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Gilded Serpent presents...
Cairo’s Streets Come Alive:
Baladina Egyptian Dance Theater and Sharia Mohamed Ali
Directed by Karim Tonsy
October 13, 2007, Chicago, Illinois
by Erin Crouch
photos are by Adrian Fortis

Baladina’s second show in Chicago opens with a scream. Then the chaos starts, with dancers overwhelming the stage in a style now familiar to audience members who saw “Eden?” at the Raven Theater in July. Seemingly magically, the dancers resolve themselves from their busy activities into a row and look into the audience as if into a mirror, turning and preening, then breaking into dance in smaller formations. Thus starts the single performance of “Sharia Mohamed Ali” on October 13, 2007.

The St. Patrick’s Performing Arts Center does not offer the warmth and accessibility of the Raven Theater, with the audience perched above the stage and behind a railing. The backdrop of a rigid, lighted square was really effective only at the conclusion of the first half of the show, when it highlighted the dancers frozen in place on a darkened stage. Some colored lighting could have taken the harsh edges from the set. However, an opulent, low, cloth- and- pillow covered table with a lighted hookah at stage right provided some ambience and atmosphere to evoke Egypt and the mythical street where one could find anything for the right price, day or night.

Temptation was a theme throughout the eleven short pieces performed by Baladina in the first half of the two- part show. A modern temptress steals a man away from a traditional woman, who then finds a new man of her own. Perhaps a necessity for a dance company composed of mostly women, men seemed a hot commodity in the performance.

Hidden by lacy half-masks, women teased the lone man, stealing his fez and caressing him, then darting away. Lazy observers smoked the hookah and lounged on the pillows on stage, as rich men must have done since time immemorial.

A slow-dance performance to “I Am Ready for Love” showed the classical side of the dancers and was nearly the only example of the dancers physically lifting each other and doing floorwork, unlike Baladina’s first show. Three of the scenes were reprisals from the summer show, including the 40s style racy cabaret with dancers doing kicks on chairs, a 70s-inspired blaxplotation boogie featuring a boombox and the ending, “Bedouin (I Am in a Trance,)” a mystical piece with incense from the four directions of the wind and wraith-like dancers in robes.

The “Fruit Dance,” a new piece, featured more standard Middle Eastern dancing and some lovely mermaid style skirts and costuming, showing the influence of Erika Ochoa, a well-known Middle Eastern dancer and international director Karim Tonsy’s partner in managing Baladina.

A lip-synched version of “Whatever Happened to Class?” from the musical Chicago juxtapositioned the racy cabaret piece mentioned earlier, but failed to hit the right note.

By far the strongest piece in the show was “Bedouin (I Am in a Trance.)” From the striking gold face covering worn by Tonsy to the eerie warning of the figures in black, the closing of the first half gave everyone the chills for intermission. 

A lively cane dance (Raks Al Sayya) opened the second half of the show, with a more casual, down-to-earth atmosphere. Kimhari performed with a veil and started her third song with a wicked shimmy, showing off her beautiful bronze costume. Jackie’s performance had a strange interval between her initial entrance in a headcovering and kaftan, and then her return in bra and skirt, but she finished on a high note.

Raksanna had a fabulous attitude in her performance, showing why she was a 2007 nominee for Performer of the Year. Her feisty attitude made her dance a delight to watch. Erika and Sumaya performed lovely Middle Eastern pieces- Erika’s dance choreographed by special guest Samara and Jawhara also performed a cane dance.

Maleeha performed a lengthy piece choreographed by Ibrahim Farrah, telling the story of Bedouin fortunetellers reading seashells they have thrown onto the ground. Finally, Samara, in Chicago for the first time, came out to perform. Samara performed to three songs and then graciously accepted the large bouquet of flowers from Erika Ochoa to close the show.

Sharia Mohamed Ali offers a look at the variety of music and dance styles making up “Middle Eastern dance” today, and shows Baladina as a work in progress. We can all look forward to their spring 2008 performance, which will feature completely new material. 


Charla and Ra in "I am ready for love"

Charla selling fabrics on the streets of Cairo

Karim and Karol

The fruit dance to the very popular song "El enab" The grapes!

Samara

Fruit Dance

Mirrors

Final Sharia

Karim Tonsy

Erika Ochoa

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