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