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Gilded Serpent presents...
Bellyqueen vs. Barbary Coast:
It’s an east coast west coast showdown….
Gina Grandi puts on a show of astronomical proportions.
Review and photos by Surreyya

Gina Grandi can put a hell of a show together, but it’s literally the first time I have ever said you got your moneys worth by just attending one half of a show.    I was excited to do this review at first because I had never caught Bellyqueen live, and had only seen the maiden voyage of Barbary, so I was hungry for what they had to dish out, and already stuffed by intermission. There was way too much to see here and hardly enough time to catch a breath in between sets.  This was insane – I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but it is what it is.  That said, if I didn’t select a particular ensemble to cover here, I meant no wrong by it.  It could take a website to fulfill that task.

The show starts with the Barbary Coast Allstars, and their fun and frolicky saloon girl sauciness. Rose Harden, Mira Betz, Susan Frankovich and Elizabeth Strong have a keen eye for clever costuming, and I could swear I spotted some tasty vintage nouveau bits thrown in for good measure. What I liked so much about this group of merry misfits was their ability to entertain as opposed to out drill everyone on the latest technique du jour. Comedic timing, clever costuming and an endless supply of mojo bring about the wonderment of the early settlers of the California gold rush, with a taste of burlesque, and a taunt of influences from around the globe. Throw in equal parts attitude, confidence, femininity and spice, and they take you on a ride through bawdy bar room brawls and thrills of early San Francisco, or really any hip dive of the late 1800s to early 1900s. 

What’s more, as beautiful as these girls are, they really exude earthiness in a raw and traveled way. These aren’t your average cheerleaders or prom queens; these are the girls from down the way that have your back, ready to light up a smoke, do a couple of shots **(more on that later) and exclaim “What!? You gotta problem with that?!” with a velvet moxie.

Enter Bellyqueen - Popping, locking, hip hopping and bellyrolling with an enthusiasm that was wonderfully genuine.  I was reminded of a scene from the film Xanadu where two very different acts were putting their best talents on display only to intersect at apexes of wonder, and I rather enjoyed the integrated mount and dismount of sets between both dance companies.

Bellyqueen was tight; their technique was amazing, but not knowing much about the genre bending they are up to, their performance left me feeling a little more sweet than street.

That may very well be their intention.  Full of energy and apt, this show was off to a very powerful beginning with some incredible performers and definitely kept my interest.  With everyone clad in fabulous costumes, and with such beautiful and interesting people in the mix, you’d have to be a pontiff to not be absorbing the eye candy flying about.

Sets interwove, and ensembles began to break down into a variety of solos, duets, trios and build back up onto full casts towards the end.  Solos of note: Kaeshi performed a very intense and inspiring solo with a beautiful cape and a very eerie and emotional interplay with a white mask, which she donned upon her arrival on the stage.  Drama, depth and a profound message of identity and introspection are what I retained.  Very powerful, I felt as though Kaeshi was fighting an internal struggle or reaching a very personal  turning point somehow, and releasing that message to the audience.

Mira Betz donned an amazing gunmetal costume with strategically placed mesh (…ahem) and exuded an otherworldly confidence and intrigue – enough to make me wonder if Alfonse Mucha was sketching her somewhere in the audience.

Amar was lovely and graceful as always and wonderfully costumed for her routines.  It was a little disappointing to not see Amar in more of the troupe choreographies – she really rounds out the energy and I wanted to see her dance more.

A Rose by any other name than Harden would not be as sweet.  I don’t know many other dancers I can describe as solid and tough while soft and feminine at the same time.  Rose just has that rock-solid old-school foundation of craft while still being able to emote ever changing and emerging styles.  I wish I knew her secret – she is a true pioneer.

I don’t have the real estate on this site to go on and on – some last bits, I really enjoyed Bellyqueen’s Cane dance – not a fan of the cane in particular, they made it exciting and more than just a cutesy show of pet tricks – it was truly fun and engaging.  The carousel number where each dancer was donned in caricature (mime, clown, etc.) was adorable, and each member displayed a unique choreography to their character as they rotated like an old carnival machine.  Eleshiva did a very energetic and athletic solo finished with a Turkish drop that literally made me grab my knees to see if they were still there.  Mira Betz and Liz Strong performed a fun gag that seemed like to early 1900 guys/sailors in a machismo competition. Daring each other in a show of muscles and bravado, they even finished with a drinking contest sporting 2 shot glasses and a bottle of  *Maker’s Mark.  Awesome.  The only flaw here was I couldn’t understand why oh why they chose such swill – next time girls, round up some raki, arak or ouzo, and I’ll come up and do a shot with you.

Bellyqueen of New York

Barbary Coast Allstars

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