Author Archive | Claire F. Meyler

FEEL THE BEAT: Sharing Dances from the African Diaspora

FALL MAY BE THE SEASON to enjoy colorful leaves and chilly air, but this November is the time to delight in the color and power of dances from the African diaspora — especially West African dance. If you aren’t familiar with these dances, it’s time to feel the beat. The Bay Area is home to some remarkable talent, mixing both internationally- acclaimed experts from the African continent and locally-grown performers. Driven by rhythmic drumming, dances are often high- energy, with kicks, stomps, and rapid movements that swirl across the stage. Of course, each African nation brings a wide range of regional traditions, instruments, and costumes.

Nimely Pan African Dance Company

photo by RJ Muna

 

Meet us at the Rotunda

Start your month of African dance on Friday the 6th at San Francisco City Hall, for a free lunchtime performance by Nimely Pan African Dance Company, as part of the Rotunda Dance Series. The company will perform a harvest dance, known as the “Farming Ballet.” This Nigerian dance celebrates the bounty of a rice harvest. Accompanied by a line of drummers, the dance starts with farmers harvesting the grain. Once the bounty is collected, the village rejoices, and celebrates with a grand feast. The celebration dance features different regional masks from Liberia, many of them created by Nimely Napla, the group’s director, master dancer, choreographer, and costume designer.

Napla, a notorious powerhouse of talent, is dedicated to sharing West African cultural arts. Over the weekend of November 5–8, he joins forces with Alseny Soumah of Lahyidi Dance to host the Lahydi Dance Festival at Oakland Technical High School. This four-day event features a series of dance classes and lectures on African cultural arts, including dancing and drumming techniques from Senegal, Guinea, and Liberia. The weekend also includes children’s classes, and a performance by the Nimely Pan African Dance Company, along with a guest artist, children’s troupe, and community dance class participants.

Sit in on the Auditions

Mid-month, World Arts West will hold auditions for the 2016 San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival: November 7–8 and 14–15 at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in SF. For African dance enthusiasts, it promises to be an exciting mix of performers. This year, five companies are auditioning, including three groups that are new to the festival. Of the groups representing the African Diaspora, three draw upon influences from West African traditions.

World Arts West’s Artistic Director CK Ladzekpo is thrilled to see so many new faces trying out this year, both within the African diaspora, and throughout the program. Of 110 total groups auditioning, 45 are newcomers. Ladzekpo predicts that these groups will bring new energy and fresh work to enliven the proceedings. In his jolly voice, he explains, “The auditions in November are the real festival. This is where we draw the communities together and share diverse traditions. The shows we share in June are a refined version of the auditions.” Of course, with newer performers, some groups benefit from guidance in presenting on a proscenium stage. Ladzekpo tells the dancers, “They cannot teach all of their culture and traditions in a seven-minute dance. They must draw the attention of the audience; they must create an experience that excites people. From there, that will draw the audience into wanting to learn more, to get deeper into the culture and the traditions.” A quick look at the varied African dance groups competing in this year’s festival reveals a compelling mix of styles and influences, sure to engage audiences.

Jikelele South African Dance Theater is one of two African dance groups returning to the World Arts West stage, and also the single participating company demonstrating South African traditions. Co-founded by the world-renowned Artistic Director Thamsanqa Hlatywayo and Associate Director Andrea Vonny Lee, the company performs traditional dance and Township Theater, a form of Black Urban Theater developed during the apartheid era in South Africa. They will be performing Amarasharasha, a two-part piece. Based on traditional South African healing ceremonies, this dance begins with an initiation process to invoke the spirits of the ancestors. Next, the community gathers to participate, teasing out the affected person’s sickness, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. The performance piece is heavily influenced by Hlatywayo’s first-hand experience with healers, or Sangomas, while growing up in South Africa.

Ballet Lisanga, also a veteran performer at the SF Ethnic Dance Festival, is dedicated to the Congolese performance tradition. Artistic Director Renee Puckett founded the company to carry on the legacy of the late Malonga Casquelourd. Ballet Lisanga will perform N’Goma Bakongo, a celebratory dance from the Congo often performed at community events, weddings, and ceremonies to honor the dead. The dance is a friendly competition, wherein soloists step forward to show their best steps. Drummers join the competi- tion, challenging both the dancers and the other musicians, until the dance reaches a frenzy of excitement.

Hailing from the East Bay, Khaley Adouna African Dance & Drum is a collective of performing artists. Led by experienced choreographers Oumou Diamanka and Daniell DeLane, the group will present Wango, a staged dance that celebrates a Toucouleur marriage. The Toucouleur are a subgroup of the Fulani people, originally from Senegal, West Africa. Combining dance, drum, and song, the performance brings audience members through the wedding preparations and after the ceremony, celebrating the purity of the virgin bride and her new union.

Bodac Cultural Group is an international performing arts group that originated in Ghana, West Africa. Their repertoire includes traditional drumming, songs, dancing, and storytelling. The group will present Fume Fume, a ritual and spiritual dance of the Ga people of southern Ghana with spirited drumming and call-and-response singing. This celebratory spiritual tradition has been re-choreographed for the stage by the group’s artistic director and founder, Benjamin Ofori.

Director Tamika Harris brings a fusion dance style to the stage with the group Africa Meets Dancehall. Harris blends Central and West African dance traditions from the Congo, Haiti, Guinea and Senegal, learned from years of intensive study with master artists, and through international travel. Harris has combined these African traditions with modern influences to create dance classes in Oakland. This is her first time translating her unique fusion style into a stage performance.

Celebrate a milestone

Round out your month of African Dance with a milestone celebration: Diamano Coura West African Dance Company’s 40th anniversary. On November 28-29 at Oakland’s Laney College Theater, this influential com- pany celebrates their landmark achievement with the presentation of Sekelati, featuring selections from their repertoire and the debut of a new work, The Forbidden Bush.

Founded by husband-and-wife team Dr. Zakariya Diouf and Naomi Gedo Diouf, Diamano Coura is a local leader in West African dance. The directing partners are each acclaimed dancers, choreographers, and cultural leaders. Together, through Diamano Coura, their influence has spawned a new generation of West African dance leadership, including Khaley Adouna. The group has served the community through free workshops in music and dance, arts-in-education programming, international collaborations and apprenticeships, connecting over 100,000 young people to African arts. The 40th anniversary celebration promises to be a grand celebration of a dynamic and lasting legacy in West African Dance, featuring beautiful songs, bright costumes, and majestic movements performed by past and present company members.

Though many of the performers and choreographers presenting work in November may have roots in West African dance, the array of influences guarantees a wide range of styles and traditions. So spend your month celebrating African performing arts with a truly inspiring set of cultural leaders. These companies each offer a rich depth of knowledge, brought to life with powerful grace and energy. So get out and enjoy!

SHE, WHO CAN SEE, Finding balance with choreographer Alleluia Panis

A man and woman in white costumes

Kularts/Photo by Wilfred Galila

A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN is shaken awake by her troubled dreams. She rushes to work, but the dream haunts her: a chill on her spine, a cold feeling on her neck. Dogged
by ghostly figures, she trembles, clutching her hair in distress. Seemingly a world away, a young woman lights a candle, calls forth a blessing, and lays an offering to the spirits of
her ancestors. Are these spirits here to haunt her, or protect her?

Alleluia Panis examines the line between the spirit and modern world in her new multimedia dance work She, Who Can See. After a sold-out run in May (presented by API Cultural Center as part of the Ma’ARTes Festival and the 18th Annual United States of Asian American Festival), the show returns to Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco for an extended run this September. In it, Salima — brought to life with dynamic physicality and emotional ferocity by dance artist Alexandria Diaz De Fato — is an American woman of Filipino descent caught in the cultural crossroads, haunted by an inherited legacy of shamanism. White-clad spirits (performed by June Arellano, Rebecca Fazio, Jonathan Mercado, and Sammay Dizon) appear before Salima on the streets of San Francisco. Confused and scared, Salima struggles with these erratic visions, and we, as the audience, are drawn into the delirium of her struggle. As a ballast, we encounter the grounding influence of Nico, her partner (performed by martial artist/dancer Gregory Manalo), valiantly supporting Salima on her journey.

Performed to tribal-inspired music by Florante Aguilar, dancers nimbly leap between spaces — now on-stage, now on-screen — flashing a clever smile from the steps of an
old Victorian or winking from the BART platform. Panis, both choreographer and director, deftly blends live dance with film from Wilfred Galila, bringing the audience deeper into Salima’s frazzled mind.

The tension of culture and magic

Salima’s crisis is not only personal, but is symptomatic of a larger cultural condition. Though she lives a middle-class American lifestyle, she has inherited a sacred gift (or curse?) of shamanism. Salima must balance the insistent demands of her indigenous “pre-colonial self,” within the reality of her western world, wherein such spiritual ‘gift’ is considered nonsense, delusional, or taboo. Inspired by several real-world women, Salima becomes a foil to explore the question “How do people who see both the physical and the non-physical keep their sanity?”

She, Who Can See is a natural progression for Panis, an experienced choreographer and director. In her thirty-plus-year career, Panis has created more than fifteen fulllength dance-theater works, many of which investigate the “constant cultural negotiation” of balancing indigenous heritage within the contemporary world. Panis describes her work as drawing upon “the fluid articulation of Pilipino traditional dance, mystical elements of indigenous ritual dances, the muscularity of the escrima blade-fighting system, and the vertical physicality of modern dance.”

Panis returns biennially to the Philippines to recharge by participating in the ritual of ipat, an elaborate pre-colonial healing ceremony wherein a spiritual healer (baylan or shaman) becomes a vessel for ancestral spirits to communicate with the living. Lasting 4 to 14 days, ipat brings the entire community together in the both physical and spiritual healing process. On one of these visits, Panis experienced her “ah-ha” moment. She realized that ritual itself is a complete theater experience that deeply draws in participants and spectators alike. Panis explains, “The chanting, the music, the dance, and the intricately-designed offerings, all of it — this is what theater is supposed to be: a transformative experience that changes both artist and audience.”

Group of dancers in white costumes holding umbrellas

Kularts/Photo by Wilfred Galila

Creating through collaboration

Panis engaged talented collaborators to help bring Salima’s story to life. Florante Aguilar, a classically-trained musician and composer created the music score. Although he has previously worked with Panis, the indigenous rhythms and instrumentation used in She, Who Can See represent a stylistic departure. Aguilar, the subject of the film documentary Harana (Serenade), explains, “It’s the opposite end of the spectrum, from the familiar western mode to indigenous scales and instrumentations. It was a fun challenge.” The challenge pays off, setting a vivid backdrop. Aguilar says the collaboration worked because of Panis’s “clarity of vision, combined with creative freedom.”

If Panis brought the vision and Aguilar provided the music, then Wilfred Galila is the filmmaker who joined both music and dance on-camera — which Panis then wove into the full-length production. Galila is a filmmaker and writer who has collaborated with Panis in several endeavors, including Kodakan, a photography and video exhibition that explores the many layers of Filipino-American identity. She, Who Can See peers into the layers of identity and spirituality with a truly artistic eye.

The film winds in and out, as dancers melt from screen to stage. Panis uses the juxtaposition to bring us intimately into Salima’s experience. She explains, “In live theater, we see the full body within the theatrical space; but in film, we are able to get close, and see the emotional details of the character.” Indeed, the desire for this immediacy was a major factor in choosing Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco as her venue. Panis says, “I want to immerse the audience in Salima’s desperate sense of entrapment, of intrusion, of worlds in collision. To make the audience emotionally and physically feel the chaos of Salima’s internal landscape, the work is purposely layered. We hoped for the audience to bridge the divide between the digital and the live.” She adds, “As Salima’s journey is confined within her body, the audience is also confined within the walls of this little black box theater.”

Back for More

She, Who Can See brings together the creative spark of Panis’ vision. Also in the works: a film production, to carry this piece into perpetuity. Says Wilfred Galila, “The task is to bring back a dream that was manifested on stage to the dreamlike medium of cinema, to bring what was imagined back into the realm of the imagination.”

Awake, Salima lights a candle, her face calm. But does Salima find healing? Alleluia muses, “The truth is, rituals define the ‘sight,’ give it boundaries, but they don’t make it go away. How we move forward, how we accept traditions and choose to practice them, remains open.” Decide for yourself when She, Who Can See returns to Bindlestiff Studio in September.

Group of dancers in white costumes, one man in flight others holding umbrellas

Kularts/Photo by Wilfred Galila

Dancing An Homage: Shantala Shivalingappa Honors Her Mentors with Namasya

Shantala Shivalingappa is a truly gifted dancer, so graceful and precise that she seems to move as one with the music. Her leaps are effortless, airy, with the spring of a startled bird and the confidence of a cat. Her long, slender limbs create clean shapes, and her lithe body switches tempo with ease. Shivalingappa’s inborn talent is clear, but her unique background is what makes her performances so rich with flavor.

Photo by Laurent Philippe

Photo by Laurent Philippe

An international artist with rare clarity of movement, Shivalingappa straddles eastern and western worlds with true grace. Born in Chennai (then known as Madras), and raised in Paris, Shivalingappa grew up in a world of dance and music. As a young child, she traveled extensively with her dancer/teacher mother, Savitry Nair, and began training alongside her at age five. As a teenager, Shivalingappa fell in love with the power and fluidity of Kuchipudi—a classical dance form of Southern India—and trained intensely under Master Vempati Chinna Satyam. Recognized early as a gifted performer, Shivalingappa has since had the honor of working with a diverse range of renowned artists: Maurice Béjart, Peter Brook, Bartabas, Pina Bausch and Ushio Amagatsu. Through it all, she sees herself first and foremost as an Indian dancer. Though her home is in Paris, she returns to India each year to re-connect with the music and cultural resources of her birthplace. This April, West Coast audiences will get a taste of her rich experience with the hour-long solo program, Namasya, presented by SF Performances.

Translating to “Homage,” Namasya does exactly that: she pays tribute to the diverse influences and master artists that have colored her career. Given that framework, it is only appropriate that one of the four dance pieces was choreographed by the late Pina Bausch, who first sparked Shivalingappa’s interest in contemporary dance. Though she grew up surrounded by various dance styles, she was at first reticent to try contemporary dance. But when Bausch, a long-time friend and co-worker of her mother, asked Shivalingappa to join her company as a guest dancer, the new genre opened the young performer to a more spontaneous, freer way of moving. Gaining mastery of a new form, she describes as, “unsettling and refreshing, to be like a beginner again.”

More than a decade later, Shivalingappa is clearly no beginner, but her early experiences inform this new work. Bausch’s composition, simply titled “Solo,” has several elements now familiar from previous Bausch/Shivalingappa collaborations: sensual movements and quick energetic leaps performed in a long evening dress. However, this work—created by Bausch to honor her close friend, now dead, who had been Shivalingappa’s earliest promoter—is infused with hints of South Asian gesture. Explains Shivalingappa,“Each dance form enriches the other construction. Whatever you do adds flavors and colors the other, makes it more interesting.”

In another piece, Shivalingappa asked to work with Butoh Master Ushio Amagastu, longtime director of the all-male company, Sankai Juku. She was drawn to the strong aesthetic experience and deeply emotional resonance of his work. She says, “I always wanted to be a part of it [Amagatsu’s Butoh], not just from the outside, not just watching it.” The resonance was so strong, she explains, “I wanted to touch it to try it, to see myself in it. It felt surprisingly familiar.” When putting together a new program, Amagatsu was on the top of her list. Luckily, the feeling was mutual. When she asked him to create a new piece, Amagatsu agreed to work with her because he had been impressed with her Kuchipudi performances. Says Shivalingappa, “It’s not always possible for him to work with different forms of dance, but we found common ground in the approach to movement, in the imagery.”

The finished product, “Ibuki” (Vital Breath), is a slow meditative movement through images of a day, from dawn to dusk. The work has no narrative. Yet, as it evokes images and emotions, it is “extremely detailed, like a musical partition.” Shantala Shivalingappa explains, “It is an internal journey, described to me as a series of images and dance movements going through these different landscapes.” Each movement comes from a precise trigger, whether it’s an image, an emotional sensation, or a memory. In its subtle depiction of sunrise, water, flowers, sunset, she describes it as “an abstract  work with a richly detailed interior.”

To round out the program, mother and daughter created a contemporary piece together while they were teaching in Maurice Béjart’s school in Switzerland. Created in the few short weeks before Béjart passed away and before the premier of Namasya, this selection speaks to an intensity of emotion. Says Shivalingappa, “We had worked very closely with him.” For her contribution, mother Savitra Nair chose music that she had performed to in one of Béjart’s ballets, a classical North Indian composition. Of the mother-daughter collaboration, Shivalingappa says, “It was absolutely lovely to work with her.”

Shivalingappa’s own contribution to the evening, “Shift,” is appropriately named, changing music as the dance shifts in style. Here again, one sees her varied influences enriching her performance. As one of her first attempts at contemporary self-choreography, Shivalingappa has developed this work over several performances. It premiered in 2007 in Paris, inspired by the Indian martial arts form Kalari Payat. She found these movements earthy, grounded, and admired the elements taken from the natural world, such as the animal sequences of the serpent and the monkey. As she returned to fine-tune the piece, Shivalingappa added new elements, inspired by her work with Amagatsu. In particular, she found herself meditating on “the slowness of movement, and the relation of weight to gravity.”

In an evening of loving tributes to dancer-choreographers from Shivalingappa’s well-rounded career, it is no surprise that she includes an homage to Kuchipudi, her primary passion, and to her guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. Filmed by Alexandre Castres, a French dancer-turned-videographer, the film offers a close-up view of Shivalingappa’s hands, face, and feet as she silently dances in full Indian regalia. Artfully shot, the film offers a rare chance to see the beauty of her hand gestures—mudras—up close, scaling up details not always visible to a dance audience. More importantly, this short interlude reinforces the links between her Eastern heritage and her Western training.

A full evening of solo work can be intense, but for Shantala Shivalingappa, that intensity is part of the attraction. She enjoys taking the audience with her on a personal journey, allowing them to touch something else in that experience. Also, the solo form is central to Indian dance. In the codified world of classical Indian dance, she explains, “Either you do big dramatic mythical episodes with characters and musicians, or you do solo work.” Of the two basic forms, Shivalingappa is clearly drawn to solo work. “Once you’ve tasted it, then the format of solo performance is very powerful”, she says. “It takes a lot, but it gives a lot as well. Once you start practicing, it’s very hard to give up.” With a talent this enchanting, one could hardly blame her.

Namasya will be presented on Tue, Apr 16 at the Herbst Theatre, additional information available at sfperformances.org.

Stepping to the Beat of a Different Fiddle with the Barbary Coast Cloggers

As the first high notes of fiddle fill the air, a group of twelve men in jeans and flannel shirts begin to clap rhythmically. A banjo joins the fiddle, and the men are off—stomping out a strong beat against the wooden floor, their toes and heels hitting the boards in a driving thump-clackity-thump as legs fly merrily. These are the Barbary Coast Cloggers, an all-male clogging ensemble known for their energetic and upbeat performances.

If America is, as the saying goes, a “melting pot,” then clogging is one of the earliest fusions drawn from that steaming cauldron. Once known as “American step dancing,” clogging is the first folk dance form of the United States. Ian Enriquez, Artistic Director of the Barbary Coast Cloggers, explains, “When the country was first formed, people from different countries would play instruments together, and you would have this blend that included Scottish and Irish fiddles, German mandolins, and African banjoes.” Immigrants and Native Americans mixed disparate musical styles, instruments and dance moves, teaching each other steps and notes as they went. From this mixture, our ancestors created bluegrass music and clog dancing. Contemporary audiences may be more familiar with tap-dancing, clogging’s highly syncopated off-shoot. Clogging, born in the Appalachian Mountains, retains a more relaxed, bucolic feel. Musing on the dance’s early formation, Enriquez says, “In a national history loaded with division, slavery, and discrimination, it’s uplifting to imagine people from such different backgrounds and cultures coming together and partying.”

In this respect, the Barbary Coast Cloggers remain true to the roots of the genre: the group itself is composed of men from diverse backgrounds and age ranges. The guys who perform in the Barbary Coast Cloggers ensemble have a wide range of day jobs: therapists, school principals, police officers and even piano tuners. But, like those early Appalachian cloggers, these men are brought together by a shared love of music, dance and camaraderie.

The Barbary Coast company is unique in that it is the only all-male traditional clogging group in the country. They began performing in 1981, an off-shoot of The Foggy City Squares, a gay square dance group dating back to the ‘70s. Though the current company is a mix of gay and straight men, the group’s all-male cast remains a part of their appeal. Audiences love the Barbary Coast Cloggers, says Ian Enriquez, because they’re responding to that boisterous masculine energy. Whereas some choreographers may portray masculine “strength” in dance using anger or violence, Enriquez is inspired by the “joyful and rambunctious” spirit of male dancers like Gene Kelly. For the Cloggers, Enriquez says, “Everything we do is about the joy of dance, and the audience responds to that.”

Pictured: Barbary Coast Cloggers Photo by Holly Ireland

Pictured: Barbary Coast Cloggers
Photo by Holly Ireland

Sharing a love of dance

If the men of Barbary Coast Cloggers have an obvious love for dancing, then it’s no surprise that they love to share this joy with others. Though winter is generally a quiet time for the company, they regularly participate in several festivals throughout the year: the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival in June; the Bay Area Tap Festival in August; and the San Mateo Harvest Festival in November.

Year-round, the Cloggers also teach classes, open to dancers from all ages and walks of life, ladies included. Clogging is an easily accessible dance for newcomers: the distinctive metal taps can be glued to any comfortable pair of shoes. Sunday nights at the ODC Dance Commons, Ian Enriquez leads a two-hour lesson that gets progressively harder, encouraging students to push their skills and learn from advanced dancers. In the new year, the company will expand their class offerings, leading advanced classes on the weekends and beginning/intermediate classes on Monday nights at City Dance. Enriquez explains, “People like to have their weekends free. With weeknight classes, we can serve more working folks. I’m looking forward to teaching more people how to clog.”

The group also shares a dedication to charity work, and has been acknowledged by the City and County of San Francisco for its charitable contributions, which have helped raise thousands of dollars for local causes, including AIDS support organizations, MS and breast cancer research and the arts. Since its formation, the Barbary Coast Cloggers have focused their time and energy on providing entertainment at fundraisers in San Francisco, including a commitment to the Sundance Stompede and the Richmond-Ermet Pediatric AIDS Foundation. For one memorable show, the Cloggers donned Santa suits and joined Nancy Sinatra on-stage for “These Boots are Made for Walking,” a number that brought the audience to their feet. As Enriquez puts it, “We don’t turn down gigs for non-profits. It’s just a matter of two things: if we have enough dancers available for the evening and they have a good dance floor, then we can do it.” Of course, it’s a special bonus to perform a show that both entertains and educates, allowing the group a chance to speak about clogging’s rich history.

Pictured: Barbary Coast Cloggers Photo by Holly Ireland

Pictured: Barbary Coast Cloggers
Photo by Holly Ireland

Clogging with a modern sensibility

Though clogging has a long tradition in bluegrass music, the Barbary Coast Cloggers recognize that folk dance is a living tradition, with room for growth. In addition to their traditional repertoire, the men of Barbary Coast dance to many types of music, from contemporary hip hop to pop hits, and even tunes from other parts of the world, like Hawaii and Algeria. As Artistic Director, Ian Enriquez welcomes the challenge of honoring the company’s traditional heritage, while also experimenting with the art form. In a daring move, the group performed to “Gangnam Style” at this year’s Harvest Festival. A pop music phenomenon from South Korean rapper PSY, the video for this song has given new meaning to the phrase “viral video.” With its immense popularity (garnering the highest single video viewing count on YouTube, at 867 million, as of November 2012), Enriquez says, “It was a lot of pressure, to do our own version. But the crowd loved it.”

Under Enriquez’s leadership, the Barbary Coast Cloggers have performed contemporary pieces at the Fresh Meat Festival and at the Nations of San Diego International Dance Festival. Enriquez admits that it can be nerve-wracking to walk the line between traditional and contemporary folk dance. But, bolstered by warm responses from festival producers and audiences, the company—and the dance style—will continue to evolve. Enriquez says, “I have challenged the artform, but that’s part of the tradition: to bring in other forms of movement and combine dance steps from mixed backgrounds.” While the group will continue to honor the company’s traditional heritage, Enriquez is encouraged by the success of their modern pieces. “It’s fun to celebrate all the different things we can bring in and help it grow.”

Always looking for a new inspiration as a choreographer, Ian Enriquez has found insight in the emotionally rich music of Los Angeles composer Shawn Kirchner’s Meet Me on the Mountain, a suite of bluegrass and soulful country inspired by the movie Broke Back Mountain. The Barbary Coast Cloggers have premiered dances to two of these songs, wherein Enriquez pushed himself to create more square dance formations. With these successful works under his belt, Enriquez faces a unique challenge. Unlike the other songs on the album, the final song best suited for clogging directly addresses gay marriage. For this reason, Enriquez is understandably nervous. The company’s history is closely connected to the gay community, yet their work remains non-political, and definitely non-romantic. With an all-male company, the Barbary Coast Cloggers rarely do “partner work,” like one sees with co-ed groups. Instead, the company changes partners without end, switching and pairing only briefly. The prospect of creating male-to-male partner work for Kirchner’s song is both exciting and terrifying. Enriquez is ready for the challenge, saying “We just have to confront it and perform it and see what comes of it.” With a track record of crowd-pleasing and critically-acclaimed performances, it seems likely that the Barbary Coast Cloggers will rise to the test with their unique brand of joyful exuberance.

To learn more about the Barbary Coast Cloggers, visit their website at www.barbarycoast.org.

From Mexico to California and Back: A Look at Los Lupeños de San José

Since 1969, Los Lupeños de San José has been exploring Mexico’s rich and passionate culture through dance. Dancers’ Group and World Arts West proudly present Los Lupeños for the Friday, November 2 performance of their Rotunda Dance Series; free lunchtime performances amidst the grandeur of San Francisco’s City Hall.

Los Lupeños began as a study-performance group of Mexican dance and culture. Co-Founders Dr. Susan Cashion and Ramón Morones, both trained in Mexico, wanted to bring this rich tradition to San José. Here, they’ve created a uniquely Californian dance company that honors Mexican traditions, maintaining a learning exchange between Mexico and California.

Cashion shared insights into their history, along with some of the company’s other exciting projects. “Over the years, the company has accumulated a varied repertoire of dances from many master teachers from both sides of the border, yet also retains a ‘distinctly Chicano aesthetic.’” Cashion explains, “Our population of dancers thinks, moves, and interprets life very differently than dancers who study and perform in Mexico. So our company has a distinct California slant to our way of working.”

Friday, November 2: The Rotunda Dance Series
With a repertoire that includes dances from over twenty regions in Mexico, as well as dances based on early California history, it isn’t possible to showcase Los Lupeños’ full range in a forty-minute show. So to give the audience attending the Rotunda show a taste of their talents, the company will perform dances from three regions, taking an East-to-West “tour” of Mexico. The first suite includes three dances from Veracruz, on the east coast, all with intricately rhythmic footwork. The second set is called La Danza de los Viejitos (The Dance of the Little Old Men), from Michoacán. Cashion describes this dance as a “comic dance, with clowns and jokes.” She explains, “This dance is an indigenous statement, poking fun at the Europeans.” It also acts as a counterpoint to the other dances, providing an indigenous point of view as opposed to the mestizo culture. The last segment is a set of celebratory dances from Mexico’s western state of Jalisco. Ending on a happy note, the Rotunda performance rounds out with an ode to courtship, joy, and celebration.

Photos: Los Lupeños (courtesy of the artist)

Photo: Los Lupeños (courtesy of the artist)

What’s Next:
The day after their Rotunda performance, Los Lupeños will be on stage again for VivaFest!, performing with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall. The November 3 concert is part of the annual Días de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) celebration, which takes place in Mexico on November 1-2, a tradition that honors familial ancestors and loved ones who have passed on. For this performance, the Los Lupeños dancers will be accompanied by Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitán, one of the premier musical ensembles from Mexico. Cashion shares the excitement of this partnership, enthusing, “The opportunity to dance with this group is a real thrill for our dancers.”

On Wednesday, December 12, Los Lupeños’ school, the aptly named “La Escuela,” will complete its fall session with a recital at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San José, featuring performances from three-year-old beginners to company members. Dr. Cashion calls these programs a “love feast,” explaining that many generations of family members always fill the plaza to capacity. She continues, “It’s wonderful for me, because I enjoy seeing the dancers of the next generation, dancers who might be part of the company in five years, ten years, and so on.”

Finally, Los Lupeños is producing a Winter Concert on Sunday, February 17, also at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Cashion describes this event as the “pinnacle of the performing season,” noting that the dancers work with a group of generous professional musicians who have supported the dance company for many years.

Other Projects:
The Los Lupeños dance company and La Escuela both operate under the umbrella of two non-profit organizations: the Mexican Heritage Corporation and the Cashion Cultural Legacy (CCL). As its name suggests, the Cashion Culutral Legacy—founded in 2009 by Dr. Susan Cashion—is more than a support network for the dance company and school, pursuing scholarly projects that further the knowledge of Mexican dance. CCL funds a cultural exchange of dancers and choreographers between San José and Guadalajara, and maintains research archives in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.

The dance scholarship program has met with immediate success. The first scholarship recipient was Reneé González Lopéz, a dancer with Maestro René Arcé in Guadalajara and a graduate of the Department of Theatre and Dance of the University of Guadalajara. In 2010, Renée was given a residency in the San Francisco Bay Area to study with Robert Moses (Artistic Director of Robert Moses’ Kin), and to set a suite of dances for Los Lupeños, which they performed in the 2011 San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Dr. Cashion explains, “The people that we bring to California advance our knowledge in the Mexican material. It’s a wonderful learning experience for the dancers. But we also wanted to give Lopéz the opportunity to expand his love of modern dance.”

This kind of cultural and artistic exchange is brought to life on stage—and on paper. In 2011, the Cashion Cultural Legacy provided a scholarship for veteran dancer Rosario Chavarria Peña to travel from her home in Los Angeles to the CCL archives, to write a memoir of her life as a pioneer in Mexican dance in California. Released earlier this year, Peña’s book remembers a career that spans over fifty years performing, teaching, choreographing, and directing Mexican folklórico dance. Titled No Boots: My Early Years of Folklórico Dance in California, the work is CCL’s first published book.

Photo: Los Lupeños (courtesy of the artist)

Photo: Los Lupeños (courtesy of the artist)

Encouraged by the success of this project, the Cashion Cultural Legacy already has subjects chosen for the next three publications: Ramón Morones, co-founder of Los Lupeños; Benjamin Hernández, co-founder of Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos, and teacher of forty years at East Los Angeles City College; and their teacher, Emilio Pulido. All three men came from Mexico’s University of Guadalajara to California in the 1960s. As this generation of dancers passes on, it is even more vital to record their stories. Cashion explains, “They influenced the nature and philosophy of Mexican dance and how one stages it in the California scene. Their artistic aesthetics still influences Mexican dance performances in California.” Luckily, the CCL archives have already taped oral histories of these men several years ago— two have since passed. Cashion adds, “We have to get the stories of these early dance pioneers before we start losing these people.” With the help of the Cashion Cultural Legacy, their dance steps and their stories will be available to teach future generations.

Catch a free performance of Los Lupeños de San José in San Francisco City Hall on Friday, November 2, at noon for the Rotunda Dance Series, presented by Dancers’ Group and World Arts West in partnership with San Francisco Grants for the Arts and San Francisco City Hall. Share the rhythm and beauty of Mexican dance with performances by company members Marco Chavez, Mandy Garcia, Christina Gil, Arturo Magdalena, Juan Carlos Miranda, Crystal Ortiz, Angela Szymusiak, and Lalo Torres. To learn more about Los Lupeños de San José and the Cashion Cultural Legacy, visit their website at cashionculturallegacy.org.

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