Thursday, July 19, 2018

40th SF Ethnic Dance Festival

The 40th annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival opened last weekend at the SF Opera House, the second year the event has taken place in the fanciest theater in town, and it's a surprisingly perfect fit.

The huge stage of the opera house works well for the largest dance ensembles, and it was a treat seeing many in the audience enjoying the glamorous building for the first time, at affordable ticket prices, $25-$45, which you can still buy for this weekend's second set of shows (click here).

Last weekend's show featured local groups specializing in the dance traditions of North India, Spanish Flamenco, Chinese Dragon Dance, Afro-Cuban, the Philippines, Bolivia, Mexico and Tahiti.

Like any variety show, some numbers worked better than others, but the overall quality was high and in a few cases truly exceptional.

One of my favorites was the North Indian Chitresh Das Youth Company, where about three dozen women twirled and clicked their feet with dizzying precision in some bizarre fusion of traditional dance, the Rockettes and Bollywood. They were accompanied by the Toronto Tabla Ensemble who were outstanding. Most of the groups last weekend were accompanied by brilliant percussion ensembles and it was fascinating hearing the global resemblances and differences.

Other favorites were the Afro-Cuban Arenas Dance Company, with a huge contingent of glorious looking women performing Manos de Mujeres a la Obra (Women's Hands at Work), with a great percussion group of their own. The Philippine Parangal Dance Company, the Bolivian Bolivia Corazon de America, the Mexican Ensembles Ballet Folklorio de San Francisco, and the Tahitian Te Pura O Te Rahura'a all offered wildly ambitious pieces, with contemporary takes on traditional folkloric dance.

At the end of the performance, all the troupes arrive onstage in backwards succession and then flood the aisles and the lobby where they all dance together. Pictured above are members of the Nunamta Yup'ik Eskimo Singers and Dancers. In the gorgeous free program, there was this remarkable sentence about their strange, beautiful, mystical performance of The Shimmering Moon which opened the show on Saturday night. "This is a dance that has not been presented publicly for over 200 years and we are honored to have this work shared with us." It was less an artistic performance and more of a summoning of the spirits, slow and beautiful, a mixture of incantation by two soft drummers, a narrator, and four singers swaying in ritualistic dance.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Falun Gong Bastille Boat Ride

The Falun Gong religious cult is so strange.

We have a front row seat to their more theatrical public displays because they often have their movement/meditation events in Civic Center Plaza as if it was their personal front yard.

Most religious cults I have encountered in California over a lifetime have concentrated on finding young people to be unpaid slaves and hand over their money. Falun Gong instead targets older people who are looking for a physical and spiritual elixir belief system, and of course they hand over their free labor and money too.

It's an evangelical cult aggressively looking for converts, and I found my spouse Tony looking very annoyed after being hounded with literature by the lady in yellow above while I was off taking photos.

The San Francisco branch now has a marching band, complete with uniforms and instruments, which I first saw in the St. Patrick's Day Parade last March.

I asked a band member what they were doing, and he replied they were marching in a parade to Chinatown. "Down Market Street or through the Tenderloin?" I asked, and he had no idea of the actual route. It turned out to be down Market Street, confirmed two days later by a work colleague who got stuck in the accompanying traffic jam.

The day was so beautiful that I suggested, "Let's go to the Embarcadero and jump on any ferryboat that's departing soon," and it turned out to be for Oakland.

Our scheduled ferryboat didn't show up so we ended up with a large group on a small vessel, which made for enforced intimacy. The couple sitting next to me had just moved from New York to teach at the University of Chicago in anthropology and Caribbean literature, and were so smart and beautiful that I blurted out, "You two are literally the poster children for progressive values."

It was a pleasure welcoming them to California.

On our return to San Francisco, we cruised by the Bastille Day celebration at the Embarcadero in the Plaza formerly known as Justin Herman which is Still-to-be-Named-Later. The beer/wine area above was much too small so everyone was crammed between fences over a few tables.

Still, there were a few tents offering interesting French experiences, including the pop-up salon above, which made me love San Francisco all over again for attracting somebody who can calmy carry off a Marie Antoinette wig and a beard.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Beach Volleyball on the Bay

Lean and tall was the dominant impression from the AVP professional beach volleyball tournament last weekend.

The three-day event was held at Pier 32 on the Embarcadero with the Bay Bridge as background.

The admission pricing was strange, with shaded VIP sections being sold at $80-$115 a seat, while General Admission was free.

The VIP sections looked empty...

...while the two large General Admission bleachers were nearly full.

We arrived too late for the center court pro matches, but watched a quartet of teenage athletes from the Santa Cruz High School Beach League play.

The people watching was fun...

...and even the corporate team building competition looked enjoyable.

This tournament is an annual event, and you should consider checking it out next year during a walk on the waterfront.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Two Murals on Olive Street

The Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater strip club has long had rotating murals on the back of its building flanking Olive Street which is actually a three-block alley.

The current mural is Archon's Dream, a fabulously psychedelic offering from Max Ehrman who goes by the nom de plume EON75. At his website opening page, there is a wonderful little video showing him marching out his front door, crossing the city, and painting the wall (click here).

Across Polk Street, flanking a parking lot, is an ironic Summer of Love mural by Italian artists Jorit Agoch and Leticia Mandragora. (Click here for a great article about the piece and the artists by Jonathan Curiel at SF Weekly.)

The red paint is fading fast, but "LOVE" has been crossed out and "HOMELESS" is scrawled above. According to Curiel's interview with the artist: "The poverty I saw in San Francisco shocked me, not so much because of the material poverty, [which] I encountered in other parts of the world, but because of spiritual poverty due to the lack of sense of community and morals."

On the Fourth of July, the pair above had drunked/drugged themselves too early, and were a perfect complement to the wall art behind them.