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About the Change

San Francisco
Ethnic Dance Festival

Ballet Lisanga Congolese Performing Arts Company
El Tunante: Marinera, Peru
Miriam Peretz: Saname, Tajikestan
Jubilee American Dance Theatre: Cajun Suite, Louisiana
Murphy Irish Dancers
Gamelan Sekar Jaya: Kali Yuga, Bali
Amanda Grady: Odissi, India
Peony Performing Arts: The Qing Palace Dance, China/Manchu
Hiyas Philippine Dance Company: Barrio Fiesta Suite, Philippines
Raices Grupo Folklorico: Viva Jalisco, Mexico
narrator: Umi Vaughn

June 2005
San Francisco, Palace of Fine Arts

by Renee Renouf

© Bonnie Kamin

Ethnic Dance Festival reviews

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The 18-month old Ballet Lisanga’s artistic director Renee Puckett was Assistant Director under the late Malonga Casquelourd for Fua dia Congo. The dance, Enumba-Essambi is a warrior dance reflecting the common needs for power, land and clan survival of the Mongos . The female performers were varied in height and weight; all were fervant, dancing as if they had the entire night instead of twenty minutes.

Formed in 1998, El Tunante’s Marinera is a graceful dance bearing influences of the Afro-Peruvians, Incas with liberal dashes of French minuets and the Spanish jota and fandango, all to infectious lyrics. The men were dressed formally in black, flourishing a hat, the women, in voluminous mid-calf length skirts, barefoot. Both twirled white handkerchief as they moved around each other, never touching. The unexpected delight in this fourteen person ensemble was a pre-teen couple with enormous poise, the young man with the aplomb and precision of a practiced matador.


El Tunante
© Bonnie Kamin

Miriam Peretz’ Saname manipulated the daf, a large drum, while executing variations of turns, dips, forward and backward body bends. Her source, once Soviet-controlled, includes the Samarkand, the ancient trade center; Peretz’ costume with its flowing skirt and loose pantaloons reflected that Central Asian entrepot with a tunic of brilliant tie-dye silk. I found myself wondering when she was going to play the drum; she never did.

Jubilee American Dance Theatre provided a portrait of Cajun life, its hybrid musical origins, the Spanish moss-Bayou romanticism of the French forced immigration from Acadia, now Nova Scotia, and a 1940's social event, complete with babies and oldsters. Jerry Duke’s researches into Cajun dance styles fit the performers like a glove; young, rotund, tall or stooped, the group was genuinely down home to music from guitar, accordion, fiddle, washboard and Creole French accents.

Jubilee American Dance Theatre
© Bonnie Kamin

While Creole Suite reflected multi-generations, the Murphy Irish Dancers accented youth, tots who had just mastered walking to adolescents with breathtaking skill. Now 40 years old the group started with 35 performers, now numbering 175. While not River Dance, the difference didn’t matter. From slippers to clogging shoes, music to unaccompanied rhythms, the Murphy dancers are a staple, an always welcome EDF ensemble.

Concentrating on the music and dance traditions of Bali, Gamelan Sekar Jaya rivals the Irish ensemble in its popularity and frequence of appearance at the annual festivals. Kali Yuga, this year’s selection, is a part of an elaborate undertaking supported by several prestigious arts-focused foundations to be premiered in 2006.

The program notes are detailed regarding its inspiration and philosophical import but the theme is drawn from the Mahabharata and the struggles of Draupadi to maintain her virtue at the hands of the Kuravas. Trying to humiliate Draupadi, the Kuravas start to unwind her sari. While not depicted by a third character, the Lord Krishna turns her sari into unending yardage. All is suggested by scarves, the fluttering of fingers and the crouched male figure with his arms outspread from the shoulders stiffly, swaggering side to side with out turned feet , sometimes with a movement-sound punctuation with drummers in the gamelan.


Gamelan Sekar Jaya
© Bonnie Kamin

Amanda Grady is one of the intrepid American women mesmerized and enlistened in the classical dance tradition of India. Hers is Odissi, Orissi state, mid way up the east coast of India and home to a series of temples in Bhusbanesvar and the Sun Temple at Konarak. Odissi’s special positure is an S-shape, three curves, or tri-bhanga - head, shoulder and hip. Grady’s animated dance about the monkey god Hanuman displayed a lively story telling capacity.

Peony Performing Group possesses some of the best looking young Chinese women around. Qing Palace Dance was a decorative exposition of Qing (Manchu) court costumes with the story thread about a boy-emperor and two dowager regents; one, Tzu Hui, outlived her son and ruled China during its last imperial gasp. She diverted funds for the Chinese navy to build a marble boat as part of imperial summer diversions. The dancers teetered around on the blocked shoes (Manchu women did not bind feet like the Chinese), sporting the elaborate and distinctive quarter-moon shaped head ornaments.


Peony Performing Arts
© Bonnie Kamin

You couldn’t ask for a greater cultural contrast than the quick segue to a rural Filipino Fiesta with Hiyas Philippine Dance Company; its dances were drawn from various provinces, showing the influence of the Spanish colonizers, interweavings of partners and arms held shoulder high, accomplished their own swoops as partners exchanged positions. Versions danced at the EDF have been seen internationally with the Bayanihan Dance Company, and remain agreeable whenever well performed. The suite ended with the perennial tinikling, where the bamboo poles are hit rhythmically, then faster and faster as the dancers nimbly hop between the strokes, like the flamingos they are supposed to imitate.

The connection between Hiyas and the closing Raices Grupo Folklorico,, is intrinsic, since the Philippines was colonized and Christianized through Mexico. Both were administered by the Viceroy of Mexico until the Mexican Revolution of 1810. The Spanish-influenced dances performed by Hiyas made their way to the Philippines by the self- same route until Spain began to rule the islands directly in the early 19th century. The extravagent skirts of the women in Viva Jalisco owe as much to the Manila Galleon trade as they do to Spanish fashion. Both groups exude a gaiety and fiesta which speaks to Iberian Peninsula habits.

The men in their charro dress, lines of buttons and designs down the trousers and the floppy brimmed hat stomped enthusiastically and expertly, the technical term being zapateado. The women swished their generous yardage in maneuvers labeled faldeo, and the audience was entertained by a weaver of designs with the lariat which was quite a feat, once the speed was established.

The excellent program notes were written by Miriam Phillips, trained in ethnomusicology. Narrator Umi Vaughn prooved a magnetic connection between groups, his dialogue and movement providing a stellar addition.

It may have been dress rehearsal, but oh, was it satisfying!

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