The 13th annual Nations of San Diego International Dance Festival will take place this year at the historic Birch North Park Theatre, Jan. 12-15. Nations is the largest ethnic dance festival in Southern California, showcasing the rich cultural heritage and diversity of the region.
In years past, Nations has occurred over the course of two weekends. While spanning just one week this year, there is only one less performance than last year. Five performances feature a total of 11 dance groups, more than 250 dancers and musicians, and an exhibit of dance photographs.
Among the performers this year is Pasacat Asian Performing Arts Co., representing the Philippines. Pasacat was the first formally organized Philippine dance troupe in San Diego, and is one of the longest running traditional Philippine dance companies in the United States. The group celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.
"Pasacat" is a Philippine folk dance, but with this dance troupe it began as the acronym for the Philippine-American Society and Cultural Arts Troupe. Pasacat's mission is to preserve and promote the Asian Pacific culture through the arts, extending goodwill and enhancing cultural understanding.
New to Nations this year is Francis Awe and the Nigerian Talking Drum Ensemble, bringing Nigerian music and dance to the festival. Awe is a Master Talking Drummer and a prince in the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria. When he was two months old, his grandmother presented him to the village drummers to be accepted as their son. Today he resides in Los Angeles and leads The Nigerian Talking Drum Ensemble. The group uses music, song and dance to educate audiences about Nigerian traditions and culture.
Also scheduled to perform are Angahara Dance Ensemble with Indian dance, Pualani Dancers representing Hawaii and the United States, Ballet Folklorico Fiesta de Colores with Mexican folk dancing and Moon Light Dance Co. representing China. Performing at the festival for the first time this year are Planet Brazil representing Brazil, and Michelle Malone Irish Dance Academy with Irish dance.
A special music and dance concert will be held on Jan. 15, featuring dance performances by hip hop ensemble Culture Shock Dance Troupe (U.S.), Tango Alma (Argentina), Inter-Tribal Dancers (American Indian) and the sounds of Ghanaian Highlife music with Bolga Zohdoomah.
Singer and drummer Akayaa Atule, a native of the Fra Fra Tribe in the upper eastern region of Ghana, leads the high-energy band Bolga Zohdoomah. Highlife music took root in the 1930s in West Africa as a fusion of African and Western instruments.
If all the music and dance isn't enough art for you, also on exhibit during the festival will be a number of images by Elazar Harel, a UCSD assistant vice chancellor for administrative computing and telecommunications turned photographer. His large color photos strive to capture the excitement of live dance performances and feature many of San Diego's best ethnic, modern and ballet companies.
The San Diego Dance Alliance, the festival organizers, expect between 2,500 to 3,000 people over the five days. The Dance Alliance also anticipates another 1,200 or more elementary school students for its Arts Enrichment Programs held on the morning of Jan. 13.
"This is a special program designed for the students -- learning about several cultures through the language of dance, their costumes, regalia -- along with a short dance performance culminating with select students having the opportunity to learn a dance onstage with the performers," said Kendall Klug, San Diego Dance Alliance executive director. "I believe it is a very positive experience for the students. It teaches them tolerance and compassion for others different from themselves."
The festival represents the first -- but certainly not the last -- dance event at the newly renovated North Park Theatre.
"The venue is a wonderful fit for Nations of San Diego, being located in a culturally diverse neighborhood that more accurately reflects the true demographics of San Diego," Klug said. "In fact, this year's Nations will be taking place in a deeply rooted community. We don't need to manufacture a community feeling because it already exits."
PROGRAM: Nations of San Diego International Dance Festival
Organization: San Diego Dance Alliance
Tickets: $12-$25; available online at www.showboxoffice.com
Dates: Jan. 12-15
Show times: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m., with special music and dance concert at 7 p.m.
Location: Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave.
More information: (619) 230-8455, www.sandiegodance.org
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