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Mesmera

Gilded Serpent presents...
Californian Adventure
"Prop til ya Drop"   The San Francisco Chapter of MECDA Gala Concert
December 3, 2006

Photos, Review, and Report by Renee of Australia

It is a blessing to have cousins, uncles and aunts scattered around the world. The period after the Second World War saw many of my relatives (and hubby's) uproot to seek adventure and a new life in many parts of the world.

My home is Australia, the land down under, where I have been learning and teaching belly dance for nearly 15 years.  I am at the age where all 4 children have left home. Fighting fit from belly dancing and rearing to go. We are "empty nesters", looking for new horizons.

Hubby had a business trip to Monterey CA. "Do we have family in America" I casually remarked. To my utter surprise I discovered that he had a cousin in California his mother's brother's daughter of about the same age. And a further bonus is that she resided with her own family, not far from Santa Clara. We made hasty contacts by e-mail to arrange a reunion. Hubby had not seen her for 30 years.

My newly discovered cousin turned out to be a remarkable person. We had so much in common it was spooky. At times, it felt as if I had a twin who lived the same life as I, on the other side of the globe.  We share the same womanly instincts and spirituality. Our views on most subjects where uncanny similar. We immediately became (long lost) dancing sisters. Three years ago my new 'sister', studied belly dance but gave it up because the teacher left the district. However she has been, and still is, teaching Circle Dance. Naturally she taught me her dance and I exchanged belly dancing techniques.

We where glad to discover that the winter climate (early December) was similar to my home town of Gosford which is situated on the Central Coast of New South Wales, or for easy reference, one and a half hour drive north of Sydney. The 2000 Summer Olympics was hosted in Sydney. I believe that Monterey is also referred to as part of the Californian Central Coast. So automatically I felt right at home.

After a wonderful Monterey family outing, my cousin's hubby hastily transported us, my cousin, her 12 year old daughter and I to Santa Clara to attend the evening Gala, which was presented by San Francisco Bay Area Middle Eastern Culture and Dance Association. The show was befittingly named "Prop til ya Drop". Money raised would benefit Solutions to Domestic Violence which happened to be located next door.  As the theatre doors opened, we unobtrusively rushed to obtained front row seats. To get a better photo shoot, we chose seats a little off centre stage. As the lights started to dim, with nervous anticipation, I fumbled and rummaged to retrieve my digital camera, paper and pen from my bottomless bag.  I was ready to make notes of my first impressions of each act and take some photos, to help jog my memory.

Afterwards, we agreed unanimously that as a whole, it was a wonderful event.  

The 7th Annual "Gala Show" was all about dancing with props on Stage. The acts where a good mix of classical, traditional and folkloric to modern, cutting edge fusion.

The diverse acts where all enjoyable and it was a pleasure to have been there as an audience member. Some acts I liked more than others. Some where performed at a very high standard while others where not. There where also many firsts, for me, that evening. I was particularly enchanted and "gob smacked" with some acts, as they where so different, to anything I have seen in Australia.

Here are 15 acts; I have listed them in no particular order.

1. One unusual act was performed by TEMPEST.

A dancer in an interesting black costume and make up pranced about with a black parasol. She was elegant and posy, sensual and enticing. I did not quite get her theme at first, but never the less was fascinated by her performance.

After a while it dawned on me that she was representing the American 1920's, black and white silent movie era. I loved the way she moved and acted out her roll.

From my own historical knowledge, I thought this was a clever way of highlighting a belly dance concept with insight and imagination.  This was a first for me, yet it did not seem out of place. The 1920's was part of an era where the western world was fascinated with anything Egyptian. And Egypt was in turn learning to please the western world. Belly dance and music was also being manipulated to suit foreign eyes and ears...

2. The other act was a cutting edge fusion by INDIGENOUS as Spirit Birds.  

For the first time I witnessed a theatrical indigenous dance. American Indian meets belly dance, in boots was my reaction.

My observation was that they told a story in traditional indigenous dance but added some belly dance movements such as hip circles and undulations.

The Eagle wings where like Isis wings but smaller, constructed of stretched silk and decorated with feathers. However I do hope that American Indian dancing will not become a diluted mish mash of belly dance ideology as they are totally different cultural dances. This was totally out of place, but I must say, that I enjoyed the experience. The dancing in parts was not always up to scratch.


Tempest


Indigenous

3. Another dance act that captured my maternal instinct and imagination was a very big bellied, 6 months pregnant SHOSHANNA , who was accompanied with two Ya Habibi Dance Company members. They started with a 4 yard veil dance and moved into a drum routine.

Shoshanna's dancing was so beautifully and skillfully presented that I got teary eyed. 

I was in awe of her being able to accomplish so much in a pregnant state. I could see that she was a master of adjusting and adapting movements to suit her pregnant condition and the two helpers filled in perfectly. It was a fantastic performance mix. Again, I have not seen a large pregnant lady dance on stage before. 

4. ANEENA took me to a place of dreams and romance. Between the song "Over the Rainbow" and her veil performance, she made my eyes well with tears of joy.

Her dancing was serene and elegant.

Her techniques where simple, yet complex as she did many spins and turns while manipulating her props.

Starting with one rainbow coloured silk veil and then delicately and artfully proceeded to unpeel and divide, to reveal two magical, floating veils. The veils sculptured the air into exquisite forms and shapes, filling the dance space with colour and emotional energy. Aneema is a very graceful mature dancer. Her beautiful performance just simply melted my heart, and I still see her image in my head. Even though the music was not of Middle Eastern origin, it somehow did not matter. We loved it, because of our western exposure to this popular piece made famous by Judy Garland. Who in the universe does not love this song ?

Shoshanna


Aneena

5. The dance group MO MENIEN also left a memorable impression. This act involved 12 sword dancers, (so the program said but I thought I counted 15).

I could see that some of them where beginners as they could not execute the torso (hips, belly, ribs) techniques adequately in contrast to the more advanced dancers.  

Instead the beginners focused on the steps, staying in rhythm and concentrated on keeping the swords skillfully balanced, no matter what. Usually, I do not like gala performances by beginner students but they were unique. The clever interweaving, splitting lines, floor descending, floor work and ascending where performed very calmingly and gracefully. It was very intriguing to watch them from the front row. One could read some of their thoughts behind their brave smiles. However we held our breath at times, expecting to see a sword slither, but no such luck.  We where amazed, to read in the program that the dancers create their own choreography.

6. Another interesting act came from MALIA . The scene is an Oasis a traditional gathering place of women who take the time to playfully show off their dancing, while balancing their clay pots.

Malia is an advanced dancer and it shows through her wonderful dancing skills, passion and stage presentation.

The women ensemble were also delightful. One movement in particular caught my eye. A cheeky knee high, foot kick movement, which was presented intermittently by the troupe, while balancing their pots. This single movement gave the troupe a distinctive lift to match Malia's energetic interaction. 

In my opinion Malia looked and danced like Belyssa, who is a very notable teacher in Australia.

I was disappointed that I could not capture the knee/ foot kick technique on camera as it lagged behind in real time, while adjusting its focus and flash. I hope that someone else photographed it and can send me a copy.


Mo Menien

Malia

7. A group of dancers that impressed me where SAHARA MASCARA. They performed an interesting fan dance, but with a humorous spin. 

They were a group of mainly larger goddess to cuddly sized dancers who discovered their niche in comedy.

They where very amusing, delightful and had a wonderful sense of the ridiculous. I and my new found family enjoyed them tremendously even though they could improve their general dancing skills. In time this would happen. However their comedy, intention and attitude saved the day.

8. The honour of the last performance was reserved for MESMERA .

All I can say is that she danced as her name suggested, she was MESMERIZING.

I have taken the programs description of her act, as I am lost for adequate words. Mesmera blends her Arabesque sensuality and precision with Spanish, Moorish and Turkish essences to ignite a fiery declaration in dance "Freedom of movement is our birthright". My humble notes added, loved her emotional involvement and interpretation of the music. I loved the way she danced with her whole face, in particular with her eyes and brows. One could clearly see and feel her emotional involvement in each technique and musical phrasing.  On stage she melts away the years and looks timeless. A deserving belly dance artist. Bravo. 


Sahara Mascara

9. MA*SHUQA performed an interesting Egyptian Raqs Sharqi with Isis Wings. The dance represented Isis, the winged goddess. The wings where manipulated in varied waving shapes that gave a dramatic and spectacular effect. After Ma*Shuqa discarded her golden wings, she kept on a small pair of silver wing, which I though was quite clever.  One could see that she was a well established and a beautiful dancer.

She continued her performance with subtle well executed Egyptian style techniques with elegance, femininity and charm, held together with a lovely smile.  

From my own observation, Isis Wings present a dilemma for the dancer, because once they are discarded, the performer needs to continue her dance in the same spectacular standard that she has set for herself. The small silver wings added lustre but did not uphold the drama that she had started, which ultimately left the watcher wanting something more. 

Two weeks before visiting California, I too, purchased a pair of Isis Wings.

From an audience point of view, I learned a valuable lesson that Isis wings followed by subtle techniques do not mix well. The contrast is too great.

To keep its spectacular momentum, I would rather see the wings presented as a separate identity altogether, creating its own spectacular exhibition. If a dance was to follow on, after discarded the wings, then the dancing required would need to be more open, larger in movements, strong shimmy highlights and spins to compliment the drama of the wings.

10. LUNA was featuring an Indian presentation of the Kalbeliya Gypsies of Rajasthan.

She balanced a tower of pots on her head while holding yoga poses and also walked on top of cups and plates.

This was a very interesting act. One I have not seen before but enjoyed because of its unusualness. The only critique is that the different prop sequences could have been cemented together with smoother transitions.


Ma*Shuqa

Luna

11. The Gala initially opened with HALA DANCE Troupe who re-enacted a typical urban Egyptian wedding procession, known as "zaffa" in Arabic. The musicians and dancers lead the wedding procession, followed by the bride and groom.

Hala, lead the procession, balanced a candelabra on her head and performed charmingly. Her troupe however needed more polish even though they attempted some delightful moments in story telling sketches, which added interest. 

I know it was presented as a traditional piece. But for stage presentation, I personally felt that it needed more animation, action and imagination. My mind wondered intermittently, for lack of engagement. Even though Hala's dancing style was faultless, I thought that she could have set the scene with more action, even with a candelabra. I felt that she was skilled enough to accomplish this. 

12. Another interesting dance was a fiery Latin influence mixed with the delicate grace of Raks Sharqi and the dramatic creativity of American Cabaret by FLOR DE LUNA . She wore a yellow and red flowered Spanish type long frilled, flowing costume with harem pants.

Her performance was very elegant, very playful, and delightful to watch as she emotionally expressed a romantic love story...

all whilst using a fan, a basket and playfully tossing and swirling her Spanish skirt. Very impressive and entertaining.


Hala


Flor De Luna

13. I have seen spoons used before. However AMANDA performed an interesting Turkish dance with the wooden variety, while dressed in traditional costuming. My notes referred to her as being flighty, quick in dancing movement while clicking in rhythm, dramatic, lively and jolly. Yes I liked her too as her personality stood out. The only draw back was that the music overpowered the clicking of the spoons. Only near the end as the music lowered in volumne could one hear the wooden clicks.

14. NASHWA AHLAM came across as a well seasoned performer in the Egyptian Cane dance style. She was very proficient in her craft. My notes jotted down, while watching her act, said that she danced joyously, had clean neat subtle feminine technique, shimmies and layering with typical cane movements and a most delightful sassy personality. And yet, I found my concentration drifting every now and then. Each time I was snapped back by one of Nashwa's fetching personality traits.

I think what I missed was imagination and passion. Perhaps she had a bad day?, which happens to the best of us.

Leyla Lanty was the surprise guest teacher and dancer who appeared towards the end of Nahwa's performance.


Amanda

Nashwa

15. Male dancers are a bunch from Mars. And JIM BOZ was no exception. Tough and male like, he happily showed off his skills balancing on top of a tabla. Flexing his breast plates, as males do so well, and playfully mobilizing his hips.

He was delightful, amusing, bold and demanded your attention.

At one point, I realized that he created the Statue of Liberty. We liked his brash male energy a lot.  


Jim Boz

General comment
One has to remember that Middle Eastern, Raqs Sharqi, Oriental or Belly Dance is an ART form of its own. The stage, for belly dance, is a place to shine, show off, try something different, surprising, the unexpected, sometimes the outrageous and sometimes a spice of nice naughtiness but never crude and rude.

A stage presentation is totally different from dancing at a restaurant, party entertainment, school concerts, haflas and displays.

At these venues you do not necessarily expect all of the above. The stage gives dancers the opportunity to strut their stuff in an entirely different light.  

I also understand that all belly dance students and teachers develop dancing skills as the years pass, from training and performing. I do believe that no matter at what level of development you are at, one can produce a memorable performance by daring to have imagination, inspiration, expressive enthusiasm, passion, emotional engagement and love for the art.

From my keen observation, one technical fault stood out during the evening: most dancers executed the chest lift (or rib lift) awkwardly thus appearing momentarily ungraceful.

My only conclusion is that this particular technique is taught differently between the two continents. That said, I totally enjoyed the event. There was lots of variation in styles, topics and music.

The SF Bay Area Chapter or MECDA
will be having their next event on February 9 & 10, 2008
featuring Morocco!

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