Year after year, the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival gets bigger. This summer, some 750 dancers and musicians in 50 Northern California companies who have been selected after a long, exacting audition process are appearing in five weekends of programs.
The festival’s traditional home, the Palace of Fine Arts, is being renovated, so many 2011 events are taking place in the Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, as well as performances June 11-12 in Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus.
This year marks the return of the Ohlone people to their ancestral home to open the festival with a ceremonial performance in City Hall at noon today.
The festival’s third weekend features a daylong California Native Big Time Gathering in Yerba Buena Gardens on June 18, which also celebrates the Ohlone peoples of San Francisco.
“It is good to be back and dancing in our original homeland: the Bay Area,” says tribal chief Tony Cerda. “We are humbled and honored by the welcoming celebration that is taking place. Since we left the Mission Dolores in 1834, and now live in Pomona, we like to laugh and say that we live 400 miles and 180 years away. Now, for this brief festival, we are with our ancestors again.”
Appearing June 11-12 in Berkeley is another folk dance company with an ancient tradition, the Parangal Dance Company, which performs ritual dances of the Subanen (people of the river) from Lapuyan, Mindanao, the Philippines.
Company choreographer and director Eric Solano describes one of the dances as a ritual performed by the balian or shaman, called Shelayan. It is set on a sinalimba, or swing, “to heal the sick.”
From Tahiti, Hui Tama Nui presents dances inspired by Rumia, the mytical shell that contains Taaroa, the Tahitian god of creation.
“It is in Rumia that Taaroa sat surrounded by darkness, before he created the world. According to Tahitian creation accounts, there was no land sky, sea, moon, nor stars until Taaroa made them,” says Aaron Sencil, director of the company, which also performs June 11-12 in Berkeley.
Festival Executive Director Julie Mushet calls the 2011 programming “especially inspiring,” citing the return of the Rumsen Ohlone Tribe and innovative new participatory events.
“Each group of artists involved in this year’s programs are deeply passionate about sharing their traditions in our new venues and formats,” she says.
Additions to the festival include participatory activities Sunday afternoons at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, consisting of performances, meetings with the audience and the opportunity for festival-goers to dance along with the performers.
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Novellus Theater, 700 Howard St., San Francisco; and June 11-12 at Zellerbach Hall, Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way, Berkeley
When: Today through July 3
Tickets: $18 to $58
Contact: (415) 474-3914, www.sfethnicdancefestival.org
Note: The festival starts with a special program at noon today in San Francisco City Hall’s rotunda.