San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival
July 13, 2019 Zellerbach Hall UC Berkeley
Ethnic Dance as “Show Biz”
Hundreds of enthusiastic audience members applauded, cheered, whistled and shouted out to the performers of this year’s 30th Ethnic Dance Festival. The performances on stage are well deserved, but for this viewer, most lack what I long to see in ethnic dance, that is, “tradition.”
Almost all dance performances, it seems, have been been influenced by today’s TV shows. The movement has become standardized, the choreographic patterns set in geometric lines, the costumes bright and (alas) uniform, the dancers lively and often just semi-skilled. It is more difficult to judge this if the audience is uninformed about the sources of the dance and what might is (or might have been) the “traditional” sources. Almost all works were TV transformed.
The most charming event occurred between numbers. After the Indian dance (which included odissi, kahtak and bharatanatyam styles), the male dancer Akhil Joondeph met Pierr Padilla from the next event, Cunamacué. Akil danced his style in response to the Afro-Peruvian tap dance style executed by Padilla. It was a charming and informative dance conversation. (If the names are not correct, please note that the program distributed did not have dancers’ names.) But details are available on SFEDFprogram.org. This site lists all works, notes and dancers.
Important to hear and understand were the dancers of Awn Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom). This African-American Group provided song-stories of the enslaved African people. We also saw Oakland’s premiere West African ensemble celebrate ethnic groups with dances from Niger, Mauritania and the Ivory Coast. Although the the Feng Ye Dance Studio brought dances from the Han Dynasty, China, the while clad dancers (inspired by terra cotta drawings), performance in long-white dresses, echoed the romantic ballet of 18th century Europe!
Outstanding and demanding through the show, before and after in the Zellerbach courtyard were thirty-four dancers and musicians performing Tahitian ote’a, an extremely lively and wiggly event with bright orange feather skirts celebrating “Vahine!-Woman”. Women certainly dominated this year’s event. It would be refreshing, as it was in Week 1 of the festival, to include some men’s dances, some dances of the Western world, and for the sake of the listening audience, less drumming and less amplification. Nevertheless, congratulations!
Joanna G. Harris
For photos, see: SFEDFprogram.org