The always colorful, month-long San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival opens Saturday at Fort Mason Center with a particularly spectacular Balinese-themed world premiere. “Bayangan Jiwa” (“The Spirit’s Image”), which combines dance, shadow puppets and two gamelan orchestras, boasts an ensemble of 70 performers, many in elaborate costumes and headdresses.
The piece features Berkeley’s Gamelan Sekar Jaya, San Jose’s Pusaka Sunda, dancer Luh Andarawati and instrumental soloists.
Emiko Saraswati Susilo, a vocalist with Gamelan Sekar Jaya, says the work “investigates how the human spirit navigates the space between darkness and light, movement and stillness, sound and silence.”
Gamelan Sekar Jaya also is presenting traditional works and other new pieces, including “Legong Somia,” with dancer Ayu Larassanti, about massacres in Indonesia in the 1960s; and “Kelanguan,” an instrumental work employing complex use of overlapping time signatures and intertwining melodic motion.
There’s a complex connection between Balinese movement and the Indonesian gong orchestra called gamelan: “The dancers’ bodies are an extension of the music and instruments. Finding the breath between the two is the really exciting thing about Balinese gamelan and dance together,” says Susilo, daughter of noted artists and teachers Hardja Susilo and Judy Mitoma.
She explains the difference between Sundanese (West Java) and Balinese gamelan styles: Sundanese features ethereal flute music and is intricate, delicate, gentle and meditative, while Balinese is characterized by dynamic energy, drama and surprise. She adds, “It can take your breath away.”
Shadow theater, a vital part of Balinese culture, adds playfulness and energy to the music and dance.
Yet Saturday’s performance is just the beginning of the 34th annual festival, called “The World United Through Dance.”
Four weekends of festivities, curated by Carlos Carvajal and CK Ladzekpo, feature 30 Bay Area companies representing dozens of nations and cultures while offering cross-cultural experiences. Most performances are at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Novellus Theater.
Noting that the festival draws national attention, executive director Julie Mushet says, “There is no other dance community in the world with the cultural diversity, artistic excellence and vibrancy of the San Francisco Bay Area’s.”
Weekends 2 through 4
Program 1 June 16-17
Program 2 June 23-24
Program 3 June 30-July 1