Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Dancers of Santa Cruz Gather for Ethnic Dance Festival

Santa Cruz Dance presented its second annual Ethnic Dance Festival at Mission Plaza Park last weekend. The first day of the festival was a free, public dance concert. On the second day, local dance teachers offered a series of free classes at the 418 Project (and India Joze was there serving up their treats at both events).

The performers—all local—represented ethnic dance traditions from (in order of appearance): Japan, Mexico, India, Argentina, Brazil, Bali, West and North Africa, Spain, and back to Brazil. That is an extraordinary variety of dance for one afternoon. But there it is: a whole world of dance right here in Santa Cruz.

Japanese Classical Dancer from Studio Mai

Lovely, young dancers from Esperanza Del Valle Mexican Folklorico Company

John and Nancy Lingemann performing a Tango

Made Suryasa in his Old Man mask

The Feldthouse Family Band opened the afternoon their gypsy fusion music and dance. From the Gypsy traditions we also saw the suitably hot Flamenco Romántico with Marianna and Freddie Mejia and an amusing gypsy-cancan fusion from Desert Dream. From the Latin traditions we saw two fast-paced Brazilian groups: Yabas Dance Company under the direction of Dandha Da Hora and Tropicalismo directed by Marsea Marquis. In addition, we were entertained by Esperanza Del Valle’s colorful Mexican Folklorico Dance Company and a some Argentine Tangos from John and Nancy Lingemann et al.

From the Eastern world, Ohgi Umetsuzu brought graceful duets and solos in Classical Japanese dance. Made Suryasa delighted us with his Balinese old-man masked dance. Santa Cruz newcomer Revital Carroll performed a beautiful Odissi piece. African traditions were represented by another relatively new group of dynamic West African dancers, Mohamed Bongoura, Satrunin Ba, and Vivien Bassouamina. (Welcome to the community, all of you.) Representing North African bellydance we saw RaksArabi and Desert Dream.

Dancers and fans of dancers gathered at Mission Plaza, one component of the state historic park around the Santa Cruz Mission (some of it dating to 1791). The stage was located at one end of the plaza, Under Direct Sun. It faced a nice, grassy area, also Under Direct Sun. It was very hot…cook-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot. Most of the trees surrounding the park aren’t tall enough to offer a lot of shade, plus they are at a distance from the stage. Still, it got cozy under those trees.

Visitors clustered beneath patches of shade

The shady view of the stage

I camped out under a small tree—had to lay down to see the stage, but it was shaded. I made forays out to the green for a closer look, take a picture, and dash back for water. The dancers—in full and often elaborate costume—warned us that they might not make it through their performances. We were especially concerned for the barefoot dancers: I hope they had buckets of ice waiting for them backstage.

These kids had the right idea

But the dancers carried on, to our communal delight. As a friend of mine said recently, Santa Cruz may not have the very best in ethnic dance, but we more than make up for that in passion and dedication to these extraordinary expressions of the human spirit. But, in addition to that, we have some genuine expertise in ethnic dance cultures. I applaud the producers of this weekend for providing yet another opportunity for us to rub shoulders with the dancers of Santa Cruz.

Sunday I attended two of the five free, hour-long dance classes sponsored by 418 Project. Now, you know I love to watch dancing, but it doesn’t compare to getting into a studio and becoming the dancer myself.

Crystal Silmi has attempted to kill me before with her “warm-ups” but she held back for the sake of newcomers. Still, it was non-stop action from the time the drumming commenced to our zhagareets at the end. Let’s see if I can remember what we learned: Basic Egyptian, The Twisty Hip Thingy, Arabics One to Infinity, Traveling Choo Choos, Some Other Stuff including Taxeem (slow movements) and Snake Arms (always a crowd favorite). After each new step was drilled, it was included into her choreography. As our knowledge of steps accumulated so did our ability to dance the choreography. It was very gratifying and I loved every second of it.

Made Suryasa teaching Balinese dance

Student dons a mask and strikes a pose

Young and old joined in

After a lively break of meeting and greeting, we gathered again for Made Suryasa’s instruction in Balinese Mask Dance. This classical dance form requires that you stand in the most peculiar position: feet apart, knees deeply bent, torso stable, shoulders hunched up to your ears. The shoulders are perched high up, with the head tucked in to frame the masked face and to better mimic the actions of the shadow puppets upon which the dances are based. Arms and hands are contorted into sharp, angular forms as the feet slap out their steps. Given my weak joints, I elected to observe most of this class and found it most informative. Made Suryasa is a master of his art and a lovely teacher, as well.

The dance classes continued with Mohamed Bongoura teaching West African, Noga Vilozny teaching flamenco, and concluded with the Lingemann’s tango lessons. I would love to have stayed for them all. Stepping into a dance studio is like coming home for me. It doesn’t even matter if it’s an old room on a third-floor walk-up, the corner of a stage, or a modern dance studio with clean wooden floors and perfect mirrors. As long as dance has happened there, the space becomes charged with the energy dancers.

(P.S.: I tried to get pictures of producers Abra, Hana, and Chip but they were moving so fast my camera couldn’t pick them up. Nonetheless, thank you and your team for bringing us the Santa Cruz Ethnic Dance Festival.)

I hope you will all consider attending the third annual ethnic dance festival in 2011 and to take classes with our local ethnic dancers and musicians.

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Food as Art; Art as Nourishment: a collaboration between The 418 Project and Indian Joze

by Renée Rothman

“We are attempting to encourage Food as Art and Art as Nourishment,” said co-producer Ana Elizabeth in her introduction to “Raices Flamencas: a Gustatory, Dance, and Musical Journey.” This was the first official collaboration between dance studio The 418 Project, and newly reopened India Joze, a fusion restaurant. India Joze and The 418 Project share a space at 418 Front Street in Santa Cruz. The small restaurant space is in the front, the dance studio in the back, and a foyer is shared by both. The 418 calls itself a “community center” where performing artists can teach, collaborate, and perform: they arranged for the musicians and dancers. Chef Jozseph Schultz of India Joze specializes in “explorations in culinary anthropology” and provided tapas and drinks. They are perfectly suited to showcase the artistry of cooking and the spiritual nourishment of the performing arts.

“Raices” was a benefit for The 418 Project, a non-profit group raising money for a permanent space. (No word yet on how much they raised.) The Saturday evening event featured a more formal dinner, atmosphere, and entry fee. I attended the less-formal event on Sunday night.

“Raices Flamencas” was conceived of by David RD Bolam who became fascinated by the multiple musical and dance influences that became flamenco. Flamenco emerged in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, an historically volatile area both politically and culturally. In both the musicality and kinesthetics of Flamenco we can still hear and see influences from the arts of Islamic Moors from North Africa,  the contradanzas of Spain, North Indian dance, and songs of the Sephardic Jews.

Bolam brought together local artists to express the lineage of Flamenco. The first half of the show—“Primero Course”—demonstrated the roots of Flamenco cante (song), toque (guitar), and baile (dance) in Sephardic and North African music, and Indian dance.

Kat Parra, a Ladino singer, opened the show. Ladino—aka Judaeo-Spanish—is a hybrid language with both Spanish and Hebrew roots. It is the vernacular language of the Sephardic Jews of Spain, Portugal, and North Africa (as Yiddish is the vernacular of Ashkenazi Jews). Kat performed songs both sacred and secular and the emotionally lavish tones in her voice foretell the duende of Flamenco cante or song.

Fattah Abbou and Mohamed Aoualou are Moroccan-born Berber artists who moved to Santa Cruz about nine years ago. Since then, their fusion of North African and Western musical traditions have entertained and educated local dancers and musicians alike. Though both performed on Saturday, only Fattah performed on Sunday (with an unknown accompanist on drum). Fattah’s fast and precise finger work on his banjo (originally an African instrument) perhaps prefigures the Flamenco toque (guitar) style.

Revital Carroll performed Odissi, one of the classical dances of India. Although the Gypsy migrants—aka Gitano in Spain and Romany in their own language—who came to Andalusia probably came from the Punjabi region, there is evidence that Flamenco baile has roots in Kathak, Kathakali, Manipuri, and Bharata Natyam. In addition, Indian dance and music in Spain predates the arrival of the Gitana. Revital’s performances of Odissi reflect these ancient influences on Andalusian arts perhaps especially in the florid use of the hands.

The second half of the show—“Segundo Course”—was all Flamenco. It featured Rubina Valenzuela as leading singer and dancer. She was accompanied by Ricardo Diaz on guitar and Diana Alejandre on vocals and palmas (rhythmic clapping), each of whom also performed solos. Rubina’s dance group, Flamenco Sin Fronteras, performed several group numbers including the always charming Sevilliana’s. The passions expressed through the Flamenco arts—cante, baile, and toque—are infectious and made me wish we had a regular Flamenco showcase in Santa Cruz again (hint, hint anyone?).

But what made this event so special was the café-style arrangement of tables inside the dance studio. Instead of rows of chairs, we sat at large round tables seating 8-10, or rectangular ones along the rear. We were invited to bring our tapas and wine from India Joze into the studio before and during the performances. Chef Jozseph created wildly delicious tapas inspired by Moroccan, Spanish, and Indian cuisines. I’d love to know how he made such a perfect vegetarian chopped liver! Tasted just like my Aunt Rose’s, and I’ve really missed it. Altogether, it made for a lively and inviting atmosphere; just the sort of place the Santa Cruz community likes to gather.

This is a modern community acting as communities have traditionally done: eating, drinking, and greeting friends while enjoying music and dance in a communal atmosphere. I cannot wait for another gustatory, dance, and music adventure between these two, much-loved Santa Cruz institutions. Maybe an evening of Brazilian samba, capoeria, and candomble? Or, how about a night at the Casbah? Someone? Anyone?…

The 418 Project has several concerts coming up, including Artist in Residence Leslie Johnson’s new work, Tabula Rasa, for two weekends in October.

Chef Jozseph is teaching a tapas cooking class at the Westside New Leaf Community Market on Tuesday, September 28, 5pm – 8pm.

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