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Ethnic Dance Festival
Chinese Performing Arts of America, San Jose: Moon Courting, China
Harsanari Indonesian Dance Company: Walesdon and Kembang Boled, Indonesia/Sunda
Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers
Barbary Coast Cloggers
Ong Dance Company: Songmu (Three Drum Dance), Korea
Kalanjali Dances of India: Ras Lila, Tillana, India
Shuvani: Ki shan/Romana adoi san/Shuvani, Romani
Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos: Sal Viento Flamenco, Spanish
Te Mana O Te Ra: Opumarama (To Be Enlightened), Tahitian
Narrator: Mahea Uchiyama
San Francisco, Palace of Fine Arts
by Renee Renouf
The Moon Courting dance displayed a diversity of costumes for the three men who court a handsome young woman dressed in a Yi costume, trying to sidle up after entertaining her with individual musical instruments. Her full, fluid skirt with its broad bands of blue, white, red and a black border was perfect for swishing and rapid turns which were prominent the second half of the ensemble’s dancing. Ballet training was evident in some of the men’s work, but the rhythms and walking style belong to Chinese dance styles, enlivened by bamboo flute and the erhu.
Harsanari introduced Katuk Tilu, a popular folk dance form in West Java. Kembang Bolad, the second piece, is influenced by Sundanese martial arts, Indian Bhangra and American hip-hop, according to program notes. Two delicately-boned Indonesian women danced in fascinating puppet style which Javanese dance developed, shoulders, arms and wrists moving as if joined from independent pieces. The fingers move like tiny feathers blown in a breeze, the torso bent forward at an angle from the hips. The impersonal, yet infectious way they moved seemed layered on by a third dancer, obviously Western. The two men in the ensemble belonged to the short affable build unlikely to dance the angular classic style required of Arjuno in the Mahabharata.
The Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers entered bearing traditional lanterns, many of the women wearing flower garlands in their hair, skirts with modified paniers, the men in breeches, white shirts and some in kilts with sporrans There were at least two quadrille like dances, a pas de trois performed by three young women with hair flowing to waist length, and a West Scottish Step Dance, ancestor to clogging and tap dancing in the New World. The feeling of generations in the Cajun Suite during Week II of the Festival repeated itself. The Step Dancers were joined by a front man for the Barbary Coast Cloggers and the lively Sidesaddle, all female musicians devoted to country folk.
© Bonnie Kamin
Following intermission the Ong Dance Company brought electricity with two folk drummers, a streamer attached to their caps with changgos strapped in front of them. With practiced facility the drummers wobbled their heads to activate their bonnet streamers, while whiirling and striking their changgo with sticks in an infectious display. The Three Drum Dance, however, was the focus of the company; five sets of three drums in a shallow U shape lined the back of the stage and two stacks of drums on either side of left and right stage front. Played by singularly attractive young Korean women, all seven sets were suspended from a red lacquered wooden frame decorated with traditional symbols like the yin-yang and eight trigrams in the Korean flag.
Whether striking the drums, clapping their sticks together, bending or whirling, the women were a percussive high light, their intensity and skill unremitting.
© Bonnie Kamin
K.P. and Katherine Kunhiraman devised a clever segue between the Ras Lila tradition of Krishna, Radha and the gopis and the joyous tillana which frequently ends the traditional Bharata Natyam recital. The musicians were placed on stage left, an unusual shift, but their music added to the skill of arranging the folk and classical dance styles.
Shuvani, formed in 2003, seeks to dispel stereotypes about the Gypsies, doubtless was partly inspired by the 1994 documentary Latcho Drom. Latcho Drom portrayed the gypsy diaspora from the deserts of Rajasthan into Egypt, Turkey, the Balkans, Russia, parts of central Europe and finally to Spain. Shuvani concentrated on the Indian, Turkish, Russian and Spanish traditions. Costumed according to area, the heavily decorated skirts and blouses usually accompanied by head scarves or shawls, the dancers looked and moved with fetching come-hither to a variety of folk instrumental music. The one thing missing was the peculiar yodel emitting from the women’s throats.
Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos was another of organic connections if surprising in its music and black and white haltered costuming for the women. Yaelisa created Sal Viente Flamenco to Chambao music, mixing jazz, Latino, and African music joined to flamenco rhythms. It is a particularly cheeky music style and Yaelisa’s choreography does right by its knowing mood, though flamenco purists may shake their heads sadly. It suited the six dancers extremely well.
The showy finale,supplied by Te Mana O Te Ra, featured straw skirts flipping endlessly below bare midriffs and black bras of two dozen female bodies slim to varying degrees of the over weight, skin quivering to the drumming of the musicians. The audience found it a blast.
Once more, Miriam Philips supplied excellent program comments. Michea Uchiyama, tall and slender, gave the audience not only a sartorial display with her commentary, but her port de bras beguiled us, her torso and hip movements demonstrating where rhythm rises in our bodies.