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My story in Sunday’s Chronicle:
” “Chicos, listos?” Zenon Barr?n’s voice calls out through a sweaty studio in the San Francisco Dance Center. “?ltima vez, ?ltima vez!”
Rattling drums. Plaintive flute. Echelons of men march solemnly, their leader leaping fiercely about them. A circle of women hold up their hands as if to blow conch shells and flap their arms like bats. Finally, the king chooses a queen.
For a few moments, dancing together, they are Mayan royalty, proud and unassailable. And then, the music over, they are ordinary people again, joking, laughing, gathering their things to leave rehearsal.
But Barr?n is still serious.
“A lot of people say doing a Mayan dance must be a fad, like after the Mel Gibson movie (‘Apocalypto’), ” says the trim, broad-shouldered director of Ensambles Ballet Folkl?rico de San Francisco. “But it’s not like that. This is my culture, so I need to do the best I can to represent it well onstage.”
The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival gives a spectacular reflection of the diversity in the Bay Area, from a Bharatanatyam group out of San Jose to a classical Cambodian dancer from Sonoma County. Hula, hip-hop, Hungarian, Haitian: If it exists in the world, it seems, you can see it at the festival. And now, with Barr?n’s “Las Cortes Mayas,” you can see a dance that hasn’t existed for centuries.
Barr?n grew up in the southern Mexican mountain village of Guanajuato, learning indigenous dances from his parents. But he created the dances in “Las Cortes Mayas” himself, based on poses depicted on the ancient Mayan Bonampak murals, which Barr?n studied for two years and is now bringing to life with movement also informed by ballet and contemporary dance.
Is it strictly traditional? Hardly. But the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival has been exploding perceptions of ethnic dance for three decades, and this year it’s set to bust more boundaries than ever.
To mark its 30th anniversary, the festival is expanding to four weekends (beginning Saturday), with 36 dance companies. Fifteen will be showing world premieres, from a Korean shaman ritual to an Afro-Peruvian zapateo, and four of these are festival commissions. One of the marvels of the festival is that its talent is entirely local, but this year the lineup will pay homage to teachers and influences from beyond the bay. Fifty musicians and dancers are flying in, including a Filipino chieftain who has never before stepped foot outside his country, and some Mexican marimba masters.”
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