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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Peninsula International Dance Festival 2022

A stage filled to the brim with over 150 dancers moving in joy-filled unison, is good for the soul, especially three years into the COVID pandemic. So concluded the July 16 performance of the Peninsula International Dance Festival, presented by Peninsula Ballet Theater (PBT) at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, as all the performers joined forces for a full-company bow.

The program of fifteen pieces included a mixture of traditional folk and contemporary dances representing a range of cultures. The evening was well constructed and the presentations were all well-rehearsed. Large company numbers were interspersed with more intimate entre-act numbers, performed by PBT dancers. They showed off American dance styles from tap, to jazz, to ballroom and musical theater.

Fittingly in place of a land acknowledgement, the show opened with a traditional hoop dance, performed by award-winning Native American dancer Eddie Madrill, accompanied live by a male singer. Madrill wove his torso, legs, and arms through the two-foot round hoops. He began with one and worked his way up to eight. Along the way he created a soaring bird, a flitting butterfly, the gaping maw of an animal and finally a globe.

The Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Carlos Moreno filled the stage next, with eight couples performing the mestizo dances of Nayarit. The men, dressed in black and white striped pants, black shirts and sombreros, danced with their hands clasped formally behind their backs, allowing their legs and percussive footwork to take the focus. By contrast the women’s arms were in near constant motion as they fanned their huge gold skirts creating swoops of fabric in the space. The multi-generational company performed three traditional Mexican folk dances.

Hip hop artist Stuck Sanders took the stage next, offering a soulful solo to Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s Feeling’ Good. Sanders wove the narrative of the song into his unique hip hop styling which included gravity -defying floating on his toes and a nuanced and intricate responsiveness to jazz scats that left me wanting more.

Following a series of smaller numbers, which included the Argentinian tango duo Maxi Copello & Raquel Makow, whose speed and agility in complex partnering, were truly mesmerizing, and a solo by flamenco artist Melissa Cruz, Bay Area hip-hop troupes TRIBE and Poise’n took the stage to end act one. It was great to see this evolving American street dance form take its place among the other culturally significant works. The movement of the nine-member crew was mechanical and robotic as they thrust hips or shifted shoulders. Dressed in grey coveralls, they embodied the strong vibrations of the loud pulsing music creating a dystopic world.

The second act opened on a Philippine village tableau. Performance troupe Parangal perform to raise awareness of and advocate for Philippine indigenous peoples. Using traditional instruments of bamboo chimes, drums, and xylophone-like boxes, six musicians supported a large cast of male and female dancers enacting a dance-ritual from the indigenous Yakan people of Basilan, Sulu Archipelago. There were warrior sections with spears and shields and a processional where a princess was carried to a ceremonial platform. While parts were obtuse to me, it was a privilege to watch and feel the connection to a faraway place.

After a colorful full stage performance by Ensambles Ballet Folklorico de San Francisco, a solo contemporary ballet danced to Carol King’s Natural Woman and a playful tap duet full of personality and wit, the program returned for two final large company numbers. Fourteen uber-talented young women from the Chitresh Das Youth Company performed a Kathak dance, rich in intricate footwork and fast pirouettes. With bells on their ankles and swirling black and gold skirts this virtuosic performance full of complex rhythmic compositions and stage patterns left me breathless.

The program closed with Gurus of Dance, a Bollywood company. It was interesting to see this group of young women, and one young man, perform choreography derived from traditional Indian dance follow on the heels of Chitresh Das. Gurus dance was sassy with elements referencing Hindi film dances and even hip hop. This troupe lacked the precision of the Kathak dancers but brought a playfulness to their similarly fast-paced intricate choreography.

While the festival was a successful initial offering, billed as a first annual, there is room for growth. The inclusion of a greater diversity of regions and more live music will enrich future iterations. The program information was incomplete. It lacked performer names, production and music credits. Detracting from the experience were the two curtain speeches by the Executive Director. At one point she made a dismissive comment about the long-running San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, at which many of the evenings’ performers have performed. The spirit of a culturally diverse festival is to unite not to divide, a concept perhaps lost on this presenter.

The program will be repeated at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 17.


Full program here.

This inaugural Peninsula International Dance Festival will feature the extraordinary and exuberant artistry of over 160 dancers and musicians from nine Bay Area companies:

Saturday, July 16 - 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, July 17 - 2:00 p.m.

* Parangal (Philippine)

* Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco (Mexico)

* Chitresh Das Institute’s Youth Dance Company (Indian Kathak)

* Melissa Cruz Flamenco (Spain)

* Jaranon y Bochinche (Afro-Peruvian)

* Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Carlos Moreno (Mexico)

* Gurus of Dance (Indian Bollywood)

* Tribe and Poise’n (Urban Hip-Hop)

* Peninsula Ballet Theatre (American jazz, country, and ballroom)

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