2017 Week Two of EDF’s Thirty-Ninth Festival

23 Jul

Readers probably know by now that EDF stands for Ethnic Dance Festival, and week two, July 15-16, commenced with Ballet Afsaneh. It ia an intriguing ensemble dedicated to the dance traditions of the Middle East, an area little represented for its movement forms, if associated with the 1001 Nights, sloe-eyed beauties with enticing glances behind gauzy veils,sequestered from the average male.

Organized by Sharlyn Sawyer in 1986, the ensemble’s dances have melded traditions and fairy tales with modern dance and theater. This year’s performance was no exception with the all female performers appearing in one-shoulder asymmetrical or shoestring straps of iridescent silver-black; below the ankle skirts tights covered the entire leg in an appearance crediting its inspiration with Persia, titled the Persepolis Project. Commencing with a soloist and gradually adding three or four dancers and then the full ensemble appearing in circular and interweaving patterns with particularly fluid arm movements, all in half light to heighten the movement qualities.

From this gentle evocation, the Yao Yong Dance from San Jose, bright bluish-turquoise skirts manipulated freely over scarlet boots, swept on to the stage with full stage illumination, moving to the tricky accents of Chinese melodies, rendered in symphonic sound. This orchestration is a particular by product of Chinese dependence upon Soviet examples during the early portion of the People’s Republic of China.

While I doubt whether Song of the Nomads ever witnessed such diaphanous costumes, the head-dresses and buoyant quality of the movement evoked a people used to the horse and a certain exuberant enjoyment of space. The dozen dancers made it seem a large contingent had dropped by to entertain us.

Hayward is the home of Ballet Folklorico Compana Mexico Danza. It startled us with rifle-bearing women in somber striped costumes, paying tribute to the women’s role in the Revolution, celebrating Pancho Villa and Juana Galio. The dances themselves, the waltz and the zapateado,were adapted from Amalia Hernandez’ original choreography by Martin Romero. The company was formed in 1991 by Rene Gonzalez as an after-school activity to keep children safe from gang activities.

Aditya Patel founded Gurus of Dance as a vehicle of Bollywood dance for student participation and production. This number just before intermission was centered around The Lord Ganesha, the elephant=headed god and cause for an annual celebration in Maharashtra State where Mumbai and the Bollywood industry are situated. The spectacle was large, noisy, cheerful, and carried a healthy share of symbolism, a bit overwhelming but all clearly enjoyed by the student dancers.

After intermission came my principal reason for attending the matinee: the farewell performance of La Tania, appearing a white bota de cola. She held the ruffled train at moments like a beloved child or an unexpected bouquet; at others she stretched or reached with her eloquent port de bras in the joyous tempo of the alegrias. Tall for a flamenco exponent, originally from France but raised in Andalusia, Tania couldn’t make a false move if she tried, turning on the usual flamenco dime, the bota de cola swirling around her, the taconeo erupting at moments, clear, staccato, all delivered to the audience with warmth, knowledge, a farewell for the history books. I felt a tear roll down my right cheek, and I just let it drop.

In a memorable, inventive transition, one of the dancers from Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco moved on stage with two fans, one white one which given to La Tania. The two exchanged a few moments of taconeo while gradually La Tania with her white fan moved deliberately off stage left, at which point I heard myself sigh.

Four exponents, dressed in striped skirts and somber by comparison, danced in flamenco style in a Carola Zertuche composition for Rondanas Compas. Zertuche is the current artistic director of Theatre Flamenco, started in San Francisco in 1966 by Adela Clara and for many years under the direction of Miguel Santos.

Bharata Natyam was historically a solo performance performed in front of the deity in a South Indian temple, or before one of the monarchs of the court of Tanjore; then the British proclaimed the practitioners of the dance form prostitutes, devastating a lengthy tradition of matrilineal families. When it began to be revived in the late ‘20’s and 30’s, the possibilities of earning a livelihood dancing Bharata Natyam were vastly proscribed because the patronage system had been devastated. From the teachers came a procession of younger dancers who, married and immigrating to the United States, started teaching but, instead of solo performances, they formed ensembles.

Natya in Berkeley is one such group; the number of dancers in white silk, bordered in gold and scarlet, laden with the traditional cosmetics and headdresses, was quite staggering. My dim eyes counted at least two dozen energetic exponents, maneuvering like a field division, recounting the descent of the River Goddess Ganga to earth via the tangled locks and supreme strength of The Lord Shiva.

Bitezo Bia Kongo brought three tall, well muscled drummers on stage with riotous rhythms, clearly enjoying themselves. The dancers, carrying brooms, were engaged in highly individualized prayer.

A quiet interlude followed with Mahealani Uchiyama and Zena Carlota, moving quietly across the stage, Carlota playing a 21 stringed instrument and Uchiyama a karimba, improvising. I very much wish that they had been placed before or after La Tania, because the quality of their presentation would have harmonized with La Tania’s elegiac presentation for all the form’s declarative emphasis.

Te Mana O Te Ra, with yellow tiers of nylon undulating madly with its tidy young figures demonstrating their skill and expressing the frustrations of our contemporary society. Formed in 1997, the ensemble usually completes a program as it did on the second EDF weekend with an enthusiastic audience response.

As on all EDF programs, starting with the last presentation, each group is acknowledged, dancing a tad, following by the earlier number. When La Tania came on stage, she was presented with a bouquet in recognition for three decades of dance in the Bay Area. She visibly teared as she asked that the bouquet be taken off stage. And, like all EDF programs, the dancers exited off stage, main and side aisles, to end the 39th season.

World Arts West is to be congratulated for its evident success. It is also evident that some of the warmth and intimacy possible in the Palace of Fine Arts was lost in the Opera House. I would hope that The Palace could continue as a venue, with the Opera House utilized for major anniversaries, although number 40 happens in 2018. Maybe 45 in 2022?

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