The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival is one of the largest cultural dance festivals in the United States. Presented by San Francisco’s World Arts West, this festival attracts more than 9,000 visitors annually and provides ethnic dance companies the opportunity to share their cultural forms of expression as well as their artistic skills.
Every January, nearly 100 dance groups audition for the festival. Each group has 10 minutes to perform, and hopefully, impress the panelists enough to be one of the 30 groups selected to perform in the festival in June. Spark closely follows two groups — Ensambles Ballet Folklorico de San Francisco and the Northern California Korean Dance Association — as they prepare and audition for the 28th annual festival.
Ensambles Ballet Folklorico has been performing traditional Mexican folk dance since 1992. The 22-member ensemble performs on a volunteer basis. For the 2006 festival, they are preparing a traditional Catholic dance from the Veracruz region of Mexico. The choreography involves precise footwork and complex patterns on stage.
The Northern California Korean Dance Association is led by dancer and choreographer Hearan Chung, the group’s founder. Chung, who is well known in her native country, has performed in the festival before, but as a soloist, never as part of an ensemble. For the 2006 festival auditions, she choreographed an ensemble piece that was inspired by a shamanistic ritual.
The auditions are open to artists residing in Northern California or individual guest artists performing with a local group. The festival’s panel of dance teachers, performers and ethnologists select their top 20 choices from the four days of auditions. The panel considers the dynamics of the pieces, the balance of cultures represented and how well each performance represents the integrity of the dance form. The chosen groups have three months to fine-tune their performances before they get their chance to take the stage in the festival finals.