On June 2, San Francisco's 34th Ethnic Dance Festival will begin its monthlong extravaganza. Thirteen of the 30 companies taking the stage this year have choreographed works based within Asian dance and music traditions.
Of these 13 stellar performance companies, here are three that have melded cultural aesthetics from disparate Asian traditions. The unique results remind us not only of how diverse Asian America is, but also how innovative and current the traditional arts can be.
Week 1 of the Ethnic Dance Festival opens at San Francisco's Cowell Theater, where Indonesian gamelan artists and dancers Sekar Jaya and Pusaka Sunda combine their two distinct styles of gamelan, Balinese and Sundanese (West Java). Their new work, Bangan Jiwa, asks broad human questions, with the choreographers employing shadow-light technology to explore how the human spirit navigates the space between darkness and light, movement and stillness, sound and silence. Another new work, Kelanguan explores intersecting time signatures and melodies, and finally, Legong Somia, investigates massacres that took place across Indonesia in the 1960s.
On June 30 and July 1, Tajik dancer/choreographer Miriam Gaibova will perform with Uzbek percussionist Abbos Kosimov at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center. Their performance is choreographed using a dance style from the Bahara region, an area north of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Created specifically for the festival by Gaibova's mentor and teacher, the composition is a “wish for peace and unity” between the two countries and hearkens to a historical point before the U.S.S.R drew a border through the region, creating two republics in an area that shared common languages, writing, and dances. In light of current political discord, the performers hope that, by illuminating the synchronization that occurs between musician and dancer, their work will serve as an agent for change.
Finally, we see the return of a popular co-performance by San Jose Taiko and Abhinaya Dance Company, a Bharatanatyam troupe also based in San Jose. Last year, Hyphen interviewed Abhinaya principal dancer Rasika Kumar, whose insightful comments led us to think critically about the universality of rhythm even while the two groups held strongly to their respective genres. The resulting technical proficiency and rhythmic texture of their collaboration blew audiences away. You can find them opening the final weekend of performances, also at Yerba Buena.
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