The Performing Diaspora Festival features traditions from kathak to flamenco and from tabla to taiko at CounterPULSE, one of the Bay Area’s most exciting centers for contemporary performance. California is home to many diverse and talented practitioners of traditional performance, yet few opportunities exist for artists who wish to challenge, expand, or experiment with their own traditional art forms.


CounterPULSE’s Performing Diaspora debuts this month featuring 13 talented California dance, music, theater, media, and interdisciplinary artists who are using traditional forms as a basis for experimentation and innovation, truly representing the modern California experience. With three weekends of evocative performance, lively online conversation, and a day of critical discussion about identity and performance, Performing Diaspora gives audiences the opportunity to engage with these groundbreaking artists like never before. Each weekend includes four to five artists presenting new work that explores an intersection of a different traditional art form and contemporary theme or style; including Indonesian dance from Sri Susilowati; Chicano dance by Gema Sandoval; kathak dance by Charlotte Moraga; and nautanki, North Indian folk theater by Devendra Sharma.
Moraga performs traditional kathak dance around the world as principal dancer of Chitresh Das Dance Company and as a solo artist. Kathak is one of the only art forms with both Hindu and Muslim roots, and is passed down from generation to generation, as a constantly evolving tradition of storytelling. Moraga will explore the triangle of audience, dancer and musicians by performing a triptych based on the Hindu paradigm of existence: creation, preservation, and destruction.
Sharma, an associate professor of communications at Cal State Fresno, writes and performs nautanki, a  Northern Indian form of folk theater that was an initial inspiration for Bollywood films. Sharma is crafting a brilliantly entertaining, thought-provoking, and moving musical theatrical piece examining dowry and women empowerment. In Sharma’s piece, the groom already has another partner and is seeking only a dowry.
“There are some successful men who go back to India and marry young Indian women from middle-class families,” Sharma says. “But these men disappear with dowry, and leave the women stranded in India, who had such big dreams of their lives in America. I really wanted to raise awareness about this issue.”
Sharma, who co-wrote the piece with his father Pandit Ram Dayal Sharma, says another goal of his is to highlight the artistic folk forms of India. “Most people know about Bollywood or classical music only, even Indians—but we have literally hundreds of folks traditions. The word ‘nautanki’ is often misused to represent a spicy dance number, but the tradition is actually an eight-hour theater form rich with song and dialogue as well as dance.”
The play will feature several actors and live musicians, with Hindi and English dialogue.CounterPULSE will also present a performing diaspora symposium to engage the community in dialogue to examine the creative, social, and personal challenges the festival brings forth for performers, presenters, critics, and audiences, including issues such as tradition, authority, and appropriation. Audiences are invited to engage with performers prior to the festival online at the Performing Diaspora blog where artists dialogue about their traditions, themes, challenges and development of their exciting new work:
Symposium: Saturday, Nov. 7. Festival: 8 p.m., Thursdays-Sundays, Nov. 5-8, Nov. 12-15, and Nov. 19-22. Moraga will perform Nov. 5-8; Sharma on Nov. 19-22. 1310 Mission St., San Francisco. $15-$25. (800) 838-3006. For full schedule, go

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...