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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Program A: Peninsula International Dance Festival, San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 7-15-23

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

I am excited to report that the 2nd Annual Peninsula International Dance Festival, presented at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center July 15 & 16, is maturing nicely since its introduction in 2022. There are now twenty Bay Area dance companies performing with more than 200 dancers and musicians being presented. Traditional dances originating from Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Congo, Greece, Hawaii, India, Mexico, Native America, Peru, Philippines, Spain, and the USA fill the stage. To my eye, Saturday night’s audience was double in size from last year’s.

Performers from Bolivia Corazon de America in traditional Suri Sicuri costumes take a bow; Photo J. Norris

The addition of a host, Publicist Jon Finck, gives the evening a professional polish. His enthusiasm for these artists’ talents is contagious as he introduces companies, highlights their unique qualities, and helps us keep our world travels straight.

Program A opens with Greg Castro, Culture Director for the Association of the Ramaytush Ohlone, welcoming us in Ramaytush and English. He notes that, until two-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Ramatush was the language of these lands as far north as present-day Alcatraz Island, south to Mountain View and west to the coast. He sings a song in Rumsen, the language of the Native people of the Monterey area, as his palm beats a steady rhythm on a handheld sticklike instrument.

As the show progresses, I appreciate the range of expression, use of props, and varied costume designs which reflect the climate and natural resources of the area from which each dance originates. These organizations share a commitment to preserving and sharing their artistry and culture. While stage-filling groups like the twenty member Ensambles Ballet Folklorico de San Francisco (Veracruz-Sotavento Mexico) wow us, the solo and small groups make deep connections with the viewers.

Flamenco dancer Carola Zertuche, of Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco is a dramatic presence. Her gaze is commanding and her carriage is erect. Every movement matters as her arms rise and her castanets snap. Her shoes become musical instruments. The softer impact of the soles contrasts with the sharp staccato of her heels, in conversation with the live music of Flamenco Guitarist, Bill Burgess, and Flamenco Singer, Felix De Lola.

Flamenco dancer Carola Zertuche gestures her gratitude to the crowd during bows. Photo: J. Norris

Using a series of two-foot-wide wooden hoops, Sewam American Indian Dance performer, Eddie Madril, tells tales of birds and mammals. With a hoop fluttering from each fist and others woven through his outstretched arms and torso he becomes a soaring eagle.

In traditional Cambodian dress, a richly embroidered and bejeweled Sampot wrapped around her body and her face framed by a golden castle-like makuta headdress, Charya Burt is other-worldly. Kneeling before a pedestal upon which sacred objects are displayed, her prayerful hands are taut with hyperextended fingers curving out and away from her joined palms. Her solo ritual, Forever My Ancestors, credited asafter Khmer classical dance style,” is performed with her singing over recorded traditional music. She moves slowly and gracefully, rising to offer a platter of fruit to the gods, presenting it to the four sides of the stage. With votive candles in her palms, she rotates her wrists, the flames swirling gently under her arms.

A trio of male hula dancers from Kaululehua Hawaiian Cultural Center are in perfect synchrony as they perform Ka Hula Kahiko: Traditional Songs and Dances of Hawai`i. They wear cylindrical headdresses, skirts and wristlets all made of ti-leaf. They pivot and gesture, with an upturned hand, to the left and then the right, supporting the storytelling of chanter Kia`i Maurille's mele.

Caring for and preserving these traditional art forms requires teaching the children. Multi-generational ensembles ensure continual renewal. Feng Ye Dance troupe ranges from early school age to adult for their presentation of Inner Mongolian Bowl Dance. The littlest ones carry bright blue silk scarves on extended arms, presenting them to the audience before draping them over their necks. They fall back to make room for the bowl dancers who stack four rice bowls on their heads. A dozen women glide, spin, kneel, and rise to one leg. With placid expressions and steady heads, they perform ever greater feats of agility, their bowls assuredly balanced.

Young performers from Feng Ye Dance pose in the lobby before their Inner Mongolian Bowl Dance. Photo: J. Norris

The depth and skill of the Chitresh Das Youth Company is impressive. Fifteen dancers with bells on their ankles use their bare feet to create complex Kathak classical Indian dance rhythms while moving through the space harmoniously. The momentum of their crowd-pleasing spins, lifts their jewel-toned skirts, revealing their gold leggings underneath.

Peru was well represented with an array of dances from different Peruvian traditions, choreographed by Monica Mendoza of Peru Expressions. Later, the exuberant Afro Peruvian finale is performed by musicians and dancers from Tradición Peruana Cultural Center, led by choreographer, dancer and lead musician, Juan de Dios Soto.

Bolivia Corazon de America makes the greatest visual impact of the night. Dancers wear hats from whose center-point long ostrich feathers radiate into huge umbrellas that float over the performers. When they tip their hats toward the audience, the feathers create circles of color like a bullseye. The barbs of the feathers ruffle in the wind, evoking the “Suri,” or ostrich which inspires this Andean native dance.

The call and response of a quartet of drummers introduce Fua Dia Congo, the sole representative of Africa on the evening’s program. They represent the Kongo Kingdom (the peoples of the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and parts of Gabon) as well as the Central African Republic. The musicians play tall ngoma (n-GO-muh) drums. A belt secures the drum to the drummers, permitting them to walk astride their instrument while interacting with the dancers, who add to the music with their clapping and the rattling of their nut shell anklets. They pump their chests and roll their hips roll forward and back, sending grass-skirt-fronds flying.

SFIDF 2023 expanded list of dance companies perform over two programs, with some repeat offerings on each bill. I look forward to its continued growth and inclusion of even more Bay Area companies and cultures. Both programs include one piece of contemporary concert danc, a jazz-inspired number by Gregory Amato, which stands out awkwardly when surrounded by these centuries-old traditions. But the good news is that Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s (PBT) Executive Director, Christine Leslie, understands the disadvantages of blurring her organization’s various areas of interest. At intermission she announces that PBT is becoming Peninsula Lively Arts under which they will focus on five distinct areas: their traditional PBT ballet performances, Peninsula School of the Arts programs, Peninsula Broadway Theater presentations, Peninsula Hip Hop Productions such as their Hip Hop Nutcracker, and finally this nascent Peninsula International Dance Festival. May the arts and audiences continue to flourish in this South Bay enclave and beyond.

Review by Jen Norris, published July 17, 2023


Program A Saturday July 15, 2023



Founder & Artistic Director: Eddie Madril

ENSAMBLES BALLET FOLKLÓRICO de SAN FRANCISCO Flor del Campo/Zapateado/Morena de la Mañana (Veracruz-Sotavento)

Choreographer: Zenón Barrón Music credits: Flor del Campo/Zapateado/Morena de la Mañana composed and performed by Vinc-Kay (La Gente y el Canto) Dancers: Aline G. Salazar, Chelsea Atziri Ferreira, Garin Coyazo, Hugo Flores, Javier Espinoza, Jeannette Quintana, Jennifer López Ramírez, Jesús Gómez, José Martín Gómez, María Anaya, Mariana Hernández, Maricela Benavides, Mario López, Oscár Humberto Ludwig, Pablo Daniel Jiménez Garcia, and Zenaida Guerrero. Artistic Director: Zenón Barrón

FENG YE DANCE Inner Mongolia Bowl Dance

Choreographer: Ye Feng Music Credits: Andagai Band Dancers: Angela Li, Eloise Xia, Amy Ma, Ella Xia, Hannie Du, Ayaka Daito, Elena Sun, Joy Yang, Yameng Liu, Kathy Fang, Jingjing Liu, Helen Guan, Tracy Xie, Meng Wang, Yaxuan Han, Ada Sun, Ruoxi Jin, Jin Zhang, Ying Mei, Tiana Yu, Lunani Yen, and Debby Bian. Artistic Director: Feng Ye


Choreographer: Carola Zertuche Music: Bill Burgess Dancers and Musicians: Carola Zertuche- Flamenco Dancer; Bill Burgess-Flamenco -Guitar; Felix De Lola-Flamenco Singer

Artistic Director: Carola Zertuche


Choreography: Gregory Amato Dancers: Léna Alvino, Aline Carili, Zoé Foy, Kelley Hashemi, Alyssa-Marie Muña, Bernardo Ramos, and Chloé Watson Music: Dave Brubeck, Vono Box Video: Vin Eiamvuthikorn Artistic Director: Gregory Amato


Choreography: Charlotte Moraga Music: Rajasthani folk song, Mari Ghumarie Performers: Heeya Das, Maahi Desai, Pakhi Gupta, Reya Lakhani, Ayana Modi, Sanjana Rao, Grishma Shukla, Avani Viswanathan, Aanya Gupta, Meera Minocha, and Neema Sakariya, Apprentice CDYC Members: Ananti Badhwar, Shivaranjani Das, Anisha Gaonkar, Anushka Garg, Anusha Hiremath, Lila Landsittel Patel, and Aarini Naskar. Artistic Director: Charlotte Moraga


Choreography: Charya Burt, after Khmer classical dance style

Music: Traditional Pin Peat music performed by Khmer Arts Ensemble with Charya Burt on vocals Artistic Director: Charya Burt

HĀLAU O KEIKIALI’I/KAULULEHUA HAWAIIAN CULTURAL CENTER Ka Hula Kahiko: Traditional Songs and Dances of Hawai`i

Choreographer: Kumu Hula Rae Kahikilaulani Fonseca, Kawika Keikiali`i Alfiche Music: Traditional Company Artists: Kumu Hula (Teacher) Kawika Alfiche, Ho`opa`a (Chanter) Kia`i Maurille, `Olapa (Dancers): Kealoha Giron, Apana Lei, Keli Hom, Anela Pong, Hokuokalani Espaniola, Adrianne Dizon, Raena Sebay, and Kaiwa Fong. Master Teacher: Kawika Alfiche

FUA DIA CONGO Etumba Na Gwaka and Dibwe

Choreographers: Sandor Diabankouezi / Constant Massengo

Fua Dia Congo Artists: (Dancers) Muisi-kongo Malonga (Artistic Director), Janeen Ella Johnson, Tamika Harris, Rashid Mpugani, Kulwa Apara, and Felicia Harris; (Musicians) Kiazi Malonga (Musical Director); Constant Massengo; Rocssy Mahania; and Armel Mampouya. Artistic Director: Muisi-kongo Malonga


Peruvian Roots

Choreographer: Monica Mendoza Dancers: Valeria Cachay, Michael Scavotto, Guillermo Poth, Samantha Chavez, Susana Mejia, Emiliano Castro, Arianna Grillo, Andrea Grillo, Monica Mendoza, and Luis Valle. Founder & Artistic Director: Monica Mendoza

BOLIVIA CORAZÓN DE AMÉRICA Encounters in the Altiplano

Choreographer: Isidro Alfonso Fajardo Mis Dancers: Sarath Sok, Aranza Lopez, Grace Torres, Flor Diaz, Yadira Saavedra, Andrew Perez, Samantha Flores, Paola Claros, Isidro Alfonso Fajardo Mis. Artistic Director/Choreographer: Isidro Fajardo

TRADICIÓN PERUANA Pisa, Lando y Festejo

Choreographers: Juan de Dios Soto and Lydia Soto Dancers and Musicians: Vanessa Soto, Eddie Whitfield, Susana Mejia, Missa Perron, Amairayni Meza, Ingrid Verastegui, Antonio Johnson Smith, Sashae Cooper, Japera Smith, Katie Vilchez, Italo Valle, Demond Ware, Jose Rivera, Bruce Demetrius, Naaman Black, and Tafara Manning. Executive Director: Juan de Dios Soto

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