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Sunday, May 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A little gray joins the colors at 35th Folklife

Seattle Times jazz critic

Baby boomers crooned "A Hard Day's Night" on the Bagley Lawn, bare-chested high-schoolers spun and swirled by the International Fountain, a Celtic fiddler lit up the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall with a gorgeous air, and a Lebanese reed player sliced through the Rainier Room with an ear-splitting, double-reed zurna.

It's Folklife weekend again, and all is well in the Emerald City.

Except for the weather, which has been unseasonably cold and a little wet. Rain doused the Friday crowd, and a gray sky dribbled from time to time Saturday afternoon.

Friday attendance was light, even less than usual for opening night, according to a random sample of vendors.

Though the Roadhouse and Big Bamboo halls were full of dancers, as always, the Friday grounds belonged to high-school kids.

Many rallied for the hip-hop show at the Mural Amphitheatre. The Breaking Point Dance Company, featuring students from Meadowdale and Edmonds-Woodway, busted snappy, coordinated moves.

Kid rock bands held forth on the Bagley Lawn and Fountain Lawn, where marijuana and cigar smoke billowed in the air (don't tell Mom) and girls and boys huddled in groups, eyeing each other.

The first big event of this year's Arab cultural focus, the Arab Dance at Center House Court, was poorly attended, which is too bad, since the throbbing band, led by local oud (lute) player Maurice Rouman, was flat-out terrific. One tall, gray-haired gentleman managed to get a circle dance going in the middle of the floor.

"People will come for the big show Sunday," said Amineh Ayyad, a local artist who grew up in Syria and curated the arts show "Where We Are Now" in the Orcas Room.

Ayyad was referring to the 7 p.m. gala today at McCaw Hall, featuring guest artists Simon Shaheen (who plays oud), vocalist May Nasr and nay (flute) player Nadim Dlaikan.

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Ayyad's photographs, "Peace in Palestine," and Nuha Sinno's textilelike ink-on-paper works are compelling.

Dlaikan, an affable performer who explained his music in a nonpedantic way, delivered a lovely set in the Rainier Room Saturday.

In the superb "In the Land of the Free?" documentary showing at the Eve Alvord Theatre, two professional Jordanian men living in Seattle noted with some irony that they had immigrated to America because it was a more open society.

After 9/11, they said, they felt less able to speak their minds here than in Jordan.

As always, Folklife represented cultures from all over the world.

One of the biggest highlights was a virtuoso performance on xylophone by one of the guest artists from Thailand who joined the local Chaopraya Ensemble.

Incredibly, the famous Thai classical vocalist Sutjit Anantakul flew to Seattle from Thailand to sing three songs with the group Friday, then flew back home Saturday.

The Indian dance special at McCaw Hall Saturday morning showcased the Odissi classical dance of the excellent group Urvasi, with a spotlight on dancer Aimée Machiels.

Friday night, local Okinawans sang along with the group Ukwanshin Kabudan's popular folk songs.

Some had came out to support group member Mako Willett, who lives in Everett and teaches sanshi (a three-stringed lute, like the Japanese shamisen).

There's lots more to choose from at Folklife over the next two days. The 35th annual festival ends Monday night.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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