Thursday, November 12, 2009

Performing Diaspora Festival

Last Saturday night, everything moved before my eyes. Mesmerized and wide-eyed, I watched dancers perform in what was the 1st weekend of the Performing Diaspora Festival @ Counterpulse. This space on 9th and Mission consistently presents exciting performing arts from emerging artists and cultural innovators. I heard about the festival through my friend, Sarah Jessee, who works as their Outreach Intern. Appropriately, she "reached out" and promoted this jaw-dropping night to me. I had no idea what to expect, but literally, I have a jaw and it dropped.

The evening was split into 4 performance by 4 different artists. The first was "A Conference in Nine," by Charlotte Moraga. This piece was a collaboration between Moraga and the musicians. Her style of dance is called Kathak and she embedded her own storytelling through her body's rhythm and ferocious movement with the musicians' song. The next piece was called "Alma Llanera-Spirit of the Plains," a work inspired by the novel Bless me Ultima. I have not read that book since junior high school, but the piece dealt with similar themes as the book, like coming-of-age and the power of good and evil. The choreographer, Gema Sandoval, juxtaposed the past and the present by using both contemporary and traditional Mexican music. But the highlight, really, was the group of dancers. These energetic performers (some as young as 12) danced joyfully in Mexican regional dance styles coupled with some contemporary moves. I loved this piece because the dancers appeared so genuinely glad to perform. With every smile and every impressive synchronized sequence (of which there were many), I felt their proud spirit sent into the audience.

The last performance was called "Ampey!" and it really brought down the house. I wish I knew how to talk intelligently about dance so I could properly articulate the beauty that I saw on stage. I don't really have the lingo, or the terms or glossary of dance. I suppose translating one medium into another isn't the easiest of things, but I can confidently say this work was powerful, inspired and enchanting! Choreographer Adia Tamar Whitaker, a master of Afro-Haitian folkloric dance, says that her festival piece was inspired by "ampey," a rhythmic game played by young girls in Ghana. In this show-stopper of a piece, she combines dance, media and music. It is a work in progress, but its lyrical tightness and overall strength was perfection. Readers can listen to Adia talk about work here. Also, the Counterpulse website has more information about the festival and its upcoming 2 weekends. It's not to be missed so shimmy on over as fast as you can!

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