Ethnic Dance Festival: Chatting with Carlos Carvajal Behind the Scenes

By In Dance


It is intriguing that for the past four seasons, the Ethnic Dance Festival has had more than one artistic director on staff. Choosing from a wide variety of talented artists and performers, both CK Ladzepo and Carlos Carvajal are tasked with the difficult job of streamlining up to 50 audition finalists representing a multitude of countries: Spain, India, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, China, Portugal, Bulgaria, to name a few. With only 34-36 spots in the season line-up, it’s no wonder it takes two to curate four weekends of top-notch dance. Carvajal was eager to share his program letter, which will appear in the EDF’s program, and what follows is a candid portrait of his job as an artistic director and his thoughts on this year’s show.

How long have you been on staff for the EDF?
I have been involved with the EDF from its very beginning more than 30 years ago. I have also attended most of the auditions and have been a panelist and advisor as well.

What’s your “day job”?
My “day job” is being a dance maker and teacher. I have been a choreographer and involved in dance productions in the Bay Area for most of my adult life, having worked with the SF Ballet, SF Opera, Oakland Ballet, Peninsula Ballet Theatre and internationally in Europe and South America.

What is the hardest part being an artistic director?
What is difficult is not including all [of the auditionees] because of program limitations. There have been so many exceptional performers and performances during the history of this unique event that it is difficult to single one out.

Name three reasons to come to this year’s festival.
1. See the best and most interesting and varied programs of international dance that there is.
2. Enjoy the high quality of costuming and music we have to offer.
3. Leave the show with a higher understanding, and curiosity of the various folk forms, and an interest to see more of such a treasure, which abounds in our area.

Will you be in the audience during the Festival?
I have attended all of the shows. I wouldn’t miss one ever! That is where I can purely enjoy the spectacle with no concerns about anything.

After the final performance, what’s in your planner?
After the Festival I will take a short vacation, continue to teach my classes, and later prepare for another season of presenting my Nutcracker ballet for Christmas. My youngest daughter, Celina, is also being married in October; I’ll be very busy between that and preparing for the Nut. Otherwise, I’ll be enjoying life in my garden with my chickens, my dear friends, and various other creatures and plant life. Will also be working on home improvements, which is ongoing.

This year, there was a bumper crop of new auditionees for the Festival indicating that the new dancers and choreographers are encouraged to show their work to the discerning eye of our panelists and directors. By this great turnout, our local ethnic communities are showing their support and respect for what has been accomplished by the Festival and acknowledged by the superb reviews we have achieved most recently from our local press as well as from New York. Inclusion in the festival is a very important part of a company’s and soloist’s accomplishments and credentials. The Isadora Duncan Awards Committee have taken notice and have nominated Festival participants and groups for awards.

At first I was rightfully overjoyed when told that there was an increase of 30% over the last year’s auditions, but then I felt truly sad that we would be obliged to include only a quarter of all of the fine artists in the festival programs and that so many fine performances would not be available to the EDF audiences. Since I first joined as co-artistic director four seasons ago, we have expanded our season to four weeks, which have been very successful; a goal is to see the season expand to six weeks.

There are new forms which have been accepted by the festival as well as choreographies based upon the fusion of several styles. Hip Hop and “Bollywood” being two of those which cause controversy and good healthy discussions as to what our festival should include as a genuine “ethnic” form. So often labeling a dance as “fusion” serves as a grab bag and excuse for throwing disparate elements into a choreography. However, there are genuine valid fusions, which are accepted and presented in the festival, and it is to be expected that the purists among us will dispute the validity of such work. The panelists are always faced with such choices and the questions of cultural validity and ethnic roots are never ignored.

What is unique about the EDF is that all of our international participants are exclusively from this very region, the farthest coming from Sacramento and San Jose. Most world dance festivals invite dance groups from other countries to participate. Here in the Bay Area, we have accomplished and respected masters who have settled and who have been producing an admirable 3rd generation of “home grown” expertly trained and knowledgeable dancers. Speaking to the excellence of their teachers, it is the children who will be featured leading off this year’s 32nd EDF including the youngest soloist ever.

Working with co director, CK Ladzepo and the excellent staff of the EDF is always a joy and challenge, particularly enhanced by the fact that none of us fear the unknown and thereby are able to make the best decisions for continuously improving the quality and impact of our programs.

This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of In Dance.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.