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Gilded Serpent presents...
Le Serpent Rouge
Performance Review by Yasmela
May 15, 2007, in Bellingham WA.
Photos by Lynette of performance on May 4, 2007 in San Francisco

Although I am not quite sure of the connection with the mysterious poem of the same name, the appearance of Rachel Brice and Le Serpent Rouge in the City of Subdued Excitement was more than a pleasant surprise. The group rolled into Bellingham, Washington, for a show on May 15th at the Nightlight Lounge and nearly filled the joint. I braved a thicket of hair extensions sporting pincushions of floral and metal ornamentation and planted my time-worn carcass in a cushy lounge-chair provided for those of us who no longer care to park it on the cement floor. The management would have done well to provide some supplementary seating as they have in the past, but I have a feeling there was some perplexity as to the nature of this performance. Would spectators dance? Would they sit? Whaaaa? There really isn’t a bad seat in this house, and I was very happy with mine even though I wasn’t sitting much.

As an “old curmudgeon and floor inspector” (thank you John Compton), I am not given to easy compliments. However, for this performance I suspended my expectations and prejudices, and I’m glad I did. I haven’t enjoyed a “belly dance” performance this much in years. I must say that I would only call this belly dance as a nod to some of the dances’ origins. Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes and Mardi Love have moved beyond the somewhat self-absorbed, audience-oblivious hocus pocus that marks most of what is offered in the name of Tribal.

These three ladies are not only lovely but also abundantly talented in several cross-discipline styles and are fully aware of their responsibility as performers on stage.

The show was well paced. The evening began with the Inkwell Rhythm Makers – imagine a ragtag jug band-skiffle band meets the tattoo piercing parlor. They turned out to be a group of talented musicians and singers who provided a flow to the show that allowed the dancers to change costume and pace without abandoning the audience to uncomfortable silence. The band set the tone for the evening: fun, irreverent and a little bizarre. I was surprised that the interspersing of canned and live music worked so well. The ladies opened with a trio that was beautifully choreographed and included a masterful display of finger cymbal musicality. 

From there, the set moved rapidly through a series of skits and dances that demonstrated a smooth professional competence in the art of slapstick humor. The blending of theater and dance was really outstanding with broad comedy moving seamlessly into dance.

The second set was a little disappointing. It started slowly and didn’t really pick up until the finale.  The inclusion of two of my favorite songs, Little Egypt and Lydia Oh Lydia, while perfect for the temper and tone of the show, but didn’t quite work. I wonder if the costuming might not have had something to do with that: the crinolines were a little overwhelming. These songs could use just a little more punch and broader acting.

Tobias Roberson began the finale with a very hot  drum solo. I thought Tobias was underused. Aside from being easy on the eyes, his musicianship is quite brilliant. He was infrequently on stage even though the audience was completely taken with that him; it was a shame not to hear more of his playing. Rachel came out for the by-now-obligatory drum solo, and while she is also brilliant, I think drum solos are a little overdone. The community as a whole, whether Tribal or American cabaret, seems to feel that the drum solo is the defining characteristic of our dance. I disagree, but that’s just my opinion and we could (and probably will) debate this ad nausea. Rachel has such excellent control of her body that it almost kept me engaged. If it was all choreographed, it was well done! So much of our dance has become nothing more than a predictable series of moves, as if we have lost forever the art of true improvisation and spontaneity. 

Le Serpent Rouge is a funny, clever, innovative, ambitious and smart show. It was not stale and over rehearsed, although it was obvious that a lot of hard work had gone into the timing and choreography. The clever use of theatrics and dance with good musical interludes was delightful. 

Even the slow parts of the show were not boring. Some of the group dances were so pleasing to the eye and heart that they took my breath away. The dancers’ very clever play on cup or glass balancing could be expanded and elaborated without loosing any of its charm. I found myself wholly involved in the pantomime preceding the balancing act and was delighted at the clever transition. Zoe Jakes is especially adept at satire and quite the comedienne. She and Mardi Love played the “competition dance” to perfection, complete with asides to the audience and appropriate facial clues. Old standards like this are used again and again because they work, and this one worked for me. The costuming was first rate. Who wouldn’t love those big overblown tribal skirts with tights; and stripped tights are my all-time favorite. As for the dancing? It was just fine. While it is strongly ATS inspired, these dancers have obviously done their homework; a little break dancing, some Can Can, a little flamenco and lots and lots of arms. I do find myself cringing at the “chicken wing” effect of hunched shoulders and I keep hoping it will just go away with maturity. It’s nice to see a well-executed backbend. This used to be a standard of most belly dancers. And the signature Tribal side layouts performed as a trio made a lovely tableau. To hell with the knowledge that in 20 or 30 years they’ll be grabbing their ibuprofen, visiting the chiropractor and cursing the intemperance of youth. I say if you’ve got it, use it. There will be time enough to sit and nurse your wounds when the years catch up with you.

Rachel, Zoe and Mardi balance one another well. Rachel appears to play the straight man while Zoe and Mardi push the limits of slapstick. The comedic devices came across loud and clear but were not overdone. On the down side, I could barely hear Mardi singing He Needs Me from the movie “Popeye”. As a dance number, it was pretty flat, and as a vocal, it was tentative. Would it work better with a different costume, with more pantomime? I don’t know what it needs, but it needs something, and certainly needs louder singing. 

Le Serpent Rouge pushes the envelope of dance show expectations. The show has great potential and hopefully the numbers that dragged a little or dropped energy will be reworked. All live theater is a work in progress. This isn’t really a belly dance show and should not be billed as such. It taps into the current popularity of small circuses, touring vaudeville and burlesque troupes. If ticket sales suffer, it is because of the stigma attached to belly dance shows. 

Despite what we may tell ourselves in the community, it’s still mostly belly dancers and their friends and family who come to see our self-important productions. Until more of us understand the concepts of good theater and good entertainment, the situation will stay this way.

 I know many people who would have enjoyed Le Serpent Rouge, but they would never pay $25-$30 to see a belly dance show unless they were dancers themselves or related to one, even if the poster advertises tantalizingly clad tattooed women billed as vaudeville. Le Serpent Rouge was money well-spent. It was a SHOW. I never thought I’d hear myself saying it, but I think Miles Copeland has a winner here. I hope he doesn’t muck it up. I am frankly put off by the electronic bludgeoning of the Bellydance Superstars music, their glitzy-bordering-on-smutty costuming, and their sterile, phoned-in performances. Le Serpent Rouge, on the other hand, has a pleasing, tongue-in-cheek, in-your-face attitude that is quite sweet. It has heart. And it isn’t just one dance number after another. 

THANK YOU! Bravo, gang, and thanks for the good time!

More photos of the May 4th show in San Francisco

The show in San Francisco was held at Broadway Studios. This venue feels like a gold rush era saloon and is located in the heart of North Beach.


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