Diaspora: A body of people dispersed from their homelands. That pretty much describes the Bay Area population in a nutshell.
Beginning Thursday, CounterPULSE, the South-of-Market artists’ collective, presents “Performing Diaspora” — three weekends of dance, music and drama featuring a baker’s dozen of artists whose fresh and experimental work is rooted in cultural traditions from such diverse parts of the world as Indonesia, Serbia, the Caribbean, Japan and Africa.
CounterPULSE director Jessica Robinson Love says, “The Bay Area has had support for artists who practice traditional forms of dance and that’s very important, especially for recent immigrants. On the other hand, we have a vibrant contemporary performance community. What we were lacking was a middle ground — artists based in traditional forms who want to divert from that.”
As such, “Performing Diaspora” seems to begin where San Francisco’s popular Ethnic Dance Festival leaves off.
“I believe traditional dance is not static — society shapes it,” says Indonesian dance master Sri Susilowati, who appears in both venues. “I want to offer a way to think clearly about the underlying principles that are core to the Indonesian dance vocabulary.”
For her “Diaspora” performance, she uses the timing, movement and form of traditional Indonesian dance as a springboard to examine a Western obsession: food.
Raised in Java, where poverty was commonplace, she was stunned to see many anorexic dancers here. “At the start of the new piece, I talk about food and appearance — and I actually eat and shake my booty on stage,” she laughs.
Breaking cultural boundaries proves unnerving to some. “It’s the traditionalists from any culture that have a hard time with it,” Susilowati says.
Just as with traditional forms of dance, these new works require equal focus and discipline.
“Sometimes people throw out words like fusion,” says “Diaspora” choreographer Adia Whitaker, an Alvin Ailey-trained dancer whose own work is rooted in both Haitian dance and hip-hop.
“But what gets overlooked is the craft. It’s like growing a garden — you have to plant the seed, wait and then cultivate it,” Whitaker says. “You need a contemporary mindset to get it done, but it requires extensive knowledge of your traditions. You don’t want to present a watered-down form.”
The merging of cultural traditions has already resulted in some pretty terrific outcomes: jazz music, tap dance and even those joyous Bollywood extravaganzas come to mind.
One wonders what new and thrilling forms will be birthed by these artists.
IF YOU GO
Where: CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission St., San Francisco
When: Opens Thursday; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays; closes Nov. 22
Tickets: $15 to $25
Contact: (800) 838-3006, (415) 626-2060, www.counterpulse.org