Gina Chen promotes Live Music for Local Dancers.
by Lisa Chen
Photos: courtesy of Gina Chen
posted June 29, 2010
One of a Kind, One of the Taiwanese Favorites
If you ask Taiwanese bellydancers about their favorite or desired style with one established dancer as an example, probably two of three would answer: Saida from Argentina.
With her beautiful and highly expressive signature stage presence, Saida wins global audiences’ hearts, especially those from South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Saida and Mario Kirlis now plan regular Asia tours on an annual basis to meet the increasing demand.
There are several reasons for her fame in Taiwan. Saida has stunning beauty, wonderful dance movements based on profound training as a ballet dancer, and great understanding of music and rhythms, which are of a dreamy quality many local bellydancers wish to emulate.
When Saida travels abroad to perform and teach, she always requests to bring her own band, which makes her very unique among those foreign instructors and dancers we sponsor for the local community. In Taiwan, particularly, there are not yet well-established Middle Eastern or Arab bands available, and thus dancers usually have very limited access to and experience with live bands for their performances. Saida and the Mario Kirlis Orchestra provided many Taiwanese bellydancers with their first lessons in dancing to a Middle Eastern Arab live band.
Dancer’s Pride and Confidence Lead Her on a Journey to the Nation of Tango
Gina Chen, director of Magic Wonderland Arabe Dance & Bellydance Company from Kaohsiung, South Taiwan, has been the sponsor and major promoter of the Argentine style introduced by Saida and Mario Kirlis beginning in 2008. Academically trained as a professional dancer, Gina became involved with bellydance a few years ago. At that time, she was deeply attracted by the freedom and amazing imagination of fusion bellydance. Meanwhile, Gina was also seeking “an inspiration” for Oriental dance. “I was very naïve then,” Gina recalled during an interview. “With the pride as a professionally-trained dancer in mind, I thought there was no way I could not make it (in Oriental dance).”
She began to look for dancers whose performance styles she liked, and by accident she found Saida, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Frankly speaking, the idea of going to Argentina was probably more intriguing and appealing to me than learning from Saida then,” Gina jokingly confessed. She went to Buenos Aires in 2007 and went to Saida’s Arab dance school. The first thing she learned in this trip was the devotion and respect for different cultures Argentine people showed. For example, in the annual recital of Saida’s dance school, the most popular performance piece is always Dabke, the Arabian line dance. Argentine people are also very crazy about music and every year local Arab musicians and bands produce many new albums on specific themes such as Baladi, Saidi, Bolero and so on.
Musicality is one of the primary qualities Argentine bellydancers look for, which explains why Saida requests to bring her own band to play live music for teaching and performing. The beautiful arrangement by Mario Kirlis also contributes greatly to the popular demand of the Argentine style bellydance. Local dancers like his rich melodic arrangement very much, and consider it a refreshing change from the styles they usually encounter.
Gina said that she was deeply touched and inspired by the elegant presentation incorporated by Saida and Mario Kirlis. “This may not be the common Arabian performance art we thought of as bellydance or Oriental dance in terms of style,” Gina said, “but I really like it.”
Taiwanese audiences and dancers like it too. Gina returned to Taipei, Taiwan, teaching and sharing what she saw and learned in Argentina. She also sponsored Saida and the Mario Kirlis Band to teach and perform in Taiwan. Even though Gina and her dance company are based in Kaohsiung City, the southern capital of Taiwan, she arranged for Saida and the Mario Kirlis band to tour around Kaohsiung, Taichung and Taipei to meet the demands of the local dance community. This is also very unique in Taiwan: not many local sponsors do this since it generates more costs and requires more effort. Taiwan is not a big island and most of the resources are all heavily gathered in major cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung. For those who do not live in or around major cities, it is relatively difficult to access updated information and resources. Some domestic tours, like Gina’s sponsoring Saida and Mario Kirlis, are truly beneficial to local dancers and students.
Mario Kirlis Enchants Taiwan with Live Music All Night Long
This Argentine style also connects the Taiwan bellydance community with the South Korea bellydance community to form a sisterhood bond. Helena of South Korea, as sponsor and major promoter of Saida and Mario Kirlis, works with Gina Chen to co-sponsor their yearly Asia tour. Helena and Gina both attended all the Gala shows in Taipei, Taichung and Seoul.
This year, Mario Kirlis tours with his band and two other outstanding dancers, rather than collaborating with Saida. Antonella and Shanan have both trained with Saida and are now professional bellydancers. They work intensively with the Mario Kirlis band and travel with them. Each year for their Asian tour, Mario Kirlis will present new music pieces and the dancers will interpret those new music pieces with new choreographies.
I planned to attend the Bolero workshop at Taichung since I never really experienced the Bolero style. Mario Kirlis provided a combination of specific music and rhythm types and choreography workshops including baladi, Oriental and Bolero workshop music is not limited by only one rhythm but is rather a type of music consisting of several Arabic and Middle Eastern rhythms. From my understanding, Bolero is a rhythm that is good for veil and taxim. I saw the beautiful Bolero done by the legendary Bobby Farrah’s student Jajouka at “The Journey.” I am very curious and excited to find out how Argentine people would interpret Bolero. In one class, Mario first explained the main Arab rhythmic theme for this choreography. He told students that in the world of Arab music there have been many foreign influences, such as those from Africa and Latin America. For an Argentine version of Bolero, he uses mostly the rhythm called Egyptian Rumba, a Latin-inspired Arab rhythm.
The demonstration dancer for this workshop was Antonella Rodiguez. She was trained by Saida and is now a professional dancer. Most of time during the workshop, Antonella demonstrated a section of choreography first and then broke it down individually with terms indicating dance movements or steps. There are a lot of ballet terms, steps and turns in this fluid-paced choreography. Section after section, students learn this choreography with a live band playing and feel the dialogue between dance and music. Each pose or step answers accurately to the phrases of music.
I have to say it is quite different from any other American or Egyptian style choreography I learned before; you almost always keep your feet into ballet position and body weight is relatively higher. The physical dynamic is much exaggerated. I guess this is the Argentine style bellydance and I could see why local dancers are fond of it, owing to the quality of fluidness and lightness, very outward gestures and wonderful live music.
I also went to the Gala Show at Taichung (as an audience member) and opened for the show at Taipei with my group, Taibo Flower Drum Ensemble – we even jammed together with Matias Mazrum, the promising drummer of his generation. The two Gala Shows were beyond what I had expected: the Mario Kirlis band played through the show and both groups and soloists danced to live music. Again, this is very unique for local audiences and dancers as well since we don’t have much experience with live Arab bands.
As Gina told me backstage: “Once you dance to a live band, you don’t want to go back to canned music. It is so addictive!”
She wishes to show local dancers and audiences the true beauty of dancing to a live band and indeed her goal was successfully achieved in the two Gala Shows.
Korean dancer Rina
Shanan and Matias Hazrum
Shanan and Antonella perform a fan dance
Gina Chen and Kester Guo perform a tango
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