photo by Mia Moy
Lentini and Carvanserai Dance Theatre:
7-10, 2007, Hudson
Guild Theatre, New York City
and Review by Elaine
most photos by author, show photos by Mia Moy
I made the decision to return to belly dance classes in New
York City, I made a number of inquiries regarding various instructors
in the area. All of these inquiries—including one of my former
instructor, Julia, a young Egyptian specialist
presently on maternity leave—resulted in a unanimous, “ELENA
resulted in a certain amount of curiosity and, coupled with
the fact that Elena teaches at Fazil’s Times Circle Studios,
a mere two blocks away from where I work in mid-town Manhattan,
I made the decision to check out Elena’s classes.
of Eleanor Powell and a chorus boy named Jimmy Cagney
Fazil's is located in an ancient Times Square area loft building. It prides
itself on its long history, which includes having been the rehearsal space
of such iconic dancers as Eleanor Powell, Honi Coles, Jose Greco,
the Nicholas Brothers, and Jimmy Cagney in
his chorus boy days. If those walls could talk, they would offer a Ph.D.
in dance history!
walking up several long, vertical flights of time-worn stairs,
I landed in a small vestibule where the old "School of
Acrobatics" letters were still visible on the wall. Another
flight up and to the left of the landing I found Fazil’s, where
the manager, Joe, sat at the front desk taking
cash, selling bottled water, and directing traffic between
various classes, most of them flamenco. Joe answered my questions
in a flat, but courteous, staccato style—very "old New
York”—then his eyes went back to the TV screen he was watching.
There was evidently some kind of mix-up and Joe was unaware
there was no class, due to Elena’s assistant Marie
Aguirre taking ill. So, I changed and waited for the
class to begin
ladies' dressing room still had the original sign with
1920s-style lettering above the door. Inside, the dancers
seemed to avoid eye-contact, much like actors at a competitive
audition. Outside, the narrow hallway contained bulletin
boards full of information about actors’ headshots, voice
coaches, holistic health services and such.
waited in a medium-sized rehearsal room with a mirror running
along the right-hand wall. The only lighting was a strip
of fluorescent lighting above the mirror that barely made it
to the rear of the room. The window overlooked a parking
lot with hydraulic lifts. I imagined the tenement backyards
that had once existed there, and the millions of dancers and
other performers who had passed through here over the years
in the pursuit of their dream of performing on the Broadway
from the upstairs studio came the furious, rhythmic stomping
of the flamenco class that was taking place above me. I
glanced up and saw that strips of wood had been nailed across
the ceiling tiles to prevent them from falling. Still,
I thought, it's only a matter of time...
before you imagine I am unfairly criticizing this space, let
me offer this: Fazil’s is a serious New York dance/rehearsal
studio. The dancers and actors who come to these spaces to
study and rehearse are driven by passion and longing to make
it in New York. You have to have a tough hide and real confidence
in your talent to "hang" here. Fazil’s offers an
opportunity for affordable classes and rehearsal space, while
providing substantial appreciation and moral support of artistic
a tiny, slender woman with beautiful bone structure approached
me: it was Elena Lentini herself. Elena graciously
informed me that Marie, her assistant, was ill and that evidently
no one had told Joe. She said she was on the premises to rehearse
and, inviting me to “please come again next week,” she placed
in my hand a brochure announcing an upcoming performance by
her company, Caravanserai Dance Theatre, entitled "Argumentum
Ornithologicum". I immediately got the impression
that Middle East dance here in New York was on the fringe of
some kind of avant-garde art scene, and I was curious to learn
more about it.
returned the following week and found that Elena’s assistant
Marie Aguirre had returned to teach. Her class demonstrated
Marie’s extensive professional dance background, coupled with
her experience in the modern dance discipline and her current
dance therapy practice. She proved to be both a graceful and
sensitive instructor, immediately pointing out my occasional
tendency to suspend breathing! It was a new experience for
me and I wanted to return to see what more I might learn from
Fates Lead Those Who Will, Those Who Won’t They Drag*
title of Elena’s program, “Argumentum Ornithologicum,” is
drawn from a thought-provoking poem by Jorge Luis Borges about
nature and God. I had an inkling that I was going to see something
exceptional and I was not disappointed. The choreography incorporates Elena’s
background in mime and experimental theatre into Middle Eastern
dance, bringing the audience to a new level of awareness...no,
let me make that dimension.
what Elena did was not only unique, but remarkable. She
took traditional bits of Middle Eastern iconography, dance and
the human form and examined each separately in space—introspectively, using
primarily traditional music (and, on one occasion, YoYo
Ma), incorporating modern interpretive dance to free
a traditional veil and imagine a woman's inner relationship
to it...how it sits lifeless on a chair, lacking any political
or religious significance, as she stands silently beside
it. Notice how she slowly and respectfully lifts
it, covers herself with it and gazes toward the sky—how
it shields and envelopes her, then gracefully slips from
her hand. Examine its fabric and structure, how it
is caressed, crushed in the hand and made small, how it
separates one dancer from another, and then connects in
following piece performed by the company involved the iconography
of the tribal headpiece—its intriguing presence, the gleam
of its metal, its mysterious power—and, employing gigantic
puppetry, tribal costumes and primitive-sounding music, invoked
how they might have been used in ancient rituals.
next dance piece alluded to the naked human body...unfolding
from birth and entering the world, its relationship to
other human beings and to space. Watch it expand, contract,
bend, and fall. In separating each of these individual layers,
an entirely different energy and meaning is revealed that
touches on a very primal level.
a brief intermission, began the second half of the show, and
with it came the necessary resolution. Elena began with a spellbinding
solo performance that incorporated both modern and traditional
movements as she seemed to float in liquid space. A darkly
lit female dancer followed (Anne Hitchcock), invoking the goddess
image, her beautiful and graceful naked back to the audience,
come to life.
the next number, entitled “The Blue Odalisque,” the
dancer Kerri O'Neill pulled many of the preceding elements
together and performed a graceful and feminine dance in
modern beaded bra and belt and, swirling a diaphanous blue-green
veil, creating an effect that was simply heavenly! Marie
Aguirre followed, elegant and gracefully enveloped in chiffon.
She evoked grace, wisdom and healing in her dance, entitled “Mythica,” adding
yet another layer to the goddess experience.
The last number, "Enchantress of Bioluminosity" was
conceived by Andrea Beeman and staged by Elena Lentini. It was
performed by Andrea in total darkness with luminescent, glow-in-the-dark
strips. It made a fittingly grand finale to a truly unique performance
to ignore the other members of the company, who all showed
outstanding talent, I especially enjoyed Cynthia Elmas.
Her movements, the angle of her head and arms, her graceful
falls, really called to mind classic Martha Graham style, although
Cynthia’s bio was one of the few that didn’t link her with
that particular discipline.
experiencing Elena’s dance program, I arrived at the conclusion
that we have become too accustomed to viewing two-dimensional
performances of Middle Eastern dance—and by that I mean the
dancer and her relationship to the audience, with everything
else serving more or less as props. Becoming more consciously
aware of the deeper meaning of each of the underlying layers
involved in the art of Middle Eastern dance, which are often
overlooked or taken for granted, resulted in a much deeper,
more dynamic and beautiful performance.
a word that is frequently used in describing Elena's work,
and I was very impressed with both her insight and creativity. We
have heard so much from dancers who espouse certain rules and
who claim to be authorities on "who does what better and
more authentically." Refreshingly, Elena’s approach seemed
to come from a whole other direction, and because it also
incorporates modern interpretive dance, it suggested to me
that Middle Eastern dance was also, at some point in time,
a “modern” interpretive dance that used relevant contemporary
cultural elements and iconography to achieve specific objectives.
I read recently that belly dancing is based on a birthing ritual,
but it now seems like a rather simplistic statement, because
through Elena's interpretation I saw so much more. I experienced
it as spiritual and psychological as well, and was able to
visualize how it may have been used in initiation and healing
rituals, as well as in spell-casting, in ancient times.
conclusion, I believe that any dancer owes it to herself
to experience a performance by Elena and Caravansarie Dance
Theatre. Elena breaks down barriers and in so doing, enhances
and broadens the Middle Eastern dance experience.
celebrates with dance friends after the
L-R: Maury Sherman,
Rula De Clermont,
Hudson Guild Theatre
hosts the reception
The title of one of the dances on the program performed by
Cynthia Elmas, Elizabeth Ewald and the Company
in February 2008. Here is a NY times article about the
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
BellyPalooza: the Daughters of Rhea Belly Dance Festival by
Elaine, Most photos by Allen J Becker
4, 2007, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland. The weekend
of dance workshops and performances took place once again in
Baltimore on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, one of the most
elegant venues imaginable for such an event.
Greek Scene by Elaine
were the usual politics at the Taverna, of course, and if management
felt that a dancer was holding back on her tips, she rarely made
Kamal by Yasmina of Cairo
the film roles that I've been offered have unfortunately been frivolous,
or portrayed the dancer in the stereotypical way they always do.
The cinema has done enough to spoil the reputation of dancers,
without me adding to it by taking such a role."
April 2008 by Catherine Barros
was a late night as usual as we didn't even go out until midnight
to have dinner and watch Dina at around 3am . . . but who was
watching the time . . . It is CAIRO!
Winning Experience at Leyla Jouvana and Roland's 1st
Bellydancer of the World Contest by Khalida
is winner of the 1st place in the Solo Raks Sharki and 3rd Place
in the Solo - Fusion Fantasy Categories
Bellydance, A New & Ancient Reality by Jehan
trend has been growing steadily since I can remember, but caught
fire recently, due to the instantaneous broadcasting of ideas
and styles on the worldwide web and the proliferation and availability
of video for this generation of dancers.
Presence, Stories and Advice from 30 Years Under
the Hip Belt and Counting... by Aszmara
audiences’first glimpse of you is as you arrive and how they
see you affects their opinion of your show. First impressions count!
Two Doors Close Two Doors Open, New Venues in New
York City, by Sarah Skinner
was thrilled with the new place and said it reminds him of the
late night clubs in Istanbul, Turkey. At the end of the night I
walked out into the hot summer air feeling invigorated and inspired.
Ancient Art of Keeping Your Mouth Shut by Neon
one’s casual presence in the forums infested with negative-spirited
discussions can instantly strip a successful artist of her magical
along the Nile, Part 2: Raks Al Balas by Gamila
El Masri, Reprinted with permission, from Bennu,
Issue Vol.6 #3 Ah,
the poor balas (water jug). This is one of the most underestimated
and ignored of the dances along the Nile.
with the Legends - honoring the musicians who shaped
our dance world... Eddie Kochak, the Sheik, the Man by
Elizabeth Artemis Mourat, & Christy Guenther
found that the melodies from Aleppo still spoke to him as an adult.
He continues, “I thought I could take some of these melodies,
put my feelings to them, and create what we now call the Amer-Aba
sound. We created simple routines for the teacher to teach and
the student to learn.
Karioka, Queen of Oriental Cabaret Dance by Sausan
the 1980’s, the spread of Islam and its fundamental militancy
proved to be a big blow for Egypt’s belly dance industry.
As a result, several dancers publicly renounced their pasts and
donned the Islamic veil.