World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


San Francisco Awakko Ren

First appearance in SF EDF: 2017

San Francisco Awakko Ren is a Bay Area dance group founded in 2011. Its main focus is Awa Odori, a traditional dance from Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, Japan. Awa Odori is one of the biggest dance festivals in Japan, celebrated in the streets of Tokushima City every August for over 400 years. The members of Awakko Ren wanted to form a group for people who loved to dance Awa Odori and to share the simple and cheerful dance with a larger audience.


DANCE ORIGIN: Tokushima, Japan
GENRE: Traditional (Awa Odori)
TITLE: Awa Odori
DANCERS: Adam Butterworth, Akie Hashimoto, Hiroshi Kobayashi, Kristi Tsukida, Francisco Villagran, Genki Watanabe, Sachiko Yamamoto
MUSICIANS: Kyle Abbott (shamisen), Christopher Berreman (shimedaiko), Rimiko Berreman (odaiko), Carlo Chung (fue), Rie Daijo (kane), Bill Warner (odaiko)

Awa Odori is performed annually at a festival of the same name in Tokushima, Japan. The form features musicians and dancers performing a tradition associated with Tokushima culture for over four hundred years. Awa Odori is one of the biggest Bon Odori festivals, an August celebration of ancestors, originating when the region was called Awa. It was a royal celebration for the completion of a castle, a combination of eating, singing, drinking, and dancing that proved popular. The party has grown into one of the largest dancing festivals in the world, drawing over 1.3 million tourists to Tokushima rural prefecture.

The folk origins of the simple movements are subtly visible; mimicking tasks of raking and casting fishing nets. Performers walk to the beat and raise their arms, leading with the arm and leg on one side of the body. Dancers wear elaborations on the historic clothing of Japanese farmers, with a countryside functionality: tucking the robe into the belt for easier movement; covering the arms for sun protection; hats for protecting the women from the birds living in and near the fields; fans to cool farmers (and dancers) down; lanterns carried as festival celebrations continued late into the night.

The instruments for this performance are authentic replicas of Japanese instruments used for centuries in the Awa Odori festival: the big odaiko drum, tied shimedaiko drum, kane bell, shamisen stringed instruments, and shinobue bamboo flute. The shout, Ayatto-saa, Ayatto-yatto, is a meaningless call and response to mark the beat and ready dancers for transitions, useful when musicians are far away during a parade-style performance.

Artistic director Rimiko Berreman brings us this dance as a native of Tokushima City, Japan. Her artistic vision is drawn from childhood, originally dancing with her family and then with larger groups. Awakko Ren dancers and musicians learned the form from diverse groups in Tokushima. In celebration of San Francisco’s Japanese community, the group performs this dance at the city’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

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