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Dance : Opulence or Exoticism--Busy Day for Ethnic Dance

What is so rare as an ethnic dance concert in San Diego? How about two ethnic dance concerts on the same day.

Saturday, you can opt for the sheer opulence of Philippine dance, as presented by San Diego’s own Samahan Philippine Dance Company, or sample the exoticism of North Indian Kathak dance, performed in solo by San Francisco-based Chitresh Das.

“I am a pioneer, bringing a flower to the American culture,” said Das, on the phone from his San Francisco studio. “I had a dream to come to America to teach and perform, and I’ve been here since 1971.”

A recognized artist in his own land, Das was discovered by American dancers touring India, and his ancient art has influenced many modern dance designers.

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“Murray Louis was largely responsible for my coming here, but I never try to modernize the traditional dances,” said Das. “I just condense them from the original 2 1/2 hours to 20 minutes to make them more accessible.”

What is Kathak dance?

“It’s flamenco without boots, tap dance without taps, and a little like jazz,” he said. “People think Indian dance is boring, but Kathak is very fast, with lots of pirouettes of all kinds, and it’s very virtuosic, very dramatic and heavily mathematical.”

Like other forms of Indian classical dance, Kathak is deeply rooted in mythology and religious ritual.

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“Kathak comes from the Hindu and Muslim culture. The Muslim school has a lot of lavish, sensual movements, and the Hindu is more devotional and warlike,” said Das. “I’ll be giving a taste of both schools.”

Das will perform with live musical accompaniment at the Mt. Carmel High School Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Lyceum Theater will feature the majesty and serene beauty of Philippine dance. The Samahan Philippine Dance Company will perform twice on Saturday.

Under the direction of its founder, Lolita D. Carter, the troupe has meticulously preserved the stately traditions of this ancient art form. But, along with the ritualistic dances that chronicle the rich heritage of the Philippine people, expect to see several new choreographies by Carter and Ruby Chiong.

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“We’re including two stylized dances based on traditional courtship dances from the southern part of the Philippines and a modern version of a popular bird dance from the same region,” said Carter. “You will see the various influences on Philippine dance in our repertory pieces, such as ‘Singkil’ and ‘Tinikling.’ ”

As most Samahan fans know from past performances, “Singkil,” with its relentless metered motion and dangerous balances, is one of the most thrilling spectacles in the Philippine repertory. And the barefoot Samahan dancers never flinch as they step in and out of the clashing bamboo poles that provide the percussive accompaniment to the dance.

Traditional Philippine dance is as much a visual spectacle as a dance event, and Samahan makes the most of that fact with gold-encrusted costumes, ornamented umbrellas and spectacular headdresses. Oriental gongs suspended from colorful riggings provide the authentic musical accompaniment.

During Saturday’s performances, at 2:30 and 8 p.m., Rommy Candido, a Filipino ethnomusicologist, will direct the orchestra.

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“Because of a special promotion from the city, the matinee will be free for children, seniors and the disabled, so we hope to welcome a lot of them to the performance,” Carter said.


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