Considered by many to be the most prestigious gathering of its kind, the 32nd Annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival will once again impress Bay Area audiences with a cultural feast. From the powerful dance and music and dance of India to a special Mexican Bicentennial Tribute to traditional Afghan dance, nearly 600 performers will take to the stage as 37 top Bay Area dance companies represent over 20 cultures in four weekends in June at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts.

Below some of the South Asian performers share their experiences of preparing for the festival.

Natyalaya’s Kuchipudi

Natyalaya will perform a kuchipudi piece celebrating the Hindu goddess Parvathi, the Divine Mother, using fast rhythms, vivid expressions, and complex yet delicate movements, under the direction of Jyothi Lakkaraju.

June 5-6. www.natyalaya.net.
Tara Pandeya Performs Uyghur/Uzbek-inspired Grape Dance

I am a second-generation dancer of mixed South Asian and Western heritages. I have dedicated the last 13 years to the study, research, and performance of Central Asian dance.
I feel most at home in the vibrant arts and cultures of Central Asia; which have provided a unique midway point to connect my Eastern and Western heritages together. Through my work I hope to provide this same bridge for the Eastern and Western audiences.
I have completed dance residencies in Tajikistan and most recently at the Xinjiang Arts
3bb223b39755173f35c00b582325ee09-3Institute in Urumqi, Uyghur Autonomous Xinjiang, China, in 2009.
I also traveled to Uyghur villages and cities along the Silk Road as well as the Taklamakan desert recording and conducting research on traditional dance.

The piece I will perform at the festival is a traditional Uyghur/Uzbek-inspired grape dance, from the city of Turpan, which is known for its sweet grapes. Master artist Abbos Kosimov will accompany on Uzbek doria (Central Asian frame drum).

I have been fortunate to tour internationally and receive support for my work from the California Arts Council, The Alliance for Traditional Arts, the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, the Marin Arts Council, and the Margaret Jenkins CHIME choreographer’s mentorship grant.

I am a participating artist in two 2010 Creative Work Fund projects. The first project with lead artist Wan-Chao Chang and the second under my teacher and lead kathak artist Antonia Minnecola.—Tara Pandeya
June 12-13. www.taradances.weebly.com.

Xpressions Dances Gujarati Folk

In June 2009, Xpressions started working on the idea of presenting traditional Indian folk dance to a new audience, and auditioned for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.3bb223b39755173f35c00b582325ee09-5 Of the many different states and many hundreds of styles of folk dance from India, we chose to present the state of Gujarat. A special piece, “Jai Jai Garvi Gujarat: Glory to Gujarat,” was created incorporating music to feature four main folk styles from this vibrant state, beginning with a Amba Stuti, and showcasing Garba, Tippani, Manjira, and Raas.
A team of 17 dancers, all students ages 12-17, was selected and the rehearsals for the audition began in October under artistic director Srividya Eashwar.

The group had a blast performing at the auditions, before a group of panelists, noted for their dance backgrounds and cultural expertise. Eight days later, we were absolutely thrilled to receive a call informing us of our selection to perform at the festival. Putting in more than 150 hours of work in research, applications, songs, choreography, props, costumes, and practices had paid off.—Xpressions
June 19-20. www.xpressionsdancemusic.com.

Abhinaya Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose will be dancing in honor of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awardee, Mythili Kumar, Abhinaya artistic director. “Prithvi Sooktam” is a bharatanatyam piece from Southern India depicting verses from a 4,000 BCE Hindu hymn that pays revent homage to Mother Earth, her creatures, and the diversity of races. Conceptualized by Mythili Kumar, it is choregraphed by Rasika Kumar and set to music by Asha Ramesh.

June 5-6. www.abhinaya.org.

Ballet Afsaneh Adds Afghan Dance and Music

Although Ballet Afsaneh has performed various Central Asian and regional dances of the Silk Road for the festival over nearly 30 years, this year is especially meaningful for us. World Arts West, which organizes the festival, has specially commissioned our company to create a suite of Afghan dance and music. We have entitled the piece “Parwaz: Fly Free.”

3bb223b39755173f35c00b582325ee09-2With Afghan culture and arts in such a fragile state, the group feels an enormous sense of responsibility to represent the music and dance heritage to the very best of our abilities. The 18 dancers performing in Parwaz represent many backgrounds. Some are of Central Asian heritage, such Mariam Gaibova of Tajikistan, some from Iranian and Afghan families, and many are of mixed European or Mid-East backgrounds, such as Miriam Peretz who co-choreographed the piece with Sharlyn Sawyer, director of the company.

In crafting the performance it is truly an honor for Ballet Afsaneh to have the participation of Afghan master Homayun Sakhi on rubab (stringed instrument), along with Salar Nader on tabla, premier disciple of Zakir Hussain.  They represent the very best of the young generation of traditional Afghan mucisians, and are much demand playing in concerts throughout the world. All of us are united to share the mission, representing the positive beauty of Afghanistan at the festival, to dream together of a world without war and conflict.—Ballet Afsaneh
June 26-27. www.dancesilkroad.org.

Mona Sampath Dance Company Brings Bollywood

The Ethnic Dance Festival needs no introduction and several of us have been watching it for the last few years. This year we decided to apply, though we were unsure of how Bollywood would be received in a festival, largely dominated by more classical and folk dance forms. Bollywood, however, is deeply rooted in the Indian culture, and is in fact a reflection of the evolving cultural milieu in India.

3bb223b39755173f35c00b582325ee09-4Inspired by the recent popularity gained by Slumdog Millionaire and the Oscar winning music director A.R. Rahman’s haunting melodies, we began creating “The Shape of Dreams.” After grueling rehearsals and struggling to fit our team of 35 dancers in the studio, we created this work for the audition. It captures various elements of Bollywood dance, moving from classical and folk influences to contemporary movement, ending with a finale resonant with the color, joy, and grandeur in typical Bollywood fashion.
Excited to be part of the final lineup, we decided to add new elements including live dhol players, a jugalbandi, and more dancers. Ranging in ages 10 to 32, we are trained in Indian classical and folk forms, such as bharatnatyam and garba, as well as hip hop, jazz, and modern dance.
We are determined to redefine Bollywood and transport the audiences to the spectacular world of our vision.—Mona Sampath Dance Company
June 12-13. www.monasampath.com.

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Tickets for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival are $22-$44, and are available at (415) 392-4400, or www.cityboxoffice.com. For more information, go to www.worldartswest.org.

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