SF Ethnic Dance Festival

SF Opera House: July 14, 2018
“Uniting US through Dance”

The SF Ethnic Dance Festival is celebrating its 40th year using the title above and staging an elaborate series of performances at the Opera House and at SF City Hall, July 6-22, 2018. This reviewer attended the opening event at the Opera House.

It was an elegant evening, featuring eleven groups from diverse ethnicities. Each is wonderful in its special way; music, costuming, setting, participation. But for this reviewer, who has seen at least half of the festivals, a certain simplicity, close to origins, sometimes seeing children and adults together…used to be the delight of the festival. Now, the Opera House seems to demand large groups, elegant costumes and a lack of variety in presentation, several presentations featuring large groups of women choruses.

The Nunamta Yup’ik Eskimo Singer and Dancers opened the show, their set displaying important images, their song and simple dance very immediate and effective. That was also true for Leung’s White Crane Lion & Dragon Dance wherein we received the surprise and effective magic of San Francisco’s familiar celebration. Unusual too, although very contemporary, was the soloist, Ye Feng, whose work “carries Chinese Soul traditions,” and uses Chinese philosophy as well as American Modern Dance and tai chi. After watching several large groups, it is always a pleasure to see a soloist.

The second half of the program presented four complex events, evoking story lines as well as dance presentation. From the Parangal Dance Company representing the Meranao People of Mindanao, Philippines, we witnessed “The Abduction of Princess Lawanenj, “ an epic dance-drama that celebrated love, loyalty, conquest and epic poetry. The event was the most complex of the evening, presenting action, song, story and elaborate costuming. The Bolivian group, “Bolivia Corazon de American” ran a close second in its gorgeous production of “Pachamama, “ honoring Mother Earth.

As in the Philippine event, men danced as warriors. Men dancing provide a different welcome energy and range of steps that provide a variety of alternative rhythms. Men as heroes were also featured in “Te jura O Te Rahra’a” a Tahitian legend in which humans are transformed into birds and beasts. This group’s mission is to perpetuate Polynesian culture. Their beautiful costumes, sets and music fulfilled that goal.

As always praise is due to World Arts West, its staff, donors and volunteers for their commitment to bringing us the Festival. Bringing audiences our local Folklorico, Kathak company, Flamenco, and Afro-Cuban dance is always an important reminder of the richness of the San Francisco Bay Area community. Congratulations on 40 years!

Joanna G. Harris


“Sketch 8” Origin Stories

Amy Seiwert’s “IMAGERY
June 30, 2018
ODC Theater,  San Francisco

Contemporary Innovation

It’s clear now, to any watchful dance viewer, that the lines between ballet and contemporary (used to be called ‘modern’) dance are blended and blurred. As I write, the large California contact improvisation group is meeting in Berkeley. That form, which grew from modern dance, involves the practice of lifting, carrying, floor rolling and endless bodily contact between movers. The three choreographers for “Sketch 8” employ those practices throughout their choreography. It is basic vocabulary now along with the usual pirouettes, arabesques, jumps and positions of classic ballet. Only in Seiwert’s “Unlocking/Elpis” did the women wear point shoes. Although their movement is lively and well executed, still, the dynamics tend to be at one level. Gravity demands strength; gravity dictates descent onto the floor.

Seiwert, who has just been appointed as director of the Sacramento Ballet has, since 2011, encouraged innovation in ballet choreography. For this program she invited Jennifer Archibald and Gabrielle Lamb, both experienced choreographers, to offer new works that are challenging to their usual programming. Lamb’s work, “Lacunae” was the first offering. She writes, “In my choreography, I want to engage with this invisible field of turbulence, (air, wind, breath and atmosphere) so fundamental to our existence.” To music by Maanja Nuut, the eight skilled dancers form and reform elegant space patterns, breaking into groups of four and returning to the whole. They open and close their hands in detailed gesture. It is an elegant, demanding work,

Archibald in “Shutter” offers a similar vocabulary, suggesting that, “the process… reflected how many layers of urban movement research can seamlessly fit into classical ballet.” The dynamics of this piece to music by Anna Thorvalsdottir Seskomol and Agnes MacRae, was slower and smoother in execution. Solos, duets and the group fused, reformed and generally provided another pleasing work.

Seiwert admits that narrative is a challenge for her. With accompaniment and narration by Christian Lien (on viola), she built the mythological story of “Elips” the creature that remains in Pandora’s box when Zeus releases the troubles of mankind. Elips represents hope and, captured, struggles to get out. The dance, performed in masks and using netting, illustrates that struggle. At the finale, she is free. Seiwert feels it is a metaphor for our time. I believe Beth Ann Masinoff took the solo role.

The brilliant dancers of the company are: Sarah Cecilia, Alysia Chang, Aidan Deyoung, Matthew Doolin, Joseph A. Hernandez, Beth Ann Maslinoff, Kelsey Mcfalls and Austin Meitten. All provide outstanding talent; Deyoung and Chang stand out as special.

Siewert promises that “Sketches” will continue in future summers. We look forward too these special programs of innovative work.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo # DSC 3816
Choreographer: Amy Seiwert
Piece: UNLOCKING/ELPIS (world premiere)
Pictured: Amy Seiwert’s Imagry

CubaCaribe Festival of Dance and Music

CubaCaribe Festival of Dance and Music
Brava Theater, San Francisco
Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Movements of Migration

I was sorry to miss the events of Week One of the Festival featuring the Alayo Dance Company and their presentation of “Calle” and “Manos y Vida Cotidiana de Una Mujer Cubana.” The word was the Alayo and his dancers were a major achievement.

The second week brought a varied group of choreographers, dancers and ethnic dimensions to the Brava Stage. These included beliefs and practices from Brazil, Cuba, Ghana, Nicaragua, and multiple aspects of black migration in the US. It is a humbling and enlightening dimension of ethnic awareness to experience these dances.

There were seven unique events on the program for Weekend Two. “Supplication” danced by the Alafia Dance Ensemble illustrated the “request for help from Deities, especially Dambalah Wedo, Protective Creator, Source of life and Wisdom.” The ten dancers, in brilliant colorful costumes, using marvelous arm gestures and postures were effective and moving. Next was “Nicaragua Multiétnica: Cultura Garifunas,”with choreography and costumes by Cleopatra Morales Monteil. One of the two aspects of the performance represents the forced labor of the black in American lands; the other “Chumba” performed by Garifuna women (when their men are absent from home) express household work and sexual energy. The “espeques,” long sticks that are work tools, amplify the movement of hips, thorax, arms and head. The women danced alone and then were joined by men, amplifying the energy and the gestures. “Multiétnica” and “Chumba” provided an exciting and powerful look into this very special culture from the South Atlantic region of Nicaragua. A popular dance “Punta” concluded this section.

Maafa” by the El Wah Movement Dance Theatre under the direction of Colette Eloi, consisted of an excerpt from the National Theater of Ghana’s, “Revealing the Story.” It tells the story of ethnic cleansing and forced migration of people from Africa.

Beautifully performed by eleven dancers, it reinforced the belief that the people would persevere and thrive. After all this and  before intermission, “Fiesta Cubana” provided the “hit” event of the evening. Featuring Yisman Ramos Tellez, (choreographer and soloist) the lively event dancing illustrating Clave Cuban (the foundations of salsa) through Reggaeton to present Cuba’s newest music genre, Cubaton. A young dancer challenges Tellez with a variation of ‘hip-hop.’ The audience quickly chooses the Cuban style and all join in with the varied rhythms that is the sensational Cuban dance.

The program continued with “Our Roots, “ a song-story-dance from Candomblé, which is “an African-American religion tradition” practiced mostly in Brazil and in other South American countries. The work involved a family song; both children and adults joined in the memories. Next, Dimension Dance Theater from Oakland offered a modern dance event with African roots in, “Ain’t No Turning Back,” choreography by Andrea Vonny Lee. The voices and words of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas supported this proclamation of freedom. Benjamin Ofori played traditional Ghanaian percussion to accompany the nine accomplished dancers. Then ‘Yansa” introduced the belief and illustration of “orishas,” (a word from the Yoruba language), gods who work together to help everyone. The women appear in long red skirts in acts of devotion; then the men don the skirts and there is a wild fusion of energy as famine and masculine energy unite. It was a very moving and exciting finale to a brilliant evening of dance.

For this reviewer, the special quality was the authenticity of each group’s work and the commitment evidenced by musicians, singers, choreographers, director and of course, the dancers. It was an evocation of what such festivals might be; close to the roots, carefully researched, authentic and performed by those who know and love the dance.

Joanna G. Harris

SF Dance Works 2018

SF Dance Works 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason SF
June 10, 2018

Range of Motion

Except for the process of getting there on a fine Sunday afternoon, when the Food Fair is on, Fort Mason is lively with many other events, Cowell Theater presents a challenged, windy walk, and there is no unpaid parking, it is always a pleasure to see dance events at the theater. Perhaps some good planners with rethink the use of Fort Mason so that theater can prevail.

SF Dance Works is a fine rewarding event, worth getting there. For Season 3, four works were presented, each by a different choreographer. Nacho Duato is the senior choreographer. His work, “Jardi Tancat,” created for the Nederlands Dans Theater in 1983, is sourced from Catalonia folk tales, expressing the hardships of poor Catalonian farmers. The six dancers, in ensemble and duets, execute the seamless lyricism of the music, composed and sung by Maria del Mar Bonet. “Jardi Tancat” is marvelously performed. Newly appointed associate director, Danielle Rowe was outstanding as a senior dancer.

Rowe also choreographed the World Premiere work on the program “The Old Child.” In a series of vignettes, the dancers appear, dancing duets, which apparently portray remembrances of life’s stages. A constant figure ( Rowe herself?), placed downstage right, rises at each episode, almost as if calling the next event. In order of appearance the dancers are Britt Juleen, Anne Zivolich-Adams and Garett Anderson, Dana Genshaft and Katerina Eng, Nicholas Korkos, and Laura O’alley and Brett Conway. It is a charming work, but for this reviewer, it needs more clarification and sometimes amplification. The score is by Alton San Giovanni, performed by instrumentalist David Knight.

I found “Homing,” a world premiere by artistic director James Sofranko, to be delightful.

Set to Schubert”s Impromptus (played live by Ronny Michael Greenberg), the dance builds a group for the six dancers and from time to time sends them away. Garrett Anderson, appears to leave from time to time. He and Nicholas Korkos, share the honor of being the strong men in the group. But the women are lovely, (most listed above), moving with easy lyric lines in an out of interesting patterns, formed by arms, legs and folded torsos.

The duet. “Snap” by Penny Saunders, a duet for Danielle Saunders and Mario Alonzo. Is a charming incident developed from the ‘patt-a-cake’ children’s game. It is a playful, flirtatious opener for the program, but it doesn’t go very far.

The dancers have come from many national and international companies. Their skill is to be applauded, their ensemble excellent. Let’s hope they will have more challenging choreography to develop their abilities in the future.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo: Full ensemble in “Jardi Tancat.”
Photo by Alexander Renef-Olson.


The Oakland Public Library has a Tool library in the Temescal Branch. Instead of buying a sledge
hammer, using it one time and letting it decompose in your garage, you can rent the tool, just as you would a book – with an Oakland library card. Those tool aficionados want to bring tool-appreciation to the masses and so they have cleverly devised a Tool Petting Zoo. They bring an interesting cross section of tools to various destinations and encourage kids from four to teens to to see what they can to with them. At a recent demonstration at the Eastmont Library I noticed that hammers and pounding in nails was the first choice – then came taking out the nails. Some kids went on to using power tools to drill holes and put in screws. A lot to accomplish in an hour and a half. There were feasts for the grownups – old tools, new tools – a wonderful moment of sharing of how man works with his hands and continually grows his ability as a maker.

Photos by Gen Katz

Oakland’s Youth Poet Laureate

Oakland School for the Arts’ Leila Mottley was named the City of Oakland’s 2018
Youth Poet Laureate on Friday, June 1, 2018 at the Oakland Museum of California













Mottley, 16, is a 2018 Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam Winner, founder and
president of her school’s Women of Color Club, and founder of a youth-led
program called Lift Every Voice which brings together youth from different
backgrounds in art advocacy workshops around youth incarceration. Ms. Mottley
received a $5,000 scholarship provided by the Friends of the Oakland Public
Library and the opportunity to officially represent the Oakland community
through poetry, media and public appearances. Samuel Getachew, 15, was named the
Vice Youth poet Laureate.

To see Leila perform one of her poems, click here.

Photo by Salena Davant