In contemporary Western culture, dance has become a different animal than it once was. We pound a few cocktails, don our mating-call wardrobes, and shake our heinies with all kinds of intoxicated fervor until the wee hours of the morning -- and call it dance. But it's worth remembering that there's a whole other realm: dance that has deep philosophical meanings behind it and is rooted in thousand-year-old customs; dance that celebrates the end of a war or the beginning of a life; dance that is about a certain time or is learned through extended periods of disciplined study. You don't need to hang up your Ruby Skye kicks or stop ending up at the Endup to tap into these traditions. But if you're really interested in the origins of body movement, the Ethnic Dance Festivalis a good thing to take in while sitting one out.
Hearan Chung's Bi Chun Mu.
Opens on Saturday, June 11 (and
continues through June 26)
This year, the fest -- which includes about 30 companies -- has a three-week theme: "Beginnings, Journeys, and Transformations." In week one, "Beginnings" offers up dances that invoke a sense of creation and renewal. Alameda-based dancer Nitya Venkateswaran's Southern Indian piece, Shiva Shakti, fits that bill. Performed in the classical, religious style of bharata natyam, this fast-paced work evokes images of the goddess Shakti, the divine feminine force who inspired creation. Also this week, Dimensions Dance Theater pays homage to the African diaspora with Rhythm Harvest, which combines traditional African dance with contemporary choreography to take us across the Atlantic, from Africa to the Americas; and Hearan Chung's Korean "creation dance," titled Bi Chun Mu and inspired by ancient Buddhist and Shamanic teachings, portrays the revolving cycle of death and rebirth through images of birds and flight.
One sample from "Journeys," week two, is the Jubilee American Dance Theatre's Cajun A Fais Do Do, which incorporates influences from Louisiana's early settlers: black Creoles, North American Indians, German Jews, and other Europeans. Using good home-cooked storytelling, it starts with a gathering of locals at the social hall followed by the communal singing of a lullaby to put the babies to sleep. Then a waltz, an upbeat contra, and a Cajun two-step.
In the third week, "Transformations," the San Jose-based Chinese Performing Artists of America hit home with Moon Courting. Though marriage was traditionally arranged in China, certain minority cultures allowed kids some say in the matter. Riffing on old courting rituals, this work depicts scenes of eligible bachelors vying for the hand of a sweet young thing who keeps them all at arm's (and leg's) length. At one point, a young guy gets tossed into a room with too many cuties and can't figure out how to pick only one. Some themes, it seems, defy the passage of time.