2017 Festival Snapshot

Photo by Jessica Rodriguez.

2017 was a thrilling year for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, as we made our debut in the city’s grand, historic War Memorial Opera House. Hundreds of dancers and musicians proudly showcased their cultures inside – and outside – the Opera House, thrilling and inspiring  our nearly sold-out audiences, and even passersby, who couldn’t help but stop to watch as the post-show celebrations spilled out onto the steps.


The view from across Van Ness Avenue

Some comments from our audience:

“The Festival is always outstanding, year after year. It is a vision of world peace through cultural exchange. It’s all LOVE, PEACE and HOPE.”

“The congregating performers in the lobby after the performance were so full of glee – it was truly unforgettable.”

“Each time, this Festival gives me hope that no matter what, peace in the world is possible.”

“We always feel our world expanded after this Festival. And I loved the gathering outside the Opera House. It continued the celebration.”

“So life affirming!!!”

Opera House Weekend 1 featured performances by:

The Academy of Danse Libre (European Social Dances)
De Rompe y Raja Cultural Association (Afro-Peruvian)
Fogo Na Roupa Performing Company (Brazilian Folkloric—Maracatu)
John Santos Sextet + Alayo Dance Company (Cuban Contemporary Folkloric)
LIKHA – Pilipino Folk Ensemble (Filipino Folkloric—Mandayan and Tboli)
Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu (Hawaiian Hula)
San Francisco Awakko Ren (Japanese Traditional—Awa Odori)
Zakir Hussain + Antonia Minnecola (Indian Kathak)

Leung’s White Crane Lion & Dragon Dance Association / Photos by Will Lee

Weekend 1 audiences were welcomed to the Opera House by Leung’s White Crane Lion & Dragon Dance Association (Chinese Lion Dance) and Vinic-Kay (La Gente y El Canto) + John Santos (Mexican Folkloric)

Opera House Weekend 2 featured performances by:

Ballet Afsaneh (Persian-Iranian Contemporary)
Ballet Folklórico México Danza (Mexican Folkloric)
BITEZO BIA KONGO (Congolese Traditional)
Gurus of Dance, an Aditya Patel Company (Indian Bollywood);
Māhealani Uchiyama (Zimbabwean Mbira)
Natya at Berkeley (Indian Bharatanatyam)
Te Mana O Te Ra (Tahitian Oteʻa)
Theatre Flamenco + La Tania (Spanish Flamenco)
YaoYong Dance (Chinese Folkloric—Mongolia)
Zena Carlota (West African Kora)

Audiences for our second weekend of performances were welcomed by Gamelan Sekar Jaya (Balinese Jegog) and Zena Carlota (West African Kora)

Gamelan Sekar Jaya / Photos by Will Lee







Praise from the press:

“…the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival is still uncovering examples of the Bay Area’s inexhaustible cultural bounty and displaying them with uncommon flair.” – Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Chronicle

“(The Festival) filled the big room with inspirational world music and movement, serving up a powerful, uplifting contrast to the current divisive political climate.” – Leslie Katz, San Francisco Examiner

(Click here to see more press coverage)

San Francisco Chronicle Features Columnist Leah Garchik beautifully summed up the scene at the Opera House during our Festival:

“As one entered the lobby, the hum of people arriving was multicultural, multihued, multilingual, a whirl of patterns and ornament…the city at its best.”  (Read more here.)

Two 2017 Festival performances were nominated for prestigious Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, which recognize the very best in Bay Area Dance:

Ballet Folkórico México Danza / Photo by RJ Muna. Click to see an excerpt of their Izzies-nominated performance

Ballet Folkórico México Danza was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Performance (Click the photo to see an excerpt of their performance)

LIKHA-Pilipino Folk Ensemble was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography (Click here to see an excerpt of their performance)


Read the 2017 Program Book online! Click the image above to read detailed essays about all of the performances and the artists who presented them.

The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival returns to the War Memorial Opera House for a grand 40th Anniversary Celebration, July 14-15 and July 21-22, 2018. Tickets go on sale April 24, 2018.

Want more? Click here to see more photos taken in and around the Opera House during our 2017 Festival.

Our 35th Anniversary Season Begins

Imagine scheduling 100 dance companies to perform during the course of two weekends in two different venues (in different cities, no less), while taking each artist’s genre, technical needs, and availability into consideration.

It makes my head hurt just to think about it, which is why it’s a good thing our Production Manager Jack Carpenter and Production Associate Micaela Nerguizian are in charge of this enormous project.

Production Associate Micaela Nerguizian and Production Director Jack Carpenter


The auditions process for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival is far more complicated than I realized.  Our artists don’t just sign up on a list and show up with their costumes or regalia and their musicians; they must first complete a detailed application.

As you’d expect, we ask our artists for the basic information about the genre they represent, who will be performing, etc.  But we also ask them for a comprehensive description of the background of the piece(s) they will present on our stage.  The Festival is looking for more than dances that are interesting and entertaining. Here’s more from our website:

“The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival seeks to present dance forms from around the world that are rooted in a cultural tradition. We are interested in dances that reflect all aspects of culture, including sacred or spiritual dances, social dance, secular or vernacular dance, dances from life cycle events, and innovative work based in traditional dance forms. World Arts West recognizes that many dance forms stem from multiple roots, and are often influenced significantly by the context of presentation on our Festival stage.”

We ask our artists to explain how their costumes or regalia relate to the information provided, how the music relates to the context, what the lyrics (if any) mean, and how they learned the dance, among other things. That’s already a fair amount of work before anyone even sets foot on the stage.

Once we receive all of the applications, it’s up to Micaela to compile each group’s vital information on a spreadsheet. Then, Jack, somehow, like a magician, turns this into a master schedule. At each step of the way, he has to consider the availability of each artist, what sorts of stage sets or props they might have (we can’t schedule two groups with complicated props back to back), whether they have live or recorded music, and which genre they represent, in order to keep the audience and the expert panelists from being overwhelmed by any single style of dancing from hour to hour, AND to keep the show moving along at a good pace.

This is only part of the schedule. There are many more columns with data on this spreadsheet.

This master schedule includes not just each group’s audition time, but what time they’ll get to their dressing room, then into a warm-up room, and finally, to the stage.  It’s incredibly detailed, and inevitably, changes before we get to either venue.

After the master schedule is completed, Micaela starts compiling all of the information each expert panelist receives, which includes those application forms, sorted in the order in which each artist will take the stage. The panelists are asked to read through all of these before the auditions, so they know exactly what to look for when the dancing starts. Can you imagine?

Micaela takes on the mountain of papers that go into the expert panelists’ binders. The finished product is on the lower left.

Micaela also puts together a very detailed email confirmation packet to send to each auditioning artist, which doesn’t sound like such a big deal until you consider that she has to make sure she’s sending the correct information to its intended recipient… 100 times over.  A mass email just won’t work in this scenario, and while she was working on sending this year’s confirmation emails, I saw her massaging her hands and wrists more than a few times!

All of this work is worth it in the end, because we got to experience four days of thrilling dancing, and our Artistic Directors are now able to put together a dazzling lineup for our 35th Anniversary Festival.  We’ll let you know when the lineup is ready, and when you’ll be able to buy tickets.


This is the only time Jack and Micaela were NOT in motion during our auditions.

Coming up next:  Some observations from the wings.