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article imageSan Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival features eight Indian styles

By Sravanth Verma     Jun 14, 2014 in Entertainment
San Francisco - The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival will feature eight styles of Indian classical dance, till June 29, 2014 in its 36th edition, a first in its entire history.
Local dance troupes who will perform at the event include the Chitresh Das Dance Company giving a Kathak performance, Guru Shradha giving an Odissi performance, Kalanjali - Dances of India featuring Bharatanatyam, Sunanda Nair performing Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, Natyalaya performing Kuchipudi, Sohini Ray performing Manipuri, and Sattriya Dance Company giving a Sattriya performance.
The festival will also feature 10 world premier performances and 16 festival premiers. Besides Indian dances, the festival will also showcase performances from Bali, Bolivia, China, Congo, Hawaii, Lebanon, Mexico and Peru. The event is being held at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater.
The festival is not without its share of tragedy though. K.P. Kunhiraman, one of the world's foremost Kathakali dancers, who was to be honored with his wife Katherine on Saturday at the dance festival, passed away on June 12 in Chennai, India. Kunhiraman was 83, and the only known male Kathakali dancer in America. He died of a blood infection.
"We are heartbroken to hear that K.P. Kunhiraman has just passed away," said executive director of the festival Julie Mushet. "Katherine flew to Chennai immediately upon word of the infection, and was at his side for his final hours and as he took his last breath. I know that she brought a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle Pink Section article about Kunhiraman with her, so he saw that in the hospital before he passed. It must have brought him some joy to know that he was being recognized for his life's work here in America."
The Kunhiramans performed at the first Ethnic Dance Festival 36 years ago, and were to make their final appearance this year at the event. They were to be honored by Indian Consul General Nagesh Parthasarathi with the festival's annual Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kunhiraman hailed from the south Indian state of Kerala, the traditional home of the Kathakali dance. The son of Kathakali legend K. Ambu Panikkar, Kunhiraman's career spanned 67 years. He moved to the Kalakshetra academy in Chennai, India after his father died, and later to Berkeley, California, in the 1960s.
The celebration of Indian dance will continue at the festival, and it has acquired special meaning for Katherine Kunhiraman, who is said to be flying back from India for the festival to receive the lifetime achievement award on Saturday. Dance and music have been an integral part of Indian culture for centuries, and their pursuit is not considered as just a form of entertainment but is also seen as a spiritual process. This was reflected in Kunhiraman's dance. “When he played Hanuman, he became the monkey god himself, practically bringing forth the theoretical lessons on bhava and abhinaya," said Assunta Sebastein, a disciple of the dancer.
World Arts West has decided to dedicate the festival to Kunhiraman, and has encouraged the audience to bring notes and flowers to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater to add to an altar in his memory.
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