A Celebration of Music and Dance
Aubre Hill, producer
Report by Heather Shoopman
Photos by Joe Foley and Kimia
posted April 21, 2014
“Dancing In The Sunset ~ A Celebration of Maghreb Music and Dance” held February 1, 2014 at the Live Arts LA Theater in Los Angeles, California
Aubre Hill is known for her involvement in dance education; she is passionate about world dance in particular, and is a resource for the belly dance family tree. I was excited to learn that she had put together a show featuring dances of the Maghreb, the region of Northwest Africa west of Egypt known more generally as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The show was held at Los Angeles Live Arts, which is a beautiful, yet simple and elegant space in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of LA. It boasts floor to ceiling black velvet curtains and a big, beautiful black wooden dance floor that places the audience on the same level as the dancers.
The show opened with Qabila Folk Dance Company, directed by Aubre, performing a Moroccan Shikhat piece.
The Shikhat women are a dichotomy; although they are known for performing at various public festivities such as weddings and births in Western Algeria and Morocco, they are socially marginalized because they do not hide that they are dancers in their private lives.
This particular performance presented ten dancers in vibrant orange and red dresses, floating along the floor, performing various pelvic circles and tilts. They moved gracefully along through sassy lines and pleasing angular formations. Their hypnotic hair swinging, much color and smiles lit up faces in the audience!
Next, Olu performed a dance originated by the Ouled Nail people of the mountains of Algeria. It was enchanting, authentic, and fun! Keeping the energy up with staccato hip and chest accents, quick hand movements and engaging smiles; she also charmed the audience with the flirty use of her scarf.
Marque Bissell and Esteban Vega did a traditional dance of the Haha, a tribe of Berber people in northwest Morocco. This is traditionally a 6/8 rhythm drum solo performed with the feet. Their stomping, clapping and smiling had a strongly captivating effect and was quite adorable. I was all smiles about this show! Its lineup had an easy balance of soloists and groups, and male dancers.
Marque Bissell and Esteban Vega
Devilla and Isis Siren Sekhmet rocked an extremely impressive “Tunisian Shaba Dance” (“Water Pot Dance”). The Pot Dance is from southern Tunisia, and celebrates the main industry of the area: pottery. It depicts women gracefully returning from the well, balancing the water pots on their heads.
I was able to talk with Devilla after the show to gain a bit of insight to this special piece. Apparently, she searched high and low for the water pots, all the while rehearsing, using juice bottles filled with pennies and sand. In the end, they used the juice bottles painted gold. They made their own traditional Milaya, which is a large piece of fabric draped around the body to form a dress, out of a bolt of fabric that Devilla had been gifted years ago. They even made the khlal pins that traditionally hold the Milaya in place from pieces found at a local craft store. These ladies dance together often, and their happiness shows!
Rosa Rojas and Company performed a captivating “Guedra Dance” using their own voices and bodies to create the sound. There is something hauntingly personal in a performance with voice. “The Guedra Dance” is a joyful trance dance also known as the “Tuareg Blessing Dance”. The person in trance uses her hands to translate the energy of the sounds, moving her body to-and-fro in a rhythmic motion. The supporters chant and clap, seated around her as she sways and flicks her hands. The intense movements of the dancer represent the many emotions associated with a ritual of blessing to family, the community and God.
Rosa does guedra
Aubre Hill gave a dynamic solo performance to “Lamma Badda”, a Sama’i 10/8 rhythm reminiscent of the Andalusian time period in early medieval Spain.
She wore a costume that symbolized every day clothing.
Dancing and twirling about the stage passionately, she embodied the poetry of the song quite beautifully. (Because I am a tribal fusion nerd, I really enjoyed this next number, and I squealed when I saw their costumes.) They wore big pantaloons of gold lace with a maroon under-color. Their custom bras and belts (some created by the members themselves and a few Medina Maitreya pieces) were the perfect blend of glitter and metal. They were the quintessential gold sparkly goddess belly dancers with decorated faces and heads.
Red Moon Bellydance, directed by Jenn Aguilar and choreographed by Meryl Jensen, performed an exciting number with an American Tribal Style (ATS) base and elements of Tunisian and Egyptian bellydance. Aubre included them in the show because of their ATS based aesthetic, as the form itself is a fusion of dance from across the so-called gypsy trail, including the Maghreb.
Marque Bissell performed a traditional Moroccan Tray Dance. The tray holds a tea set, as tea is an art form and tradition in Morocco.
In the U.S. this dance was made famous by the late well-loved dancer, John Compton.
Marque’s piece was happy and playful. He included the exciting (and difficult) floor turnovers and ended with spins. I think I may have held my breath. How did he do that?
Lumina, under the direction of Aubre Hill, gave a devotional piece to a traditional Berber Sufi song re-composed by a local modern artist. Their costumes were simple black dresses and their message was finding spirituality in everyday lives. They started with movements reminiscent of everyday tasks into dancing not characterized by hip work. This strong group allowed solo time for each artist while the others formed a supporting chorus. They moved and spun around each other creating a little scene, infusing bliss into familiar movements.
Amel Tafsout and Fela
In the the grand finale, Amel Tafsout was enchanting. She entered dressed in red and floated across the floor with quick hand and foot movements. Amel’s piece, called “TawHeed” (Oneness), was about reconnecting with oneself and finding one’s own strength. Her piece was an interpretation of the beauty and strength of her female ancestors and of women in general. Her style is based in dance of the Maghreb, yet is infused with personal and unique experience. She used two emotional pieces of Algerian music, and to end her set, her friend, Fela, played the drum for her dance. The camaraderie between the two of them was enchanting.
This show had the most amazing curtain call I have ever seen! Live drummers from studio IQAAT were on hand to serenade the dancers as they took their bows. The entire evening ended on a high note: they basked in community as their audience came forward to partake in an open dance floor. The entire evening was a breath of fresh air–an evening that oozed with Middle Eastern artistic culture.
Ready for more?
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…the Maghreb consists of many Sufi-brotherhoods, often recognized and set through their Zawiyas and initiations. Sufis have always worked toward reform through advice and education of the individual and internal purification through providing a model and example of tolerance, solidarity, brotherhood and selflessness removed from anything that would give a bad image of Islam.
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His seminar emphasizes the cultural roots and context of this dance form; it is a form that is experiencing a disconnect as more dancers are entering the community through fusion and often not developing an understanding of its historical origins. Each seminar is themed to focus on a variety of elements within the culture, dance, and music of the Arab world.
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Working with Jillina for the last six years or so, I’ve been a fly on the wall for a lot of this transition. I’ve been there for marathon rehearsal weeks, brainstorming sessions, the stress of taking a show on the road, the flops, and the standing ovations. Español!
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Here in the Bay Area, so many excellent instructors make appearances that I always feel I need to choose carefully to make the most of my workshop budget. But when I heard that Yasmin Henkesh was coming to give a daylong workshop on zar, I knew right off that this was one I wouldn’t want to miss – how often do most of us get a chance for an in-depth look at this fascinating ritual?
As artists of an often misunderstood dance, we dancers understand that everything we present publicly reflects back upon us as individuals, upon bellydance as an art form, and by extension, the Middle Eastern culture. When presenting these facets in the most favorable light to other dancers or the general public, good design becomes paramount because it is the most unmistakable way to demonstrate our worth.
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You are not going to like what you are about to read. But if you are performing publicly to music you do not own, for your own protection, please keep reading. Every professional dancer should know at least the basics of music publishing law, particularly if she wants to appear in an audio-visual production destined for commercial distribution.
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