Gilded Serpent presents...

Jillina Advances Bellydance Theatre

Kaeshi and mask

A Review of Jillina’s Bellydance Evolution

by Kristina Nekyia
photos by Carl Sermon (more soon!)
posted January , 2010

Bellydance Evolution is a full-length theatrical event directed by dancer and choreographer Jillina, ushering belly dance into the world of dance theater. The production is a melding of narrative with a wide variety of traditional and cutting-edge Middle Eastern dance and music. I saw the dress rehearsal of Bellydance Evolution when it debuted in Glendale, California in August, 2009.

The performance tells a love story featuring characters named after figures from Greek mythology. The plot itself is unrelated to actual Greek myth, however it contained many of the Greek’s favorite themes including betrayal, jealousy, underworld journeys, and redemption.

While the storyline is at times difficult to follow in its twists and turns, the clear archetypes portrayed by each character made the scenes enjoyable even if you miss out on some of the more intricate subplots.

As with ballet and other forms of dance theater, the plot of Bellydance Evolution is told entirely through movement. At times it feels as though a pre-existing choreography was pressed into service in a particular scene, but for the most part the dance does tell a story, and the dance is excellent.

The great strength of Bellydance Evolution is the artistry, both in its quality and diversity.

Guys fight sometimesI see it as a great credit to Jillina that she collaborated with a number of dancers to develop the show, rather than setting herself as the sole choreographer and star. The guest artists, all highly skilled, vary in their aesthetic, background, and style. This makes each scene refreshing, at times surprising, as the audience tours contemporary belly dance in all its forms. A few of the notable moments include a sinister masked dance choreographed by and featuring Kaeshi of Bellyqueen in her signature angular, pop and lock style; a sword solo from Elizabeth Strong drawing on her extensive study of Turkish Rom dancing and intense athleticism; a sensuous fan dance around the luscious Louchia as Aphrodite; and a haunting portrayal of the Oracle from the long, willowy Elayssa that gave me chills.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the presence of two men in the cast. Zurab Dudashvili and Gia Mikela were born in the republic of Georgia where they performed in the Georgia State Dance Company. They execute wildly acrobatic, fierce, masculine dancing and sword fighting, including some astonishing leaps and knee spins. Not only were they captivating in their own right, but they provided a contrast to the unadulterated femininity that is belly dance.

The tension and harmony between masculine and feminine made each form more exciting to watch.

Within this great diversity, BDE was still a belly dance show. Jillina’s many years of expertise and her devotion to and mastery of the art form are apparent throughout. Much of the group choreography is her creation, featuring tradition props such as veils, fans, zils, and canes. The chorus dancers are tight, precise, gorgeous, and well rehearsed, though I did occasionally glimpse the twitchy smile and rigid neck of a nervous performer.

Jillina’s two solos are both flawless.

I was particularly enraptured by her drum solo with master drummers Donovan and Ozzy during which she performed cane dancing and a perfect, staccato turn while standing on the head of a doumbek. That alone is worth the price of admission. I loved her interactions with the drummers as well, and I hold out hope that down the line the entire production could be set to live music.

My only real criticism of the show is the same criticism I have for the vast majority of shows, including, at times, my own. It is too long. Towards the end the plot seemed to fall away after the lovers were reunited, and all of a sudden we were watching another belly dance showcase. Each of the soloists emerged to perform another solo, sandwiched by group numbers, and I found myself slightly confused. The dance itself was still top notch, but I was less enraptured because I was too busy trying to figure out if the story was still unfolding, or if this was some kind of encore.

Often as artists we become a bit too enamored with our creations and struggle with editing out what is unnecessary. In the case of BDE, I felt that a heavier hand was needed towards the end.

The lengthy encore not withstanding, I left Bellydance Evolution feeling uplifted and inspired. It is the kind of show that I would like to see more often: high production value, really good lighting, collaboration between dance styles, talented and professional artists, and a foray into the world of integrated, narrative-based theater. Jillina has once again proved her ability to produce a world-class event and I encourage dancers and dance enthusiasts everywhere to witness this next step in the evolution of bellydance.

Thanking the Musicians

 

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