is Not a Review:
Commentary by Najia
February 3, 2006 Marin, CA
lights on the billboard located up beside Interstate Highway
the show almost as much as I enjoyed the early morning detox
session of my thoughts the next day over a cappuccino… A student
of one of my teaching/dancers called me a day before the show
and offered to host me to the show on Friday. I accepted her
offer quickly because I had seen several DVDs of the Super Stars
and was so impressed with Amar Gamal and Rachel
Brice on the DVDs that I was anxious to feel the amazing
energy that I knew must be present in a live performance. Of
course, I also realized that it was possible that neither of
them would be in this show, but it had to have some of the same
excellent qualities as, say, the Reno lounge shows featuring
the outlandish Cher or Brittany
“too old to be cute anymore” Spears. Am I
right? Yes, my dear self, dream on…
lovely semi-warm California winter Friday evening, all of the
tickets for the Superstar event at the amazing Marin Civic Center
(designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) were gone, and had been—for
days. “Miles Copeland
must be doing something right!” I thought to myself. I would
guesstimate that 90% of the audience was comprised of Bellydancers
or those who love one, and for once, they were behaving and
dressing with unusual dignity.
Peggy, who was my student’s student and designated
driver, found a parking place, and we walked into the foyer
crowded with dancers speaking in excited tones. She treated
me to a glass of champagne in the refreshment bar, and we found
our designated seating without the hassle that usually accompanies
so many of these events in Bellydance. Numbered seating eliminates
Seat Dragons with their coats and personal belongings or
other seat savers draped over large blocks of seating. (Seat
dragons guard all the good seats for their friends -- those
late comers, who step on your feet, or elbow you out of their
way as they move in front, dashing any hope you may have harbored
that you would have a good view by arriving 45 minutes early.)
Grateful for my invitation to this show, and to Miles Copeland’s
efforts at placing the event in a fine venue with designated
seating, I settled in for an evening at what I dubbed…
de Faux Dans du Ventre!
one who had not seen a ticket for this event, like me, could
not be sure what was the actual theme of this show; printed
on the tickets must have been: “Raqs Carnivale,” but
I did not see the tickets. As I watched the first act, I decided
that it must be some kind of dancing circus. Other than that,
I had no clue! As for displaying superstars: it did not seem
to make anyone look like a star, let alone a super-star, among
any of these lean, lithesome lasses, but these cabochons shown
as brightly as real gems nonetheless—in spite of the nearly
indistinguishable dancing doo-wop girls, executing the exact
same choreography behind them most of the time.
before I completely irritate too many tender sensibilities,
please note: There was not one little shard of paper distributed
that listed the line up of acts or the actual names of the performers
except for the slick $3 souvenir program that was on sale somewhere
in the lobby. Evidently, I missed that sales event when I was
slipping through the crowd visiting in the entrance. Whenever
I attend a stage play or concert performance in San Francisco,
Berkeley, or Walnut Creek, there is always, at the very least,
a book of advertisements with a page of tiny font print inserted
somewhere in the middle crediting the actors, and production
staff and also listing the acts and scenes of the presentation.
I am sorry, now, that I ever muttered a naughty word, or two,
as I had to drag out my reading spectacles to decipher these
“programs.” Having something to guide one is certainly
better than having nothing!
such guidance existed here; at least, not to my knowledge at
that moment. I would have to rely on the Master of Ceremonies.
Nope, no help there, either. There was no Master of Ceremonies—just
a recorded circus-ringmaster-voice announcement at the beginning
of the show saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bellydance Superstars!”
(Even in old days of Vaudeville, the audience at least could
see an easel with the name of the individual acts on a card.)
On this evening, we would have to wait until the final gathering
on stage before Superstar Jillina would introduce
each dancer along with some supercilious, uninformative statement
opened and a large backdrop of some sort of old palatial architecture
suggesting Arabic culture lined the entire back of the stage.
These over-large renderings do lend some courtly atmosphere,
but tend to dwarf the performers, losing dancers in the perspective
of their massive scale, bright colors and over-sized landscapes.
I am accustomed to the colorful fabrics that the Egyptians use
for their party backdrops that mock the elaborate appliqués
of old, but these palace renderings are enormous by comparison!
If I had
had a program under my spectacles, I might have read “Ancient
Ruins by Paul Dinletir Featuring Issam.” However, the huge
backdrop did not depict a ruin, and it was not showing a carnival
– or even a circus either, for that matter. Also, I would have
read “Choreography by Jillina.” Herein lies one major flaw
concerning the concept of superstardom in Bellydance: choreography.
While choreography is a form of quality assurance, it is also
assurance that the quality attained will be less than stellar
in its most spectacular form, consists of spontaneous choreo-composition
envisioned and accomplished by individual dancers. One dancer
cannot hear and interpret music for another.
a dancer’s music may be pre-recorded, we dancers generally strive
toward realism with fidelity in playback and should attempt
to dance as if the music were live.
The utmost element of artistry in Bellydancing is its spontaneity,
direct simplicity, and believability in the personification
of the dancer’s individual musical interpretation. I am not
claiming that a pre-set and rehearsed choreography can never
be outstanding, but unequivocally, I must tell you that they
must be precious few and with a long time between! I have never
seen one that I thought could match the magical interaction
between a spontaneous dancer and her musicians, in the moment,
and speaking the language of life and music.
Superstar Bozenka was lovely, Amazonian in
appearance, and did nothing very memorable or amazing. Perhaps
that was the point. How would one know? If she had anything
of humanity to communicate, we would hardly have seen it through
the filter of Jillina’s choreography.
Kihara, Zoe, Kami
and Moria (Tribal stylists) were stunning with
their controlled movements in unison. Such discipline is awe-inspiring,
but I could hear people nearby who were confused by their black
stockings, garters, and high-heeled shoes! (I think these dancers
were the ones wearing them… oh, it all became such a blur after
awhile!) I felt thunderstruck by a longing for the “good old
days” of Bellydance when such movements were de rigueur
as part of every dancer’s taxim. Nowadays, it seems that dancers
of Raqs Sharqi purposely omit using movements requiring flexibility
of the body and dramatic content. They appear to favor feverish
interpretations of movements and procedures that adhere to only
whatever the current crop of Egyptian top dancers does.
the mandatory “floor-work” in which one became exotic, athletic,
and artistically reptile-like. Gone are those whom teachers
used to caution, “Girls, take care not to turn your prone
dance into a lousy floor-fuck!”
wait a second, one of these dancer babes did get down on the
floor! Hummm—it is not in the list, here in the program—which
I did not have in hand that night. However, I can tell you
that once she got there, she did not do anything exotic or skillfully
eccentric either... At that point, I would like to have become
a floor-hump voyeur!
drummer Issam Houshan, apparently dressed in
mourning, played his intricate solo accompanied by Superstar
Sonia with her display of dispassionate ability
to match his riffs. Wait! I must have that backwards: it was
Superstar Issam, costumed all in black, accompanied by Sonia,
who was pretty. No, …who was beautiful. I think. I cannot remember
how she costumed for this act—so overpowering was Issam’s
was irritated that Issam took on the role of teaching the audience,
demanding that people clap completions to certain rhythms that
he initiated. It was annoying and condescending. Yet, he was
the only male personality on stage and the only live musician.
Perhaps that is precisely why I was so irritated with his performance;
he was the only on-stage person who said anything during the
performance. Where was Fifi Abdo with her silly jokes when
this show so badly ached for comic relief? Indeed, this circus
must have fired all its clowns in a fit of missionary attitude
wishing to teach artistry among the bourgeoisie.
a group number dancing an unimaginative choreography with a
Hispanic theme. Why was it there? The music listed was Ya
Raitone by Tres Mondos. This dance was not a very distinguished
attempt at a Latin rhythm crossover and the dancers seemed to
lack enthusiasm for its dull fusion. Why was it there? This
is not Road to South America 1940! However, all the girls were
young and beautiful.
were some group dances: “Oriental Dreams”, and “Behind the Veil”
that in spite of their suggestively titillating titles, appeared
to be pointless sojourns into filling the stage with pretty
danced to “Laylet Hob” and looked happy and star-like and comfortable,
almost smug, in her own choreography.
Baila” was a number for Zoe, Sharon
Kihara, Moria, and Kami.
These girls must rehearse in their sleep—they are so precise
costumes, tattoos and body piercing are exotic and I hope their
mothers love them anyway. …because, well, …they are beautiful.
thing to a carnival atmosphere happened in “Baila Belly” in
which, apparently, all hands had to appear on deck. Jillina,
who looks as if she might be fun, funny, and nice in real-life,
appeared as a Brazilian Carnivale dancer at one point. I hated
the number over-all, believing that it did not belong on the
stage that bills its dancers “Bellydance Superstars.” I
think that if Miles Copeland insists that he must trot out this
ridiculous little costume with its high plumage headgear perched
upon the head of a pretty girl, he simply should find some eighteen-year-old
street waif, clean her up, let her smoke dope, and push her
out on stage to dance.
same flow of purrty girls on and off stage fairly well expresses
my opinion of the entire second act.
hapless attempt at variety, it opened with a piece of music
called “Yella Saidii,” utilizing the un-crooked, heavy martial
arts walking stick; it was yet another one of Jillina’s choreographies
featuring her interpretations but danced by …the beautiful
girls! They manipulated canes, mimicking the men’s martial
arts sticks, but in this case, the sticks were showy metallic
silver rather than cane pieces as the Saidi men use. They bounced
them off the floor with manly aplomb, and caught the opposite
end of the stick. Nice skills, girls… but, would it not have
been more appropriate, and more memorable, to have presented
the Saidii piece costumed with a bit more ethnic obeisance?
Nonetheless, the girls were beautiful.
remember which beautiful girl did the number called “Bellydance
Solo,” but her costume was innovative and her body was …uh,
Kihara, Kami, Zoe,
and Moria performed a goth-like dark tribal
number to some sounds that were supposed to take the place of
actual music called Creature Comfort. It was outstanding and
unique within the show parameters. I would have liked to have
seen more of it, in spite of that terrible music by 4 Ton Mantis
because the movements were chosen and timed to enhance the sounds…errr,
have been the one set in which the lighting level of the over-lighted
stage darkened somewhat and the tribal babes were bathed in
an eerie red atmosphere.
be wrong about that though; I was not taking notes because I
had not intended to write about my evening at the show.)
to the Pacific” Wake me when it’s over. Next time, get some
real Pacific dancers, or forget it. This number did not touch
the heart. It was dull, duller, and dullest. Its costumes
were uninspired. Granted, yes, the last minute of Tahitian
drums was fun—but not fun enough to save it! However,
the girls were …beautiful.
was abuzz with the constancy of the bright lighting on stage
and my ribs were playing like marimbas from the concussion of
the overly loud music blasted to distortion in my direction.)
Somewhere along the way in this program, there was a number
that I felt was exceptionally ill conceived. Starred, was a
lovely dark-haired dancer who had only two speeds available
in her dance: fast and faster. She executed the double veil
routine like a hasty pudding and wasted none of her precious
time or energy on any hint of nuance. It was an all American,
Chevy to the Levee, double veil routine. It was showy though,
I admit. What was ill conceived about it was the mixture of
two dancers in Dervish-like costuming who turned relentlessly
and manipulated the skirts somewhat like the Whirling Dervishes.
Since true Dervishes are religious in nature, I felt it was
socially and politically incorrect for the choreographer to
place them on stage, flanking a dancer performing in a bedlah.
Surely, I cannot have been the only person in the audience to
whom this juxtaposition appeared offensive!
- A discernable
plot, focus, or theme.
- A bit
of handsome testosterone on stage—beyond the irritating lone
- A free
paper hand-out program.
- A better
sound system that does not distort the music at high volumes
with someone at the switch who can still hear.
- A set
designer with imagination who can build a ramp to a high-rise
portion on which one might see a full-tilt good old American
- A handsome
and/or funny Master of Ceremonies.
variety in lighting, perhaps, even a spotlight on a darkened
- to either
lighten-up and send in the clowns, or get rid of the stilt-walking
act. Better yet, Miles could combine the two, letting the
stilt dancer appear in clown-face.
I look forward
to seeing them again when they return …as true Bellydance stars.
mistake, though: these superstar girls were skillful
The Magnificent Fundraiser
by Najia Marlyz
included the Belly dance, which he confided in me (later) that
he had hated, because it had been introduced to Greece during
the time that Greece was under the suppression and control of
The Key: an Allegory* in
Which a Courtesan Dancer Greets the New Year by Najia Marlyz
dancer, Raven, was lost in thought as she shifted her gaze toward
a novice barefoot dancer whose name she could not remember.
Bellydance Superstars, Our Plans
for 2006 by Miles Copeland, 2005 Photos by Monica Berini
is nothing like consistency and constant pressure to deliver at
your best each night to weld a group or troupe together.
Workshop with Issam
Houshan March 26, 2005, San Francisco Reviewed by Rebecca
In the solo improvisational forms of Middle Eastern Dance,
the chemistry between the drummer and the dancer is a vital ingredient.
and Reason Series, Article 9: Can't We All Get Along? Dancers and Musicians by Mary Ellen Donald
you don’t have to be afraid of working with live music.
The Peace Belt comes to Tucson
by Lucy Lipschitz
it matters more, I think, that this dance can be used to stimulate
thinking and discussion, and even to help feed and clothe other