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Middle Eastern Dance Theater:


Erotic Chantal and Mythogical Ishtar Reviews

by Joette
posted April 7, 2009

IshtarNot every dancing community is successful or productive. Sometimes the challenges of life in the global theatre requires consciously and unconsciously borrowing instruments and other aesthetics of world art to communicate stories and embody narrative. I have often asked myself how one can create a Middle Eastern production worthy of the contempory theatre stage that encompasses the spirit, emotions, and beauty of Middle Eastern culture without creating a hodge-podge of random song and dance. So often in creating such a production much of the culture is removed for Western audiences in order to provide pure entertainment to fit this audience’s short attention span. Two theatrical presentations that fit this type of production are Descent of Ishtar and Chantal-Live at the Pyramids. Innovation is a key word in describing both of these productions. Let’s start with Yasmina Ramzy and Arabesque Dance Company in Descent of Ishtar.

Yasmina Ramzy with help from her company, Arabesque Dance Company, transformed the modern stage to embrace a mythogical figure, Ishtar, in Descent of Ishtar. What does a mythical figure Ishtar have to do with belly dance? Absolutely nothing. Ramzey creatively uses the zaar, tammoura, modern floor work and belly dance movement to tell a story of —not the traditional fable— but one of enlightenment.

For those of you who don’t know but the traditional well-known myth of Ishtar concerns her descent to the underworld and sacrifice of her husband Tammuz. Here is some additional history for you: In this story, Ishtar decided to visit the Underworld, which was ruled by her sister Ereshkigal, perhaps to seize power there. Before departing, she instructed her follower Ninshubur to seek the help of the gods if she did not return. To reach the underworld, Ishtar had to pass through seven gates and remove a symbol of her power—such as an article of clothing or a piece of jewelry—at each one. At the last gate, the goddess, naked and deprived of all her powers, met her sister Ereshkigal, who announced that Ishtar must die. She died immediately, and her corpse was hung on a stake. Meanwhile, the god Enki learned from Ninshubur that Ishtar was missing and sent two messengers who restored her to life. However, in order to leave the underworld, Ishtar had to substitute another body for her own. The goddess offered her young husband, Tammuz, to take her place. Supposedly, this tale of death and rebirth was associated with fertility and linked to the seasons and agricultural cycles.

Ramzy’s version is more about emotions, memory, ego, will, human spirituality, and one red veil. Her character visits the seven worlds and is greeted by dancers of many forms. The whole production is deep, dramatic, and emphasizing the underworld feel with modern dance kinetics. Mermaids, Sufi twirls, African dancers, maidens, and one colorful Ramzy make up the cast of highly skilled performers.

Ramzy is an exciting choreographer who understands the importance of theatrics both on and off stage.This is evident in many aspects of this production including lighting, set designing, marketing, and post-production.

On the other hand, one aspect I found somewhat lacking was the choice of a few costumes. If the costumes are modern, why shouldn’t the movement match? Is it necessary to place the performer’s body in clothing that does not accurately give the body the design movement it deserves? Red sports bras and spandex shorts on undulating bodies was distracting to the flow of movement and positioned the body as an objectified gendered body part. Perhaps a (one piece) unitard would have allowed one’s eye to flow with the graceful body. In this instance, Ramzy saves a dramatic emotionally filled scene when she enters wearing a flowing costume of vivid color perfectly matched to Ishtar’s anguish and death. All of a sudden the viewer forgets body parts and is taken by Ramzy’s passion of whirling dance. I agree that Descent of Ishtar is instrumental in elevating Middle Eastern dance by blending with modern dance to create an ethereal and hypnotic effect. This sixty-minute production is worthy of purchase and holding on to it as a collectors piece is recommended. Descent of Ishtar originally premiered April 1998 in Toronto and continues to be hailed as an example of profound and consummate professionalism. So stop and get your popcorn, relax and let the Arabesque Dance Company transfer you into the symbolic power of the seducing story of the Descent of Ishtar.

Rating is 3 1/2 zills.
3 1/2 zill rating

chantelEvery day, communities embrace harmonises tones through dance and song. Chantal’s – Live at the Pyramids encompasses love and peace as a central theme to her large capacity crowd performed at the Great Pyramids of Giza in September 2007. International singer, songwriter, and performer Chantal Chamandy with the latest release of her album, Beledi, set the stage in a historic live event as it is the first live concert to ever be filmed at the pyramids for international TV broadcast. The cast included international dancers, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, the Not Alone Society, a host of un-none belly dancers, producers, directors, and other artist to produce this one of a kind song and dance of blending old with new. The concert features eighteen songs that include dancers, elaborate backdrops and highly orchestrated music. With the Sphinx and the pyramids in swirling smoke and laser lights in the background, it was a picturesque backdrop that seemed unrealistic on video.

Chantal had the glamour of a Parisian fashion show, the hype of the Super Bowl half-time show, and the presentation of the Grammy Awards all in one. I’m not sure if I even noticed her voice until the dance, lights, music, and camera-to-camera bouncing, toned down, and focused on her message of peace and love.

Chantal is an extremely talented artist that sings lyrical poetry in English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Italian languages. Beautiful exquisite songs with music highlight this enchanting video. Thematic, provocative, impure, erotic fantasy, solitary and even a hint of Karma Sutra encompass this production. King Tut would defiantly (as comedian Steve Martin says) “get a little funky” after watching Chantal dance and sing around her half nude modern dancers. In the song "Crazy", Chantal creates an atmosphere of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Britney Spears “hot girl” mentality. Dancers were dressed in red/black rags ripped up like ghouls and were somewhat distracting in their movement in respect to the beautiful Chantal. I thought for one movement that Britney Spears might actually just jump out of the modern dancer’s circle of erotic movement that included thrusting pelvic hips. In the same number the male dancers wrap Chantal in a black shiny material to be unwrapped toward the end of the song by a striking handsome young man dressed in white. The stranger in white moves seductively around Chantal then dances like a crazed lover as he relieves her of the bondage.

This is where I had to stop and get a drink of water. Thrusting pelvises on the pyramids was wild and not at all the way had I remembered the pyramids!

Another example of this many-themed fantasy production is Chantal’s staging of her popular song ";Helwa ya Baladi.” The scene starts with a percussion section of drummers entering to a cross between Stomp and the retired local militia of long ago. The drummers were dressed in a black military type uniform with fez hats of red. Was this a play off of the Americanized use of the marching band? Maybe. But wait it gets better! Yes, the gospel choir enters on the last song of the night. Oh!…and one more thing, bring back the belly dancers to stand and perform hip drops in the background. It was a perfect blend of Hollywood, Hip Hop, and Westernized entertainment. So what happened to the blend of cultures in front of the great pyramids that represent the great Egyptian people? Well, it’s just in the music, not the production. If you want to see a modern American show with great international music than this video is for you. If you’re looking for belly dancing, don’t bother; you’re wasting your time. Overall, the production was a beautiful undertaking and its rating is 3 zills.

3 zil rating

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