Review by Dondi
Photos from Feb 3rd show in San Rafael by Lynette
is February 1, 2006 and I am sitting in a beautiful venue thoroughly
enjoying the “Belly Dance Superstars” show in San Diego at the
Joan Kroc Theatre for the Performing Arts. I toured
as one of the star performers with the group around the US, Canada,
Spain, Germany, Belgium, France, England, Italy and Holland.
Now I get to watch! I am delighting in the high energy
dancing, smorgasbord of costumes and dynamic music. The
opening number has all the performers that most people have only
seen through video and photos. And here they are right in
front of us, shaking, swirling and smiling! The audience
is going crazy!
something is missing. Are the dancers tired? Bored?
There is a spark that is gone, though the grace and beauty of
the dancers almost disguises it.
Am I jaded
because I was part of the company for so long? Am I unable
to view the show from unbiased lenses? How I yearn to have
virgin eyes, seeing belly dance for the first time. But I
knew then what I know now, and what I recently heard someone so
wisely quote, “Dance steps are cheap~ it’s the joy and spirit
that are priceless.” Tonight I am not feeling that
joy and spirit from the dancers. There are smiles on their
faces, but the smiles seem false.
There are people
in this audience who get to experience belly dance for their first
time here tonight and, no doubt, they will feel this is one of
the finest shows they have ever seen in their lives. But
what about the rest of us? What about those of us who are
dancers, belly dancers, theatre goers, and dance enthusiasts?
Is this show that good? From several people
I spoke to at intermission, my opinion was confirmed. It
was worth the ticket price to see the show, but we expected
I return to my seat I realize what is missing: Support.
The dancers are working very hard and the costumes alone are
worth paying $40 to see. But the backdrop is stale, the
lighting is average and the show has not risen to the triumphant
title of “Raks Carnivale.”
needs good support in lighting, stage management (instead of a
dumpy, overweight stage hand dressed in “grubbies” moving microphones
and Issam’s chair), shifting backdrops and changes of atmosphere.
Where was Adore (or anyone) flipping through
the air? Where was Kaeshi with her
tray of lit candles or anyone balancing anything besides a stick
for 30 seconds? Where were the snake dancers? The
silk ribbons? The fire poi? The cover of the program
is influenced by masks, so where was the mask dance? These
are all elements of “cutting edge” modern belly dance today that
one expects to see in a show called “Raks Carnivale.”
I even thought that someone might recreate a scene from the 1892
World's Faire with “Little Egypt” since it would be very apropos
of a carnival. Instead, this was a very similar show to
the ones that BDSS have performed in the past, with a less interesting
set and mood. The title of this show should be, “Bellydance
Superstars~ Modern Cabaret and Tribal, with a smattering of some
other stuff that doesn’t really fit.” What is
unfortunate is that Raks Carnivale is an average show with above
average dancers. The above average belly dancers are working
like fiends to carry a two-hour production with nothing to support
their artistic, bold and talented efforts. Is this why I
sense false smiles? A couple of the “Desert Roses” have
lost their smiles altogether.
is a brilliant choreographer~ a true master, with a visionary
appeal. I always relish watching her formations and theatrical
blocking, which was especially exciting in the opening number,
“Ancient Ruins.” The closing piece, “Raks Carnivale” is
also good and I appreciate the choreographic complexity.
But except for Stevie's dancing on stilts,
it is reminiscent of other numbers and not a carnival. The
closing piece should shake the roof off the house and it doesn’t.
Is it because Jillina has a specific dance style that is limited
to “Modern Egyptian Cabaret, Jillina Style?” It is not fused
with any other dance styles to give it a little spice and when
she does try to fuse it, it seems forced. Jillina’s style
is not “A little bit of Turkish, a little bit of Lebanese, a little
bit of new style, a little bit of old style, a little bit of mystery.”
It is simply, “Modern Egyptian Cabaret, Jillina Style.”
And, for that, it is fabulous. However, when every single
dancer in every group number (except for the Tribal) starts looking
like a bunch of Jillinas, the vision is lost. And I guess
I cannot even exclude the Tribal anymore, since Rachel
Brice, too, is starting to do Jillina-style hands
and arms. Jillina is at the top of her field…a command performer,
so why is it bad if the company resembles her? After
all, she is the choreographer of the show. It is bad because
a choreographer of The Belly Dance Superstars needs to be able
to step aside and allow the dancers to bring forth their own style
~ the style that made them worthy of being Superstars in the first
place. Otherwise, they should just be a part of Jillina’s
Sahlala Dancers~ her own troupe in Los Angeles.
In the past
I have had friends and family tell me, “We don’t know the difference
between the Desert Roses and the Superstars.” So, at this
San Diego show I looked for the differences. And, in my
opinion, here they are:
worked for me and, I believe, the rest of the audience in Raks Carnivale:
There is a calm, powerful air about the Superstars that the
“Roses” don’t always have.
Rachel Brice was the “Superstar Tribal Dancer” at this show
and the only “Tribal” dancer who didn’t morph into that weird
“Tribal Quasimodo” stance. I guess it is because
the Tribal dancers often hold the carriage of their arms so
high that they start to raise their shoulders, concave their
chests and resemble hunchbacks. I have seen this more
and more lately. Likewise with the cabaret performers~
a relaxed, solid, upright posture is key. Bozenka
and Sonia were perfect role models for good posture on this
evening. Something for me to emulate…
The “Superstars” were always “on,” even in group pieces.
The Desert Roses were “on” most of the time but sometimes seemed
sloppy. But, then again, how can I blame them? I
know that they are the hardest workers in the show.
the “Superstars” are resting back stage on their “off numbers”
the “Roses” are still dancing, rushing, changing and remembering
intricate dance steps for almost every piece. They
practice and drill more than all the “Superstars” put together.
Could they be over-practiced?
Is it humanly
possible to stay “on” for every moment when working as hard
as they do with choreography, quick changes, and dancing,
I missed from shows in the past:
dancers wearing harem pants and playing zills.
Nice way to add some variety…the saturation of “Urban
Tribal” pops and locks needed a little old school to mix it
Jayna and Stevie accompanying Petite Jamilla and her quadruple
veil. “Behind the Veil” was my favorite piece in the
show. At first I was a little put off seeing young Belly
Dance Superstars whirling, knowing that this was for entertainment,
which whirling is not. Whirling is done specifically for
the experience of a union with God. I have seen whirlers
in Turkey and Egypt and know that this is a high form of meditation
and spiritualism. But this piece works!
The blocking would work better for the whirlers to be upstage,
with Petite Jamilla
downstage center, but all three women were strong. I have
never seen female whirlers but I know they exist. It is
quite a controversy in Turkey today. The piece is phenomenal,
and the music is appropriate. Petite Jamilla flawlessly
becomes one with the veils while Jayna and Stevie whirl as if
they are on clouds. As a side note, legitimate whirlers
follow the teachings of the 13th century poet and
mystic Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi. Rumi (1207-1273)
rejected orthodox Islamic teachings and saw women and men as
equals. I like to think that Rumi would like to see women whirling
and would be proud of this piece.
keen ability to mix strong, “old style” with bold, modern technique.
She retains being Ansuya in this show. This is a very
good thing and a breath of fresh air.
drum solo~ a wonderful community feeling. I would
love to see the rest of the cast on stage with tambourines,
zills and percussion instruments. What a perfect part
of the show (just before intermission) for the audience to embrace
the whole cast and highlight a few of the dancers.
Brice dancing “down stage” to the lip of the stage
and penetrating the audience in her solo. Very effective.
- The Raks
Assaya performers entering through the audience.
Comfort.” A fantastic piece with a dynamic entrance
on opposing sides of the stage. This routine was not predictable
like so much Tribal is, and that is why it shone.
When I worked with Sonia for over a year, I never really had
the opportunity to see her dance. I just thought, “She’s
the beautiful one.” Her Belly Dancing is dreamy.
If a person can get over the addiction of “wham, bam,
give it all to me in the first 20 seconds” type of performing,
they will love Sonia. Though I feel she is overexposed
in the show (Ansuya and Rachel know that less is more),
I drank up every minute of her velvety, satin style.
off-stage focus. When each dancer in the
group was looking in a different direction with a different
feeling on her face, it became confusing. When all the
dancers were in synch and all smiling, or all serious, or all
looking to the right or all looking to the left, the unity was
His smile is infectious and his energy excites the audience.
Of course he is one of the best tabla players in the world.
There is never too much Issam.
I would like to see more musicians.
If Miles Copeland really wants to compete with the
big boys, he needs more musicians and not Issam drumming
to canned music.
the one part of Issam’s involvement that I think brought him
down. He should never be playing with a CD. He
is a “stand alone” drummer or a drummer for other musicians
to collaborate with.
drum solo with Issam. She truly was on reciprocal
fire with Issam’s tabla playing and, in my opinion, together
they had the most exciting and skilled drum solo in the history
of the show.
Queen~ or any strong duo.
Kihara and Mardi Love.
It was a highlight of Jillina’s drum solo and has been modified
so it’s almost non-existant. If the dresses are awkward
for a drum solo, the “Roses” can enter with them and then take
them off “Khaleegy style” during the rhythms.
“Indian Bollywood” piece. If you never saw it,
you missed one of Jilllina’s greatest choreographies of all
time. I know it could be kept in the show and it would
never become old or boring. It had incredibly complicated
foot and hand work, fabulous costuming, fun facial expressions,
perfect music (“Narin Narin” by Hisham Abbas)
and choreography fit for an award.
my opinion, what didn’t work in the show:
white lights on the dancers. There should always
be an amber gel in a stage light when there are very white women
showing a lot of skin. Because there was a warm hue on
the Tribal dancers, their skin appeared more attractive and
tattoos. To be the only Desert Rose showing huge tattoos
is distracting and not “glamorous” which is what the cabaret
image is in this show. Although if she were featured as
a “Superstar” (which she should be) maybe she could get away
handing Petite Jamilla her veils. Petite Jamilla should
have them wrapped on her body…she is skilled enough to do this
and although I think Georgianne is great in the show and the
audience loves her smile, here she is distracting.
- I am a big
fan of “cut-outs” and Jillina definitely has
the body to do them justice. But when Jillina had cut-outs
on her crotch and butt crack, they were misrepresenting, even
if they weren’t see-through.
thinnest belly dancers “en masse” that I have ever
seen. They are skinnier now than ever and the flesh just
doesn’t shake the same. They could all gain 10 lbs apiece
and have nothing to worry about. Jillina and Bozenka,
especially, have fantastic hips and curves with a few added
pounds. Bozenka’s tummy in particular doesn’t ripple and
vibrate the same as when she had more weight on it.
Polynesian piece. It
never has worked for me and has always been out of place.
It is less dynamic now than ever.
I understand Miles Copeland’s insistence on why it should be
in the show and read in the program about the “Polynesian-influenced”
number. But, what makes it “influenced” and not legitimate?
Is it because it is not highly skilled Polynesian dancing?
Because the costumes are plain? Because it is a shallow
interpretation of Polynesian dance? I am not sure, but
if Miles wants to show a link between Polynesian and Middle
Eastern Dance because of the hip movements, he needs to do more
than throw an average Polynesian number in. It would yield
more clarity to also include dances of Africa, Spain and Brazil
which all have strong hip movements. Perhaps this could
be done in a “pastiche” piece with dancers flowing in and out.
Perhaps this could be a “round the world” piece and include
the Latin number, “Baila Belly” which doesn’t work well on its
own. As I listened to other audience members, I overheard
that Polynesian didn’t work for them, either.
- Jayna and
Stevie wearing their hair down in the whirling piece.
For some added variety and minimalism for whirling, I
would have liked to see it put up.
- The unsightly
black duct tape around the bottom of Stevie’s stilts
that looked more “ missing-a-limb-pirate” than glamorous dancer.
She is a belly dancer - hasn’t she heard of gold sparkly stuff?
Latin piece. The concept was perfect. But
it reminded me of when I saw “Aladdin” at Disneyland~ the dancing
wasn’t real, the costumes were a bit K-Mart and though it pleased
the “under 10” crowd, to me it was a sad knock-off of real Arabia
and all of its magic. In this piece the Tribal dancers
try to fuse Flamenco into their costuming and steps. Ugh.
The Can Can boots are strange and so is the unskilled Flamenco
footwork and floureas. Jillina attempts Samba, and Sonia
and Bozenka throw in some light Salsa? Or is it Rumba?
I cannot tell because it is rather watered down. They
are both of Latin descent, so why does it look so “vanilla?”
And, why does Bozenka do Arabic hand clapping with a flat palm
as opposed to the Latin hand clapping (Toque De Palmas) with
a curved palm and obviously different sound, look and culture.
Are they representing Brazil? Spain? Mexico?
Cuba? The Middle East, which is also thrown in? Aye, yai,
yai! Not sure, and it seems that the “Roses” aren’t either.
Could they be thinking, “This is a lame piece…” That
was the look on their faces while wearing those costumes that
resembled Zambra Mora style but lacked the fabric and richness
of true Zambra. But, again, the concept of this piece
is perfect, especially for a show of this magnitude. I
would like to see some REAL Latin dancing with REAL Latin attitude
and saucy, seductive, steamy steps which are so reminiscent
of Latin style. I
think the performers have it in them and this is a GREAT aspect
for the show to focus on, especially if they had some hot Latin
male dancers partnering the Superstars.
It worked in “Riverdance” because Michael Flatley hired
a REAL Flamenco dancer. He didn’t make his Irish step dancers
pretend they were Spanish dancers.
He looked fine but he would look radiant if he wore colors to
match the dancers. He has a drum solo with Sonia and Jillina~
he could wear the colors they have chosen for their costumes.
Everything would be more cohesive.
narration at the end of the show. This is an
important aspect of the show and should be kept in. It
is informative and fun and gives the audience a personal connection
to the dancers. However, Jillina is inexperienced in public
speaking and this is obvious when her voice raises to a high
pitch and it sounds as if she is yelling. Additionally,
I want to know more about the dancers than, “Colleen is ridiculously
good looking.” We can see that for ourselves. It
is wonderful to know that Jayna and Ansuya are second-generation
belly dancers but how about saying, “Daughter of the well-known
dancer Marta Schill” or “Daughter of Jenaeni
Rathor.” It would add more credibility to the
show. “Inside jokes” like “Tribal Town” are fun for me
to hear because I toured with the company, but they should be
kept out of the narrative~ this is a time to draw the crowd
in, not alienate them.
I would like to see in BDSS and what people will come to expect:
Professional, voice-over narration between the pieces telling
us what the pieces are and what they mean. In other words
something like, “Tribal style has been birthed in modern day America
from the traditional dances and clothing of the Middle East.”
One or two lines is all it would take to add a whole other level
to this show and one that is screaming to be there for people
who know nothing about the dance. Before the Latin piece,
a voice can come over the speakers about how Latin dances are
connected to the Middle East. Any trained dancer knows how
much influence Flamenco has had from Belly Dance and how Zambra
Mora and Belly Dance intertwine. But the average person
Lastly, I read the beautiful, glossy color program which is well
worth the $3 price (which could be twice as expensive) and is
a real collector’s item. But I was dismayed when the editorial
by Miles stated, “We have never pretended to be traditionalists.
This is not a 'folk show.'” Miles doesn’t have to pretend
or take on the label of “folk show” to add some exciting Turkish,
traditional “American Tribal Style,” (as opposed to Urban/Modern
Tribal) or “old style" Belly Dance. In fact, he could throw
in some adorable Melaya Lef (Colleen and Petite Jamilla)
and group Debke (Ansuya can choreograph some of the sexiest female
Debke I have ever seen) and this would take him closer to remaining
true to the essence of Middle Eastern Dance, which he says he
wants to do. Miles writes, “We see Belly Dance as
greater than a mere narrow cultural expression of one land.”
Huh? One land? I looked at a map and can count at
least 10 countries that claim Middle Eastern Dance has its roots
in their land. There are a handful of others where it has
flourished. “Narrow cultural expression…”
reason Belly Dance is so popular for women all over the world
is because it is a testament to beautiful, alluring, exciting,
exotic, fascinating, vast movements that make women come alive
and are anything but narrow.
continues to say, “Great art grows, it does not stagnate.”
Then, by Miles's own standards, he must look at his show through
open eyes and perhaps ask others to look with him…men and women
who are seasoned in the world of dance, commercialism, marketing,
theatre and belly dance. Otherwise his show, which has brought
such a positive boon to the dance community, will perish.
He must make sure that the show grows and expands or his own statement
about great art will be his downfall.
Is the show
worth the ticket price? Yes. Will the average person
be impressed by it? Yes. Will Middle-Eastern people
be impressed by it? Probably, although they will certainly
question some aspects of the show. Will dancers enjoy it?
Yes. And, the Belly Dance Superstars will continue to receive
standing ovations because they deserve it. However, there
will be many of us left wanting more depth, more authenticity,
more variety and more “realism” than we find in a group
of beautiful, skinny, young women all dancing very similarly.
There will be many of us coming away from the show and asking
ourselves, “Is that all there is to Belly Dance?” There
must be more…
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
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