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San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival delights in all movement languages

by Joanna G. Harris
July 17, 2017
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-5600
If you want to experience ethnic dance in a super production, accompanied by electronic sound, super lighting, gorgeous costumes and hoards of dancers, attend the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.

For this year's 2-week festival there were of course some special highlights where the dance, the dancer, the accompaniment and the sense of authenticity were fabulous, but, alas, for the most part a Hollywood, Bollywood and kind of Radio City Music Hall atmosphere prevailed with sound that was a bit over-the-top.

La Tania, the great Bay Area flamenco dancer, made a farewell appearance to the music of a singer and two guitarists. Her grace, her skill, her mastery of the form was amazing. I saw her debut performance years ago and now she says goodbye; her dancing is the kind of experience one seeks. Also a joy to watch were the three dancers of Bitezo Bia Kongo group performing "Ntela." They were lively and funny. With them were four amazing drummers who stole the show, on stage, and afterwards in the Opera House lobby.

Next, a quiet interlude by Mahealani Uchiyama and Zena Carlotak playing on instruments popular in Mozambique and Zimbabwe led up to a performance by a huge group of Tahitian dancers from French Polynesia. The dancers wiggled in that amazing way to lively drum music and the energy they displayed elicited hoots and hollers from the audience.

Of the numbers in the program's first half, of particular note was that of Ballet Folklorico Mexican Dance, whose dance, in part reflected the ‘revolution’. Women carrying rifles were proud leaders. Partner dancers also celebrated dressed in colorful costumes. Best of all a group of men dancers appeared with horse's legs as part of their outfits. They made a joyous group to the songs and guitar music, so lively and appropriate.

Indian dance is very special. In these times, authentic and important Kathak and bharatanatyam forms have been taught and practiced.

But as produced by the Aditya Patel Company, Indian dance becomes a Bollywood number. The celebration, in honor of the Lord Ganesha, loses the lovely intricate quality of hands, eyes and gestures. I must assume this is what is currently practiced.The Natya group also delivered an exuberant performance demonstrating the strength of the Lord Shiva but to extremes. or this reviewer, the subtlety of gesture is lost in the mob scene.

Sunday traffic prevented me from seeing the opening numbers, Ballet Afsaneh and Yao Yung dance. I was told they were in ballet style.

Next year, the San Francisco Ethnic Dance festival celebrates its 40th year.
It has earned many kudos for bringing community groups to the stage to represent the amazing diversity of the Bay Area community. For this writer, more attention to the quality and nature of the intrinsic ethnicity and less to highlighted staging, would bring that diversity to the fore.
La Tania

La Tania

Photo © & courtesy of RJ Muna

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