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Photos from tour this year in Taiwan contributed by The BDSS office

Gilded Serpent presents...
An Evening with
The American Bellydance Superstars

Marin Civic Auditorium, March 3, 2007  
Reviewed by: Sadira Sierra

Miles Copeland and his Bellydance Superstars hit Marin’s spotlights on Saturday to the delight of the packed audience.  There has always been a lot of hot discussion around his shows and format of touring with the Bellydance Superstars as a venue for American audiences to explore and experience what American Bellydance is.  What I came away with is that Bellydance in America is truly that, a unique format that can only be relayed as an American style of interpretation.  Even though the dancing from Egyptian cabaret to tribal and venues in between is incredibly bold, excellent in stylizing and format… it truly is an American tableau of how we represent this art.

The show is dynamic and fast paced with incredibly beautiful but most importantly talented dancers.  Unlike other “belly dance shows”, the pacing was tight, the music on spot most of the time, and extremely present with showmanship, allure and power.  Each dancer, as soloist, no matter what style dance being done, is a pure pleasure to watch.  I not only take into account the actual performance but the entire show’s components, from lighting, sound, pacing, choreography and costumes.  All of it is done with a very in depth attention to detail and professional quality. 

I liked the fact that the Tribal Fusion dancers are highlighted as a separate style and venue from the Egyptian and other forms of belly dance being presented.  Truly this shows the Americanization of what is created and performed in the United States under the broad umbrella of the term “belly dance”.  Showcasing the two styles as different aspects of the dance; yet commonality in the dance art form as a whole is a wonderful interplay that allows each to show its own strengths and stylizing that sets it apart.

The Isis wings solo gets more beautiful each year, combining stunning fabrics with the slight finger movements, which create the illusion of a bird's fluttering wings.  There was so many different routines, costume changes that it was spellbinding and mind-boggling how everything went so smoothly.  How do these dancers change costumes in between performances so quickly?

I really loved seeing all the different sub regional styles of dance represented in one way or another, from Whirling Dervish, Zar, Cane, Turkish Karsilama, Debke, and of course solo’s and shimmy routines that never became boring.  

This is the first tribal dance group that I have seen where I really got a mesmerizing, and feeling for it’s luscious, sinewy, exotic and complicated movements.  I have not seen any tribal dancing that is as superior as what is presented in this show.  The languid, almost contortionist movements, evoke feelings of being an observer in a culture and era reminiscent of Theda Bara and Mata Hari.  It also brought to mind, with its at times discordant musical renditions of old side show circus acts.

If anything, American Bellydance Superstars offers too much.  At times it feels as if a blend of Cirque de Soleil amateur night and carnival after hours is blended with a mélange of choreographies that swim by your vision so fast, you can’t take it all in.

It really is an American show, designed for an American audience.  I wanted to see so much more of some of the brief interchanging strobe light themes of debke, zar and karsilama extended to a longer and more comprehensive version.  Though everyone’s caliber of dancing is excellent, the emphasis on mostly Egyptian shimmy work and accents could be shortened and replaced by fuller representations of some other types of beledi/folk styles or ethno regional representations.

By the time the second half was in play, I felt it had over grasped its initial achievements and was now becoming more repetitive and a bit too long.

The highlight for me was the spinning and whirling veil dance, with the two dancers in the background in traditional dervish skirts.  The soloist spun without stops with alternating transitions in the spins, using her hair as accent points and the accumulation of double veil to four veils at a time to make for a dramatic, graceful, poetic dance.  Also the amazing shimmy, drum solo with Jillina… actually dancing on top of a dumbek still stands out as a feat of balance, incredible body isolations, interpretation and “how did she do it” unblinking, mouth dropping acclaim.

One of the stars of the show is the amazing drummer, Issam Houshan.  Not only is he a drummer extraordinaire, he also brings life to the stage.  His solos were undeniable the major energy that really pulled the show to its highest levels.  He has a warm and outgoing personality, and interacts with the audience in such a way that you feel you’re in the presence of a friend and enjoying a small Hafla together with him.  You can tell by his interactions with the dancers that he truly enjoys drumming for them and they also play off of that energy.  I know there were audience members who came solely to hear his fantastic drumming. 

Now, some of my least favorite parts of the show; first I find all of the fluff choreography that is going on behind a soloist is distracting from the dancer and actually shows some glaring mediocrity in those not dancing at the standard of who is in the solo.  Many times the choreography seems like the chorus line and blurs the edges of clarity in the dance performance… too much stimulus, unfocused, unnecessary.  I do know it is common in Egypt for the headliner to do some of her numbers with the inevitable chorus line in the background, but even then it still looks amateurish and destroys the integrity of the dance piece.  

Also there were dance numbers that were based on other dance styles that were not part of the Bellydance art.  It was blaringly obvious that the dancers in the “Bollywood” take off, have minimal training in traditional Indian dance, and their entrance was clumsy, as they had not refined the particular foot movements used to glide in with.  On top of that there appeared with them a disorganized section of dancers with the same color costumes that appeared to be doing cheerleading routines and using Pilate bars with no apparent reason for them in the skit.  It would be better to put energy into learning more dances from different regions that are considered part of the Middle Eastern influence then to add other cultures dances and influences into the mix. 

First, no matter how talented the dancers in the show, they cannot possibly learn these other cultural styles with enough finesse and complexity to be considered proficient in it. 

The other culturally appropriated piece was the Polynesian/Tahitian suite.  It was bland and minimal in its affect, as the dancers are not good South Pacific dancers, and it has no place in the venue at all.  Here we get into where do you draw the line with American cultural appropriation of dances that take years to learn, and present them as a creative venue in a slipshod tableau of dances from around the world.  That brought the show’s merit’s down considerably; but as a matter of course it is true American style to incorporate any culturally appropriated material from other venues and decide they too can master and perform it, without regards to it’s roots or people.  If I wanted to see Hula and Tahitian dancing, I would go to a professional Hula and South Pacific performance.  Miles, please, you have to draw the line somewhere before the show becomes so full of any dance form you throw in it and it really does become a vaudeville act.  As well as unfortunately, the dancer, who amazingly danced en Pointe traditional ballerina shoes, but instead of making her look more graceful, she looked encumbered and out of place.  The deja-vu routine that reminded me of the 1980’s movie “Flashdance”, with the dancer draped over a chair had me simultaneously laughing at the similarities and wincing at when the bucket of water would be dumped over her reclined figure.  The costume was not flattering and it was a great showmanship of gymnastics, but hit a sour note.  The finale with stilt walker, fan dancers, and every act from 1920’s Busby Berkeley thrown in, does injustice to what a finale for the caliber of performers you have in this show. It’s an incredible show to see and something to be proud of as American belly dancers for almost all of it, as the dancers are some of the best I have ever seen… the production is top line.  Cut out the fluff and dancing from areas that your dancers have no long term background in, shorten it… give Issam more venue and it’s almost apple pie perfect.

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