Gilded Serpent presents...

Producing “Tales of Desire”

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A Tribal-Fusion Bellydance Experience

by Sherri/Cherchez La Femme
Photos by Bruce Meyer and Jenny Littrell,
posted March 28, 2009

Tales of Desire, a tribal fusion bellydance extravaganza, produced by Hollywood Music Center is the first Tribal Fusion DVD shoot of its kind.  Never before has an exclusively Tribal Fusion performance DVD been filmed in a theatre in front of a live audience.  We knew there would be challenges – there is no stopping to re-film a shot if something goes awry.  Yet, this is the point: the excitement and adrenaline of a live show.  Both audience and performer are suspended in the moment.  This provides a perspective that just can’t be duplicated in a controlled studio setting.

This was not to be your typical DVD shoot in any sense.  Not only was there the unique energy of a live audience, but we also opted to add a theatrical thematic element to this project.

Brainstorming theme ideas and potential storylines was the fun part, the creative stage before getting down to the administrative brass tacks.  We wanted the theme to serve as the thread that linked the varied and diverse line up of performers.  After generating a range of potential themes—everything from Dreamscapes (too amorphous) to the Seven Deadly Sins (too dark), we decided on Tales of Desire.  We felt that it was a theme that would be really open to creative interpretation providing structure to the show, but wouldn’t confine the artists. Once our
premise was decided on, we delved into the left brain details of production planning and organization: solidifying the venue reservation, choosing a line up, checking availability and lunging ahead first into production preparation including creating an event website, setting up ticketing options and preparing promotional materials.

“Tales of Desire was different and unique as it was a live show also…” said Princess Farhana.
“Because of the “immediacy” of the performance aspect and the dancer bonding in the dressing room, not to mention the energy of a live audience, the whole show felt more organic and also gave everyone the opportunity to unify and get close with each other during the creative process.”

One thing that became unusually challenging was finding a date where there were no other conflicting bellydance events.  Just when we thought we’d found a date, previously scheduled events would pop up on the calendars of various websites.  It became virtually impossible to find a Saturday that didn’t have at least something going on.  A testament to how many bellydance related events actually go on in or around Los Angeles! 

When we finally settled on the date, we moved into the challenge of confirming all of the performer availabilities.  Given how busy so many dancers travel schedules are, this was quite a task.  Fortunately, things fell into place pretty quickly.  We asked for feedback from the dance community posting on Tribe, Myspace, etc. in terms of who people wanted to see on this DVD. 

We felt that the buzz in the community was that people were getting tired of seeing the same performers on every performance DVD that came out, so we really tried to
mix it up and offer a more varied line up.

It was so difficult to narrow it down, there are so many amazing performers that we would have loved to have included in this DVD. 

We were extremely excited to have booked Unmata as the headliner and the momentum just kept building from there.  Soon we added Mira Betz, Elizabeth Strong and Damage Control Dance Theatre to the line up.  By the time we had the complete program; we had 11 soloists and 7 troupes totaling 22 performances.  Rounding out the final cast were: Aubre and Lumina
Dance Company
, Tjarda from the Uzume, Arish Lam all the way from Puerto Rico, Sabrina, Steven and Raine of Atash Maya, Ayse Cerami and She’Enedra, Sherri/Cherchez La Femme, Rose Harden, her highness the illustrious Princess Farhana, Heather Shoopman and The Nekyia’s Showgrrrl Sublime.

We soon found ourselves knee deep in making travel arrangements, clearing music, non-stop event promotion, dealing with ticketing and answering countless questions about the show from
performers and attendees alike.  This is known as the necessary evil phase of event planning and production.  Not necessarily the most fun part, but the phase that sets the stage to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch the day of the show.

It’s amazing when you have the alchemy of not only this caliber of performers, but a cast of such varied talents and range of skill, the show really becomes something
so much greater than the sum of its parts. 

We were most excited at how varied this show was turning out to be.  It really brought out the fusion element of tribal fusion bellydance and became a marvelous showcase
of just how much this style of dance has evolved.

The day of the show was hectic, but we were all adrenaline-fueled with the excitement of the day finally being at hand after so many months of preparation.  So much to be done prior to tech rehearsal fast approaching at 2:30pm. How had 9:00am turned into 12:30pm so quickly? So many line items on lists to be checked off, last minute set decoration to be put into place, seats to be blocked off and moved to make room for the jib and other cameras.  Staff had to be coordinated, ushers educated, box office staff to be made ready for what ended up being crowds of people coming to buy their tickets at the door.  We were pleasantly astonished to actually have to turn people away!  You really can’t ask for a better compliment when it comes to a first show.  It’s always hard to gauge how it will be received.  Especially in Los Angeles where there is so much competition for a Saturday night.

We blew through tech rehearsal and crossed our fingers that one run-through would nail the lighting cues and sound check.  This part of the day always goes by so quickly.  The hustle and bustle of last minute task completion knowing that the show is only a few hours away, gazing out at the empty theatre from stage knowing that soon the room would be full of excited bodies hurrying to find their seats.

As one group or soloist ran their piece, the rest of the group divided themselves between the two dressing rooms back stage.  The rooms literally became living breathing explosions of brightly colored costumes; make up, false lashes, glitter, sequins, yarn, flowers and bobby pins.  What initially felt like large spaces shrunk considerably once they were packed with performers!  There was big competition for mirror real estate to say the least.

”Backstage was crazy!” Princess Farhana relayed, “we were jammed eyelash-to-elbow in the dressing room with a plethora of beautiful bellydancers stretching, applying make-up, running numbers and pouring body glitter on each other!”

Time in the dressing room moves at a faster pace than in the rest of the world.  Any performer will tell you this.  It seems as though you have only just begun getting ready and the next thing you know, someone is calling the 15 minute heads up. 

You feel the rush of adrenaline as you tick the items off of your mental checklist of what you still need to do to get ready and start assessing what may have to be forfeited

(“Well, maybe I’ll just have to go without eye lashes tonight to ensure I have enough time to finish getting my pantaloons on…”).

There is that moment just before a show starts where it’s like everyone involved holds their breath for just a moment, just a second until the curtains open, the lights come on and the music comes up and the first act begins without a hitch.  Then comes a bit of a collective exhale:  and. we. are. ROLLING.  And what a perfect powder keg release of energy to start the show than opening with Unmata! 

From there the show seems like an excited blur of activity.  Mher overseeing the music and Rahana stage managing like a seasoned pro, ushering performers on and off the stage with the efficiency of an orchestra conductor.  Dancers fell into an almost orbit around each other taking or leaving the stage, changing for their next piece, going downstairs to get their photos taken.  We were in the zone and things were flowing well.

Intermission was a chance for us to breathe for a minute and to gauge how everything was going.  No major fires to put out.  No major technical glitches or problems.  Again, collective exhale, mini celebration, then the adrenaline again as the second half of the show began. 

According to Aubre, director of Lumina Dance Company, "`Tales of Desire’ was a fantastic experience as an artist, dance company director, AND community member.

It was wonderful to share a professional stage with some of my favorite people, get to laugh and catch up, and just have fun. This is the best circumstances for work. Ya love what you do and in a positive and warm environment such as this, the best and most creative ideas come forth. It was also thrilling to get to have my dance company, Lumina, there with me. I love getting the opportunity to broaden their horizons as well as share with the world part of my artistic vision that is Lumina. The Desire theme for this show also made a wonderful assignment for exploration. From the audience to the backstage, this was a great evening!”

It seemed like we were corralling people for the bow in no time.  Giddy excitement was in the air as all of the performers took turns taking center stage to receive the crowd.  Soon the excitement would dissipate in favor of attending to more mundane details such as packing up and making sure people got back to their hotel rooms safely.

All in all, I think we were all pretty relieved at how smoothly everything went.  When you are relying on that many details to come together in a somewhat synchronized way, there are infinite things that can potentially go wrong.  You can only do so much to protect yourself against the unknown and try and be prepared for glitches.  At some point, you just have to relinquish yourself to whatever fate the evening hands you.  I think I can speak for all involved that we were immensely pleased with the way that Tales of Desire went over.  We couldn’t have asked for better cast or crew to work with.  Thus far, the raw footage looks incredible.  The editing process is well underway and the first DVD is slated to be released in March, 2009. 

The DVD will be available through The Hollywood Music Center or through your regular bellydance DVD resources.

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Lumina Dance Company
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Aubre
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Princess Farhana
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Nekyia

Damage Control
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Unmata

SheEnedra
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Arish Lam

Steven

Atash Maya

Mira Betz and Liz Strong

Sabrina
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FInale- everyone on stage

 

 

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