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SF Ethnic Dance Festival

At the Palace of Fine Arts

The 24th annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, the oldest festival in the United States dedicated to the preservation of cross-cultural ethnic dance, will be featuring more than thirty companies in an opulent collection of performances. Divided into three programs, this year's festival will include performances from over twenty nationalities and will take viewers on a journey through classical dance forms from across the globe.

In addition to uniting various cultures in its dedication to indigenous dance genres, this year's show also brings together distinct audiences, as the Ethnic Dance Festival joins forces for the first time with the San Francisco World Music Festival. The June 15-16 program included Elvel, a group from Kamchatka near Siberia, who performed their native dance and music in their first U.S. appearance. Their unique performance included shamanic dances depicting volcano spirits, mating and courting dances, and percussion and vocalization in imitation of animal and forest sounds. The first weekend's other performances provided a delicate balance between visual and aural ambience. Highlights of the show included Persian percussion master Pejman Hadadi performing with the Namah Dance Ensemble, culminating in an inspired spectacle drawing upon elements of Persian dance, flamenco, and trance states guided by mystical doctrines. In addition, the Bay Area's Ballet Afsaneh, paired with Afghan lute master Aziz Herawi, presented a celebratory women's dance from Afghanistan in a perfect elucidation of ethnic dance's potency in forming gateways between communities.

The second weekend is an assorted program marking several classical and sacred genres, social dances, and carnival traditions with both group and solo performers. Performers include Taller Artístico y Cultural "El Tunante," who combine grace and flirtation in the evocative couple dance of Peru known as the Marinera. Shaman dances of Korea, ancient hula and chant, Andalusian flamenco dance, Haitian carnival song and dance, South Indian classical dance, and Middle Eastern cabaret are among the other performances included in the weekend's panoply of tradition and celebration.

The season culminates with large music and dance ensembles in an unflagging program with an extensive cast. Both traditional dance and modern hip-hop will be represented when old and ancient dance forms are brought to life as expressions of popular culture and the urban spirit. The show encompasses the folkloric dances of Veracruz, steamy and sharp nightclub salsa, popular Cuban drumming, and improvisatory hip-hop by high school performers.

By bringing together various dance ensembles and encouraging new ones, often made up of recent immigrants, World Arts West has become a model for supporting the diverse artists who sustain traditional dance genres. Performances take place Saturday evenings at 8:00 and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 at The Palace of Fine Arts at Bay and Lyon. Tickets are $20-30 and can be purchased by calling 415.392.4400 or checking out worldartswest.org.