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.