dolinaj, Pava Đorđević, Ratomir Đurović, Vladeta Vlahović, Mihailo Kuzmanović…

These dancers and role models created new generations of Koloists. Some of those who evolved admiring their manoeuvres on the stage were: Radojica Kuzmanovića, Ljiljana Kuzmanović-Tubić, Slobodan Tubić, Miroslav Bata Marčetića, Borivoje Talevski, Ratko Vilić, Goran Mitrović, Ana Mirković, Anđelka Petrović, etc.

 

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Awards and Acknowledgements

“When we talk about the success of guest performances, the different countries and many cities that Kolo toured, which ones should we mention by name? Langolen and three first prizes, a month in London, 56 concerts in Paris, the unforgettable Moscow and Leningrad, Tokyo, New York, Rome, or the far-away Melbourne?”

These words, which Olga Skovran uttered a long time ago to reflect on Kolo’s success, can be used to describe all of the awards, acknowledgments, and success to this day. It’s hard to say which one is the most important.

Winning all three categories (dance, song, and traditional playing) at the prestigious Langolen Festival in 1951 most certainly had a decisive impact on the Kolo Ensemble’s status within the world art scene. At the time when Kolo was making its name and tradition of quality ensemble, the state leadership was able to appreciate it. That is why the Kolo Ensemble is the holder of the People’s Order of Merit with golden wreath and the First May Award, and Olga Skovran, as a long-time art director, manager, and choreographer, was awarded the Seventh July Award.  Among the Ensemble’s notable accolades is also Vuk’s Award, as well as the first degree Order of Vuk Karadžić with the decree of the president of the republics on the occasion of Kolo’s 55th anniversary.

Critics have written for the most part in the superlative about the Ensemble. However, the way Kolo has been managing to maintain its superb quality, the way it still fascinates the audience and wins awards may have been best explained by one Belgian critic:

“…Their dance is entirely free of pretence, everything is natural, everything comes from the heart, and everything goes straight into the heart.”