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Taiwan Bellydance: 2 Events Are Perfect Ending for 2010

Han-yun Chang
Han-yun Chang
One of the three Taiwan dancers selected to be BDE dancers

Nefertiti Bellydance Carnival & Bellydance Evolution

by Lisa Chen
posted March 22, 2011
Images courtesy by Violet Lee Arabesque Belly Dance Troupe & Christine Du

December is always a high season for the Taiwan Bellydance community: year-end parties, recitals, and workshops featuring foreigner instructors. 2010 was no exception–but rather an impressive one because of its two events: Nefertiti Bellydance Carnival featuring Randa Kamel and former Bellydance Superstar Jillina, with her new group Bellydance Evolution (BDE).

The two events both had local sponsors and consist of workshops and a performance; in addition, Nefertiti held a dance competition. Nefertiti’s Bellydance Carnival was hosted by Bella Wang, a Taichung-based Bellydancer and instructor. BDE was hosted by Violet Lee and her Arabesque Bellydance Troupe, the first Bellydance group in Taiwan.

Experience the Real Balady Fever with Randa Kamel:

posterNefertiti’s Bellydance Carnival featured the Egyptian Bellydancer Randa Kamel, and several outstanding Bellydancers from other countries:

  • 2007 World Cup Bellydance Champion Simona Minisini from Italy,
  • Nathalie Zarate from Argentina,
  • and Ehab Gadalla from Egypt.

Randa brings her own band with a male singer for her teaching and performance. Although this was not the first time we had had foreigner instructors bring their own band for live music, Randa’s five-person band was the first time for local audiences and dancers to see and hear an authentic performance of Arab/Egyptian Bellydancing and live music.

There is no doubt that live music and an experienced band are the best (as well as the most challenging) for Bellydance performers. Randa and her band gave us one of the best demonstrations of the true beauty of Egyptian Bellydance: a highly expressive art form–a very intimate conversation between dancer and musician as well as between dancer and audience.

I went to see the opening gala show of the whole event series at Taipei. It started with Randa Kamel’s band consisting of keyboard, accordion, frame drum/riqq, and Egyptian tabla. The band played “Alf Layla Wa-Layla”, the song of the legendary Um Kalthoum, and the audience instantly adored the beautiful arrangement. This is the first time I have listened to the live version of this song, and I was thrilled totally by the power and details of live music. Friends who came with me confessed that now they have more ideas and feeling to dance with this song.

Bella’s dance company, Desert Rose, performed with Isis wings, Tango-fusion Bellydance, and Khaleegy. Simona Minisini and Nathalie Zarate both performed choreographed pieces and live drum solos. The two skillful dancers showed their personal styles and the audience loved them. I particularly liked Nathalie’s interpretation to Warda’s “Akdeb Aleek”. Singer Samir sang several highly popular Arabic songs. Even though the audience didn’t have much understanding of lyrics, they felt it in their hearts.

Everyone anticipated Randa performing a grand finale, and she didn’t let the audience down. When she came out, walking around the stage like a queen, the audience shouted loudly to greet her. While she danced to the song the singer performed, we realized she interpreted also the lyrics and emotions of songs with her facial expressions, hand gestures and dance movements. Her dance is more like a lively drama!

In the middle of her dance, Randa stopped to request turning down the stage lighting because “she could not see the audience.” She said she needed to have eye contact with her audience, and then, spontaneously, she would know how to dance.

Indeed, when Randa approached toward us when she was on stage, we felt like she was coming to say something. She danced several different styles, and we were very lucky to watch a Shaaby piece. This is quite new to many local audiences since our local Bellydance community knows something about Oriental dance or modern Egyptian Bellydance and some of them regard this dance form as the only type of Egyptian dance.

Perhaps the best aspect of Randa’s performance is that the audience enjoys so much about the whole presentation–regardless of not understanding the lyrics. Together, Randa and her band show the lively and earthy charm of Egyptian dance performed by a native Egyptian.

At the end of the show, Randa Kamel thanked her audience with a very touching comment: “Thank you; you make me dance!” I think this attitude is why Randa Kamel’s dancing is so widely admired by global fans.

Jillina and Violet
Jillina and Violet Lee shared the applause from audiences at curtain bow
Drummers’ Trio – Christine Du(Taiwan), Ozzy(BDE) and Dickson Cheung(Hong Kong)
Drummers’ Trio – Christine Du (Taiwan), Ozzy (BDE) and Dickson Cheung (Hong Kong)

BDE: Western Theatrical Production of Bellydance:

Two weeks after Randa Kamel won-over local audiences and brought inspiration to the local Bellydance community, Bellydance Evolution greeted Taiwan with a substantially different presentation: a totally Westernized theatrical production.

BDE is led by Jillina, formerly with the Bellydance Superstars and now on her own. BDE tours around the world with a theatrical production called “Immortal Desires.” Fundamentally, it is story-telling through an arrangement of different styles or stage-props.

This is not new for students of local sponsor Violet Lee because Violet’s annual recital or show has been presented as a story-telling theatrical production for years and remains as one of the signature characters of her troupes.

What differentiates BDE from local theatrical presentation of Bellydance is that BDE brings more Arab or Middle East folk dance styles such as Persian dance (by Louchia) and Central Asian dance (by Zurab Dudashvili and Guram Buchukuri) onto stage. In addition, widely-admired young Bellydancers such as Sharon Kihara and Elizabeth Strong were brought here and the audience was able to see a more ontemporary fusion presentation other than the stereotype impression of Tribal Fusion.

While BDE tours, Jillina chooses some local dancers to work with the production, which provides great opportunities for dancers around the world to be trained and work with professional theatrical productions.

All candidates are required to submit a video with the required choreography. The competition is, no doubt, very fierce! For performances at Taipei and Beijing, three Taiwanese dancers were selected: Han-yun Chang, Vicky Wen-yin Lee and Susan Hsiao-san Huang. Together with dancers from German, Mexico, Malaysia, and South Korea, they had been intensively trained and had rehearsals for a week, a wonderful and unforgettable experience.

Ozzy Ashkenazi, a young percussionist touring with BDE, came to Taipei and brought a great chance from drummers from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China jamming together. Christine Du (Taipei), Dickson Cheung (Hong Kong) and Dolphin (Beijing) performed with Ozzy as guest percussionists. He also gave workshops for local drummers and ME percussion students.

BDE offered workshops during the weekend after the show. I signed up for one with Elizabeth Strong. She shared her love and what she learned about Turkish Roma dance with us in class. By the end of class, we had learned background information about Turkish Roma dance and music, and a beautiful Jazz-Turkish Roma fusion choreography.

Two Shows–Two Faces of Contemporary Bellydance Trends:

The two events provided fine examples of contemporary trends in the Bellydance world, at least for the Taiwan Bellydance community.

In a way, the story of Immoral Desires is quite easy to understand: a love story between two couples through some ups and downs, with a happy ending. Stage design, lighting, and music were all professional quality. It was like a huge feast from the first sight; only later on, does one realize it is more like a sampler of everything.

I admire those dancers participating in the production for their talents, skills, and artistic qualities, however, I feel the framework of story-telling compromises dancers from better expressing their love for this dance (or through it). They are acting through dance rather than dancing to the music.

Watching the BDE show is a pleasant experience, and by the end, I realized that I missed Randa Kamel and her wonderful band. I like a “pure” Bellydance performance because it preserves all the qualities I like about Bellydancing: body interaction and interpretation with Arab/ME rhythms and maqams. Dancers should enjoy the music and dance and have direct, in the moment interactions with the audience.

BDE has good intention and is a commercially-successful presentation. Because most of us are not native to the lands of Belly/Oriental dance origins, adapting it into a familiar form to express what we know and learn about Bellydance is an aid. Adaptations are also helpful to audiences, who know nothing about Bellydance or its original cultures, to enjoy watching it.

The two events are like double action, demonstrating two sides of Bellydance to Taiwan audiences and dancers. Both Randa Kamel and BDE brought us great experiences and memories, a perfect ending for 2010.

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