Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once flexed his might by demanding that Nikita Khrushchev perform the national Ukrainian dance, essentially forcing the future leader to squat and spin on his caprice. The Hopak, or Cossack dance, was originally the domain of virile young warriors who celebrated victories with displays of speed, strength, and general manliness. Today, the dance is choreographed for both sexes to appear wildly improvised; women in intricate headdresses execute equally intricate footwork while their male counterparts accomplish acrobatic feats in flouncy pants. The opening weekend of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival promises a lavish display of Ukrainian girl dances and national Hopak, as well as a jubilant blessing for the cultivation of corn with Compañía Mazatlán Bellas Artes and a battle between two faces of one Hindu goddess courtesy of Athira Pratap. While gods and histories diverge, movement, like music, transcends nationality and language. You may not recognize the Sudanese Jaipongan, an urban dance created in Indonesian to subvert the governments ban on rock n roll, but youll respond to the dancers anguish at losing her beloved. The heartbeats and heartbreaks of Spain, Ireland, Tahiti, and the Appalachian Trail take shape amid skin drums and bamboo marimbas, some so large they must be climbed upon.
June 7-28, 2 p.m., 2009