Indian dance swirls into spotlight

For the first time in its 36-year history, the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival will feature all eight styles of Indian classical dance on a single stage.

The passing of kathakali master K.P. Kunhiraman just days before being honored along with his wife Katherine has cast a somber tone over this year’s festival.

But the celebration of Indian classical dance — in all its forms — now bears special meaning to Katherine Kunhiraman, who is reportedly flying back from India in time for Saturday’s performance.

Local dance companies performing this weekend include the Chitresh Das Dance Company performing kathak, Guru Shradha with Odissi, Kalanjali: Dances of India with Bharatanatyam, Bhavajan Kumar performing Bharatanatyam), Sujata Mohapatra with Odissi, Sunanda Nair  with Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, Natyalaya performing Kuchipudi, Nava Dance Theatre with Bharatanatyam, Sohini Ray performing Manipuri, and Sattriya Dance Company with Sattriya.

Recent performances from the Chitresh Das Dance Company and its progeny have dazzled dance lovers with the breadth of kathak performance styles.

Photos by Gabriella Gamboa/SFBay

In April, Farah Yasmeen Shaikh delivered a spellbinding early preview of The Twentieth Wife, Shaikh’s collaboration with author Indu Sundaresan. The storytelling heritage of kathak sizzled on-stage at CounterPulse as the vehicle for Sundaresan’s engrossing plot lines.

Photos by Gabriella Gamboa and Ali Thanawalla/SFBay

And in May, elite performers from the Chitresh Das Dance Company — including Shaikh — spun onto the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for Pancha Jati.

Dancers Shaikh, Rachna Nivas, Rina Mehta, Antara Bhardwaj and Labonee Mohanta — along with musicians Debashis Sarkar, Jayanta Banerjee, Jim Santi Owen and Chitresh Das himself — filled the Yerba Buena space with synergistic power and rhythmic precision.

Also in May, CDDC dancer Rachna Nivas performed excerpts of Bhakti, the story of female mystic Meerabai, presented by ODC.

And last week in Los Angeles, UPAJ: Improvise — featuring the extraordinary collaboration of Pandit Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith — was screened to a standing ovation at the Dance Camera West Film Festival.

The Ethnic Dance Festival runs all month in San Francisco and brings together more than 30 troupes and world dance styles.