San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival

June 27, 2010

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival
June 5–27, 2010

Palace of Fine Arts

San Francisco, CA

By Rita Felciano


Rita Ortiz in
Mexican Bicentennial Tribute. Photo by RJ Muna, Courtesy EDF.


Now in its 32nd year, the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival is always the same and always new. While focused on indigenous dance from around the globe, its scope also includes re-interpretations of traditional forms. So when, as was the case this year, the 37 companies offered 26 “world premieres,” that term has to be understood as being elastic. “New” in world dance can mean anything from rearranging traditional steps to reconceptualizing existing material.


The highly anticipated and oddly titled Mexican Bicentennial Tribute, however, was a world premiere in the conventional sense. A commission by World Dance West on the occasion of Mexico’s bicentennial and the centennial of its revolution, the work brought together dancers from the Bay Area’s six most prominent folklórico companies. The intent was to honor Mexican women in their roles as soldaderas, or heroines of the Revolution. Unfortunately, Bicentennial (which I saw on June 12) was an opportunity missed.


To highlight key events, choreographer Zenón Barrón, artistic director of Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco, telescoped history into four scenes. But the sketch of the confrontation between President Porfirio Díaz and Pancho Villa, and the one that resulted in Zapata’s death looked dramatically flat. Despite the use of well chosen period corridos (Mexcian folk ballads), the choreography approached the clichéd.


While the opening bourgeois ballroom waltzes were elegantly presented, the “people” breaking them up looked as if they had stumbled onto them by accident. With one exception, most of Bicentennial’s choreography—and its performance—was too bland to suggest the tension and struggles that the storylines implied. Wearing ammunition belts and carrying “rifles” is not enough.


“Las Soldaderas” showed what Bicentennial could have been. Barrón took the mirroring practices often used in Folklórico, expanded them multi-directionally and added—very uncommon in the genre—rotations from sitting and crouching positions. “Soldaderas” seemed driven by a turbulently turning wheel, deriving its momentum from the determination and anxiety of these citizen soldiers.

During the remainder of this year’s second EDF weekend, two soloists offered rare jewels. In Honryung Korean dancer Hearan Chung, in flowing layers of chiffon and a peaked hat, re-enacted a windswept ritual in which a shaman helps a child transition out of this world. The long trajectories of swiftly skipping and sliding footwork and the dancer’s calm upper body, including exquisite fan and hand bell work, effectively suggested struggle and ultimate release.


With Uzum ussul, accompanied by the excellent Abbos Kosimov on an Uzbek frame drum, Tara Catherine Pandeya showed a flirtatious Uyghur grape-picking dance. With her billowing tresses and delicately running and hopping feet, she almost seemed to alight. More than anything she looked like a frisky bird.

Also performing were the Haitian group Rara Tou Limen, LIKHA-Pilipino Folk Ensemble, Eszterlánc Hungarian Folk Ensemble, Halau O Keikiali’i from Hawaii, and, a newcomer to this yearly gathering, Mona Sampath Dance Company. Bollywood is now officially part of Bay Area world dance.