What do a Filipino dancer, a Tajik drummer, and a 10-year-old Bay Area schoolgirl have in common? The 30th anniversary of the Ethnic Dance Festival organized by World Arts West! This festival brings together global dance traditions offering audiences a visual feast of dance, music, and pageantry. Five hundred artists and 50 international master artists will perform over four weekends.
This year’s festival focuses on dance traditions passed down through generations—from parent to child, teacher to student. Julie Mushet, Executive Director of World Arts West, says, “the San Francisco Bay Area is home to the greatest ethnic dance community in the world” and “the festival showcases many lineages nurtured over the years, with masters and their accomplished students performing.” This year, five Indian-American dance companies will present festival audiences with a range of Indian classical dance forms.
The Abhinaya Dance Company will present the world premiere of “Shakti-Power of the Goddess,” a bharatanatyam piece specially commissioned for the festival. It has been choreographed by artistic director Mythili Kumar and her daughter Rasika Kumar, and features verses from the Lalita Sahasranama. Mythili Kumar says, “The piece shows the slaying of Bhandasura by the Goddess and signifies the defeat of evil in the world. In the process, the Goddess acquires manifold powers.”
Niharika Mohanty, student of the late guru Kelucharan Mohapatra will perform an odissi solo choreographed by his son Ratikant Mohapatra, who will be present at the festival. The dance is a prayer to Lord Ganesh. “It is a spiritual piece that will highlight the fluidity and grace of odissi, and the refinement and sophistication of guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s style,” says Mohanty.
Vishwa Shanti Dance Academy will make its festival debut with the premiere of “Poorthi,” in the bharatanatyam style. Shreelata Suresh, the choreographer explains, “It tells the story of the 12th century Hoysala queen, Shantala Devi who is unhappy that the dance hall in the Chennakesava temple is unfinished, with only 11 sculptures complete. As she dances in a dream, the sculptures come to life and dance with her. At the end, she is transformed into a sculpture herself, thus fulfilling her desire to be an eternal dancing devotee.”
The guru sishya lineage that the festival highlights is exemplified by the inclusion of dancers from the Chhandam Youth Company, students of Chitresh Das. Chitresh Das was a featured performer in the festival’s early years. His students will perform a taraana showcasing the four elements of kathak—virtuosity, rhythm, improvisation, and grace. The director of the youth company, Charlotte Moraga explains that integrating philosophy and discipline into teaching helps students emphasize subtleties in the piece they perform.
Sindhu, a student of Raja and Radha Reddy, will be the second kuchipudi artist to perform at the festival. Her gurus, who are travelling from India, will provide nattuvangam as she performs to music specially composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar. The young artist, a student of Harker Elementary says, “I’m very excited that I’m going to perform at the festival and so is everyone in my school. They’re all planning to come to the show!”
Sindhu’s enthusiasm is contagious, spurring me to take a closer look at the festival schedule. The range of performances is impressive. With the theme “30 events celebrating 30 years” there are gala shows, dance parties, film shows, and workshops on everything from bhangra to afro-cuban dancing. The choice of events with performers from the farthest reaches of the globe showcasing dance forms handed down for generations takes my breath away. As I imagine the spectacle of color, music and dance that awaits me at the festival, like Sindhu, I can’t wait for the show to begin.
Saturday and Sunday, June 7-8, Abhinaya Dance Company; June 14 and 15, Sindhu Ravuri; June 21 and 22, Vishwa Shanti Dance Academy and Niharika Mohanty; June 28 and 29, Chhandam Youth Dance Company. Saturday performances: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday performance: 2 p.m. Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco. $22, $28, $36, $44 Children 16 and under receive half price admission for matinee. (415) 392-4400. www.worldartswest.org