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Carnegie/Bridgeville

Tamburitzans bring world cultures to South Fayette stage

| Monday, April 16, 2018, 12:45 a.m.
Featured in The Tamburitzans 2017-18 production 'Passages: The Journey of Our Ancestors' is a suite of Serbian songs and dances form Negotin, a town situated in the eastern district of Bor near the borders of Romania and Bulgaria.
Rick Armstrong Photography
Featured in The Tamburitzans 2017-18 production 'Passages: The Journey of Our Ancestors' is a suite of Serbian songs and dances form Negotin, a town situated in the eastern district of Bor near the borders of Romania and Bulgaria.
Featured in The Tamburitzans 2017-18 production 'Passages: The Journey of Our Ancestors' is a suite of Serbian songs and dances form Negotin, a town situated in the eastern district of Bor near the borders of Romania and Bulgaria.
Rick Armstrong Photography
Featured in The Tamburitzans 2017-18 production 'Passages: The Journey of Our Ancestors' is a suite of Serbian songs and dances form Negotin, a town situated in the eastern district of Bor near the borders of Romania and Bulgaria.

There are only 30 Tamburitzans, but when the international folk ensemble performs, it seems as though there are at least 100 people onstage.

“The show has always been vibrant,” artistic director George ‘Butch' Kresovich says. “It's unique in the entertainment industry. America has sort of homogenized. It's a chance for people to see diversity.”

Founded in 1937, the group boasts the title of longest-running live stage show in the United States. Although rooted in Slovakian traditions — its name is derived from the word “tamburitza,” a string instrument native to Eastern Europe — the Tamburitzans celebrate cultures from all over the world through song and dance.

Based in Pittsburgh since its earliest days, the traveling troupe returns home on at 2 p.m. April 28 when it debuts “Passages: The Journey of Our Ancestors” at South Fayette High School, where alumnus Aaron Skrbin serves as principal.

Like the entertainment they provide, the young artists hail from all corners of the globe. Each one is enrolled full time in a Pittsburgh-based university. Since its inception, the Tamburitzans have encouraged academic achievement by granting scholarships to deserving student performers.

Half of the 30 members are native Pittsburghers, including Matea Pranjic.

The 21-year-old, who is double-majoring in marketing and supply chain management at the University of Pittsburgh, belonged to a junior Tamburitzans group from age 5 to 18.

“I took a year off and realized what an impact folk dancing had made in my life, so I tried out during my freshman year of college and made it,” says Pranjic, who in addition to singing, dancing and playing instruments onstage, is responsible for the lighting. “My favorite part about this group is the opportunities we have to learn about new cultures through song and dance. Every country has styles of dancing and singing that distinguish it from other countries or even regions within the country. By learning these songs and dances, we are exposed to half of Eastern Europe without leaving Pittsburgh.”

Duquesne University senior Kristofer Vucelich, 22, has been a Tamburitzan since the age of 5 when his parents put a guitar in his hand. His classmate Jennifer Popovski, 19, joined two years ago as a way to stay connected to her family and culture while she is away at school.

Anka Gataric, 18, also has been dancing and singing with the group since childhood. Now a first-year at Robert Morris University, she enjoys exploring new cities on the Tamburitzans' tour.

“I have been with the Tamburitzans at every performance this season,” she says. “The ensemble performs about four to five times a month, but the number of shows may increase if the cast is on school breaks or extended weekends.”

Kresovich and his team start planning the annual show in July, writing music, choreographing dance moves and crafting costumes at their headquarters on the Boulevard of the Allies.

From September until June, the Tamburitzans hit the road on weekends, traveling from Wisconsin to Florida and then out West. Performers practice every Friday night during the season, all while maintaining a full college course load.

It's a passion Kresovich can understand.

The West Mifflin native saw a Tamburitzans performance when he was a kid and performed with the organization from 1976 to 1980 and then spent three decades as an entertainer at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. He took the reins as the Tamburitzans artistic director three years ago.

“We have around 700 alumni, so it's a very small group of people,” he says. “It's a fraternity you carry on through life. It's more than just a job, it's a lifestyle.”

Kristy Locklin is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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