The Gilded Serpent presents...
a Revivification of Ancient Sacred Dance

performed by
The Silk Road Dance Company
Kennedy Center Millennium Stage,
Washington D.C.

report by Pen Katali, M.L.S.

Egypta impressed me as a stunning artistic success, splendid beyond belief. The work can touch your innermost heart and exalt your soul. It is composed of fifteen episodes, alternating ensemble pieces with solos, telling the story of women and the Divine Feminine as the heart of ancient Egyptian civilization.

The seamless transitions from one episode to the next were well designed and smoothly executed, so that the work flowed as a unified whole.






1. Prologue: The Prophecy
of Thoth

The exordium featured Thoth emerging from the formless mists of the unfathomable past, to declare the sacredness of Egyptian civilization and the seriousness of its loss. In this episode he was essentially a static figure, suggesting the impassivity of the perspective of eternity while setting the stage for the lively dances that followed. The recitation drew upon ancient Egyptian scripture, the Corpus Hermeticum, thought to have been the word of Thoth.
2. Gift of the Nile
Rippling waves of primeval waters give birth to all life. Nile nymphs undulate gracefully, evoking the movement of water, as the land of Egypt becomes populated with living beings. But watch out for Sobek the crocodile!


3. Priestess of the Snake Goddess Renenutet
With this episode begins the actual re-creation of ancient sacred dance. Haidi Kestenbaum inhabits the role of priestess so fully with her sinuous hips and flexible body, she evokes the presence of the Goddess and takes the audience back in time to the ancient temples where dance was worship

4. On the Land
The next transition takes us from the divine to the human realm of women. The dancers portray peasant women working the fields, telling of Egyptian womanhood with the timeless baladi dance that is still the joyous recreation of village women in today's Egypt. The dance forms a living link between the present and the past through the ages via the continuity of the feminine spirit that draws its vitality from the land. Horus carries the sun disk across the stage and hands it to the Goddess Nuit as the sun sets.

5. The Goddess Nuit and the Dance of the Cosmos
As night fell and Nuit appeared in the Dance of the Cosmos, She was so breathtakingly beautiful that I was shaken to the core of my being. Tears of sacred awe and divine love rolled down my cheeks during Her dance, for the living presence of the Goddess was blessing us from the stage. Nuit, the goddess of the night sky, carries the sun disk through the night as dancers carrying stars (using the authentic Egyptian temple art design) wheel and twirl around her to celebrate the circular motions of the heavenly spheres. Parastoo Ghodsi beautifully portrays Nuit; her last name appropriately comes from the Arabic word quds, meaning 'sacredness'.

6. Pyramids
Four dancers employ the geometrical form of their bodies to construct pyramidal shapes from the ground up, with a precision of form that bridges the abstract and the human, while the God Anubis oversees and blesses the construction.

7. In the Temple of Isis
At the center of this scene Keylan Qazzaz reigns majestically as the mother goddess Isis, standing regally tall in Her queenly presence. The priestesses of Her temple celebrate the sacred dance around her, conjuring up a vision of numinous beauty to pay homage to the Eternal Feminine.

8. Invasion of the Foreigners
In this work's only male solo dance, Jhim Midgett as a Hyksos marauder terrorizes and cruelly beats the women of Egypt. For once, the story of invasion and conquest is told from the women's point of view. Jhim's performance explodes from a tightly wound package of destructive fury.

9. Wrath of Sekhmet
The Lion Goddess Sekhmet is so angry at humanity's impiety, she starts to burn all life with the rays of the solar disk. The other deities trick her into drinking beer disguised as blood, so that, drunk, she passes out. Joanne Giaquinta in her "catsuit" is purrfectly divine as Sekhmet, so feral and graceful. Her role is tricky, combining seriousness and humor, but she pulls it off with style and wit. (During the curtain call, she playfully turned feline again for a moment, snarling and clawing.)

10. The Seven Hathors
Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty, could take a sevenfold form. Here, She is represented by seven priestesses of Her temple, clad in matching gowns of warm colors, executing carefully synchronized whirls and figures. Their magnificent swirls of beauty produced a hushed awe in the audience, knowing and feeling that this beauty manifested the presence of the Goddess Herself.

11. Royal Linen
Another vignette of Egyptian working women's lives, this episode enlivens the work with a bit of fun when the overseer isn't looking. Two of the linen workers begin to play at wearing the finery they are weaving, until gradually all of the ensemble join in a lively baladi dance -- until the boss comes back! The overseer is about to scold them, when her attention is distracted by distant zaghareet cries...

12. Procession
From the back of the hall, a grand festive procession to the beat of a traditional Nubian rhythm makes its way up to the stage. The student dance troupe Ensemble Mumtaz contributes to the march, which leads into a scene from the Egyptian court.

13. Banquet Dance
Anyone who has ever admired the famous wall painting of professional dancers at a party swaying their rhythmic backbends, and wished they could be present at that feast, will find their wishes fulfilled here as the painting's dancers come to life. Queen Tiye, her children, and her Royal Saluki hound witness the dancers' lively, athletic, sistrum-shaking entertainment.

14. Cleopatra
A somber note sets in as Cleopatra, representing the last of ancient Egypt's sacred tradition, bids farewell to her daughter and denies the Roman conquerors their chance to humiliate her as she chooses death. Yillah Rosenfeld as Cleopatra uses a real live serpent in this scene which is symbolic of the demise of Ancient Egypt.

15. Death of Egypt
Isis embraces Cleopatra, Anubis mummifies her, and Maat weighs her soul with the feather of truth as we are taken to the Egyptian afterlife and the judgment of the dead. The dancers form a solemn tableau in fulfillment of Thoth's prophecy in the first episode. The static poses of the first and last episodes form symmetrical bookends showing ancient Egypt's sacred tradition emerging from and returning to eternity. The message of "Egypta," foretold in the Corpus Hermeticum, reminds us that Egypt's sacred tradition can live again when people worthy of it come to revere it once more.

This was truly a Goddess lover's dream come true. Laurel Victoria Gray has the magic to actually bring the divine presence into our midst. You can tell that she created this not just as a spectacle but as genuine sacred art, as close to reviving the sacred dance of the ancient world as we will ever see. As the audience left, their hearts still beat with reverence and joy at the beauty this performance brought to life.

Goddess lovers should definitely take note of the Silk Road Dance Company because their artistic vision is to celebrate the Sacred Feminine through dance. Laurel Victoria Gray's work brings out the Sacred Feminine in Islam, since most of her work is based in Islamic cultures, particularly Uzbekistan. She has worked there with traditional dance experts and tapped into the feminine current within Islamic culture that goes back to the ancient Goddess. Let us support and cheer on the artists like the Silk Road Dance Company who are paying homage to the Goddess.

The Kennedy Center's funding that went toward developing Egypta's latest incarnation:
The Local Dance Commissioning Project was created by the Kennedy Center in 2001 to foster new works by local dance artists. The project provides funds for each choreographer to create a new piece, a venue to show the work, as well as rehearsal space and technical assistance. The Project nurtures the creation of new work in Dance and presents these artists to the widest possible audience via the Millennium Stage.

Silk Road Dance Company
Laurel Victoria Gray, Artistic Director
Keylan Qazzaz,* Assistant Director
Parastoo Ghodsi*
Cindy Connelly Ryan*
Anne Apynys
Annetta Burger
Joanne Giaquinta
Shadi Homayouni
Audrey Ichida
Katie Kemple
Elaine Woo Lamirande
Sandra Litwin
Jhim Midgett
Debra “Annalise” Pacheli
Yillah Rosenfeld
Carman “Nimeera” Theis
Akili Zuriah
* denotes Principal Dancer

Ensemble Mumtaz Guest Performers
Michelle Gilliard Chargois Haidi Kestenbaum
Anisha Dharshi Adriane Whalen
Katherine Fanjoy Elizabeth Whalen
Lorna Hunt
Amelia Starr Mason
Lohengrin F. Nix
Deepali M. Patel
Amy Ellen Polk
Hermoine M. Hamlin

Taylor Hunt
Emily King
Cassandra Kraham
Gerson Kuhr
Naflah As-Saluki

Here is a post-show photo from the Kennedy Center

Photos (above and below) from the Chicago performance of Egypta in April

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