Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Pacific International Festival (which took place even then in the same Palace of Fine Arts), the Ethnic Dance Festival, now in its 37th year, presented its usual widely varied program of music and dance. The events ranged from The Academy of Dance Libre (historical social dance forms) to the djembe drumming and dance of West Africa.
The Academy of Dance Libre is a Stanford University-based group who study vintage dance with Richard Powers. The eighteen dancers, dressed in period costumes, reconstructed dances that were done by Irene and Vernon Castle (and others) in the early 20th century. Among these were “the Castle Walk,” and variations, Rio Tango and best of all, the “animal dances,” (bunny hug, grizzly bear, turkey trot) that were the craze in their time. All were wonderfully executed with much humor and skill in the Palace Lobby before curtain.
LIKHA, a Pilipino Folk ensemble featured dances from three Cordillera ethnic groups, Chalichog, Manmnok, and Banawok. These are intended as a staged celebration for peace and unity. The colorful costumes are woven from bright colors, representing roosters and other birds. The movement of the dancers feet and heads echo the birds. Men and women dance together as a sign of tribal unity. The group is based in San Francisco; choreography is by Rudi C. Soriano.
Hilit Maniv danced “flamenco cane jondo,” a song of loss and suffering, entitled “Petenera,” reflecting the music of the Jews of the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The musicians accompanied Ms. Maniv on guitar, cajon, and vocal. This was a unique Flamenco event.
Ballet Folklorico Mexicano Fuego Nuevo brought “Carnival in Campheche,” a suite of dances representing both old Spanish and classic Cuban influences. Director Miguel Angel Martinez blends these lively traditions with dancers dressed in Spanish and pre-Columbian Mayan symbols and colors. The large company also boasts at least two very young, very lively members. The performance captured the vitality of carnival.
Wild and wonderful in its unique way was “Gurus of Dance,” a Bollywood Indian folk extravaganza combining “raas and garba and more than a bit of Bollywood.” The women wear very colorful dresses and much jewelry, the men wear scarves and special kedias. Bamboo sticks added to dramatic effects as did earthen lanterns. This is a new dimension for the festival, but it is the current dance craze from India. The choreographer is Aditya Patel.
Four more companies work completed the long afternoon’s events. These were El Tunante, a charming Peruvian courtship dance featuring fluttering handkerchiefs, called “marinera”; the OngDance Company, offering three-part story work from Korea; the Tara Catherine Pandeya and Abbos Kosimov Ensemble, a duo from Uzbekistan that brought the unique use of the doira, a Central Asian frame drum and a solo dancer in a beautiful embellished dress; and finally, lots more drumming from djembe drums to accompany West African Dance Company, Diamano Coura. All are accomplished and generous in their vitality, costuming and ethnic extravaganza. This reviewer would enjoy fewer offerings so as to concentrate the experience.
The Ethnic Dance Festival continues on June 21 with performances on the Marina Green and June 27 with two more companies, to recognize Carlos Carvajal and CK Ladzekpo for Lifetime Achievement. Julie Mushet, executive director of the festival, exhorted the audience to encourage the City of San Francisco to join them in creating a world center of culture at the Palace.
Joanna G. Harris