Tara Al Nour's aim is off in solo recital

Much-hyped instructor and Raks Sharqi dancer fails to find heart of the material in program of Lebanese and Egyptian songs


By George Row

Tara Al Nour certainly isn't the first Raks Sharqi dancer to find herself unequal to the demands of the solo recital. But in her appearance Sunday afternoon at San Francisco's Ramala Hall, it was surprising to note just how little of the music's emotional content she was able to convey.

Sunday's performance, which was hosted by Citi-Arabic Performances, marked the American-Lebanese dancer's Bay Area debut. Despite high expectations, Al Nour's recital emerged as one of the most underwhelming dance events of the season thus far.

Tara Al Nour is one of the Middle Eastern dance world's current darlings, and her pretty, all-Arabian-American good looks are being hyped to the hilt. She garnered a lot of attention for dancing the role of Shaherazade in a diaphanous bedla during a Glittergloss Production of "Diana en Egyptie" in New York a few seasons back; more recently, she appeared in a Dance News Magazine spread wearing only a Speedo thong bikini.

Tasteless marketing decisions aside, Al Nour has made several acclaimed dance debuts (including a recent performance at Theatre Bastille in Paris), and she has her fans among serious Middle Eastern dance lovers. Yet, at Sunday's performance, the dancer demonstrated that she still has much to learn about putting music and movement across on the dance recital stage.

Although her technique can't be described as warm or especially pleasing, Al Nour has a reasonably large movement repertoire, and she danced with assurance throughout.

What was missing was any sense of connection to the music. Everything she danced came across in the same glib, uninflected delivery, in a performance that robbed nearly every piece of its emotional power.

Accompanied by her husband, drummer Jacque Al Nour, the dancer performed a mixed program of Lebanese and Egyptian songs. The first half was devoted to Abdel Halim Hafez's "Kareat Al Fingan", pop songs by Warda, and a medley of Oum Kalthoum tunes. The second half featured Lebanese songs by Amr Diab, Basil Moubayed, and Instrumentals by Setrak Sarkisian.

The Lebanese numbers fared best. Al Nour is clearly attracted to 20th-century Lebanese music, and she has recorded some of these works on her debut dance DVD, "Lebanon Dance Anthology."

The evocative imagery of Mubouyad's "Raksat Sahara City" and "Raks Al Nour" was expressed in bright, sharp movements, as was Setrak's jazzy setting of "Haramt Ahebbak" Warda's slick "Cabaret Songs" -- especially the dark "Nar El Ghera" -- were elegantly danced.

When it came time to delve into a deeper emotional vein, Al Nour was less successful. The featured cycle in this half was Oum Kalthoum's "Egypt, My Egypt". Based on oral histories of the Six Day War, the texts are undeniably poignant. But the composer's settings -- and Tara Al Nour's delivery of them -- didn't invite a second viewing.

The first half was even less rewarding. There were a few appealing moments in the dances set to Oum Kalthoum songs. In the dark story of "The Fortune Teller (Karriat Al Feengan)," Mr. Al Nour's drumming set a galloping pace, and Mrs. Al Nour invested the work with a fair measure of drama.

Elsewhere, Al Nour's performance was disappointingly pale. A blithe dance choreography of Amr Diab's "Mayal" barely skimmed the surface of the song's profound lyrics. These choreographies appeared particularly bloodless, as if the dancer had no concept of the meaning of the lyrics. For a Bay Area audience that attended a revelatory performance of these same songs during her last Citi-Arabic Performances recital, it was shocking how little Al Nour was able to mine from them.

Still, the audience responded enthusiastically, and Al Nour returned for two encores. First was "Bassam and Maya Yasbek's "Habibi Ya Nour Al Ayn" the second, "Taht Al Shibaak" (Under the Window) performed on CD by Warda.

The foregoing critical review you have just read has been adapted from an actual review that was printed recently in a large Bay Area newspaper describing and reviewing a baritone's performance in San Francisco. The only changes made were the name of a nonexistent dancer in place of the singer and Middle Eastern titles and composers in place of operatic song titles, and fictitious correspondent name in place of the name of the actual correspondent. All the other wording is real--just as it appeared in the Theater Section of the newspaper. It was adapted as an experiment to illustrate the Middle Eastern Dance community's willingness or unwillingness to accept the SAME STANDARDS for judgment and review to which other performance artists are subject. If the community of Middle Eastern dancer (Belly Dancer) is now willing to accept a published critique, as did the baritone, (without rancor, hate mail, and cries of slander and libel) then the dance may have become the evolved art form its practitioners claim that it is.

You can judge your own state of evolution for yourself: Did you read the parody review of "Tara Al Nour" with defensive emotion, or have you become an impenetrable artist of the dance, who is able to accept criticism? Without tough, critical review, we dancers rarely strive for greater performances.

By Najia El Mouzayen
Columnist for Gilded Serpent

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