Gilded Serpent presents..
"Goddesses and Others Cavort in Marin County"
review by Najia Marlyz
June 27, 1999


Yes, it's true! "The Living Goddess", for the seventh consecutive year, returned to the Marin Art & Garden Center at the Barn Theatre. The event was advertised as an annual summer solstice dance/theater event celebrating multi-cultural Feminine Mythology-Dreamspell Portal. Well, that is quite a tall order!

Many belly dance enthusiasts and belly dancers took part in the stage presentation, perhaps in an effort to expand on their creative possibilities for dance performance. A few of the dancers who were not directly connected to belly dance were also part of the celebration.

As always, it was a delightful experience for me to see a stage presentation in dance whether I like the theme, the dancers, the form, the technique, or not.

I have wonderfully joyful times when dancers, amateur or professional, try to stretch their limits.

This event was no exception, and I delighted in the walk from the parking lot up the hill past the charming round pond with life-sized bronze sculptures of Egrets "feeding" in the shallow waters of the fountain. The barn is a funny little community theater, old, with raked seating, a small proscenium, and a full phalanx of lighting.

A long-time friend from the world of Oriental Dance, Dhyanis of Mill Valley, California, was the Artistic Director of the "Living Goddess". As usual, she did miracles with the volunteer dancers who are sometimes less dancer and more Goddess than anyone dare dream. How very Marin it all was! (Remember Marin, where peacock feathers and hot tubs perpetuate the myth of Yuppie heaven on earth?)

I made the fortuitous decision before arriving at the show that I would take photos when possible and not look at the written program at all until the whole show had been presented. It was "fortuitous" because the print was so small that I could only read it when I hauled out my reading glasses and inspected it in the light instead of the semi- darkness in which the audience struggled to refer to the written page.

I had decided that each dance would either live in my memory or fall by the wayside by its own lack of impact.

The first of the eighteen (yes, you read correctly, EIGHTEEN) dances was memorable on several counts. Its dancers wore oversized and somewhat scary masks that were artistically rendered. Since I couldn't read the program in the darkness, and considering my stubborn willingness to experience the presentation as a freestanding entity, I had no idea that the dance was supposed to suggest something about peacemaking among the warring indigenous tribes of the Northeast American continent. I only knew it seemed to be ultra slow moving and lasted interminably.

Natica Angilly appeared next in dark regalia against a dark background on a dimly lit stage dancing her usual drifting and graceful peaceful pageant for which she has become known in her quest as innovator of "dancepoetics". The poem, written and read by Mary Rudge, was lighter than I have heard her perform before and made up for the oppressive quality of the stage lights.

The third presentation was a scattered piece that could not be interpreted satisfyingly without the rather long, involved explanation included on the program safely tucked away in my handbag. The scene looked like three independent belly dance freethinkers dancing about with three little non-dancing girls dressed up for Halloween as fairies. They were cute. Just about this time I was longing for some long-winded mistress of ceremonies to give us a clue, but that didn't happen.

Alexandria, who is always stunning on stage with her ample cleavage displayed prominently, gracefully wafted about and left me musing about the story I had evidently missed.

The next dancers dropped in abruptly and did an energetic fusion dance resembling something Spanish to the music I recognized as the "Gypsy Kings". They were fun to watch, but I wondered what this duet had to do with anything of a goddess nature. Well, it must have been explained in the program.

I cannot recall the goddess who danced next, even when looking at the program. The lack of lasting impact may mean that the dramatic content needed clarity or a bit more punch.

The next piece was heavy with death and dying. It was only uplifting because I easily recognized the content having been danced ably and with heartfelt sincerity by Latifa (normally a fun loving, if irreverent, member of the comedy group, "Dancers of DeNile") and Dhyanis with others. This depressing piece was followed by a family story which I hope that the producer noted was extremely well received by the audience for its bright and happy content and was danced by Le'ema, Eric Bobrow and 9-year-old son Rafael with amazing stage presence.

The first half of the show closed with what appeared to me to be beautifully costumed belly dance Vikings (err, Amazons it says in the program but they all had two breasts). I liked the presentation right up to the time when they balanced double handled, swordlike drapery rods atop their pretty and collective heads. Inexplicable! Perhaps goddesses ought to forget their ingrained belly dance backgrounds, or not, if that is what starts your juices flowing.

ACT II-Are you ready?
The tenth set was peculiar and futuristic in a plastic and discomforting way that is unlike my vision of the possible future. As I witness the tendency toward naturalism, recycling and such that has become the trend in recent years, I think these plastic images will not become our future. It had the odd look of the future we envisioned in the 1960s! Nevertheless, it was slick, dramatic and attention grabbing.

Next, six or more plaster-masked goddesses whisked about the stage in a 1960's style blacklight with white dancing scarves while dressed in black against a black background. My interest in "Blue Moon" waned, however, as it dragged relentlessly and uncreatively on. Saw that 25 years ago and was only mildly amused then. I think that "She who is a Goddess" could be vastly more inventive using blacklight and veil.

Just as I thought I would be blacklighted and fog-machined to death, out came Dhyanis and David Henry as "Lillith in the Garden". Dhyanis looked svelte and lithe as she wound herself about her partner. It was a grand duet but I would have preferred to see "Adam" in a more near state of undress than a full orange-tea colored leotard. Yeah, even if his body was not Adonis. Never mind, it was good anyway.

One of my favorite parts of the evening was "The Green Man and the Snake" which was
definitely an audience-pleaser. Humorous, and a tad raunchy, Le'ema was nonetheless fun to watch. It was also a delight in costuming concept (Snake costume by Dhyanis). Another, real snake danced shortly after. The second snake dance was captivating and finely done, I think by Vanessa Pool, (unless I am hopelessly confused after so many goddesses had graced the stage)!

Not to be easily forgotten, between the two snakes, was a solo by Walter Thompson III who danced to his own poetry. He was wearing the Emperor's New Clothes and somewhat upstaged his own dance. Quite buff though, and I am certain he achieved the effect for which he was looking.

Lorna Zilba and Company presented a "Persian" view of the goddess scene. It was floating, airy, lovely and softly danced and choreographed. Though I longed for a little more passion in the scenario, still the images linger in my mind.

The highlight of my evening was a little dance by Ellen Brooks in memory of Janet Jacob, neither of whom was known to me. The dance was concise, short, dramatic and costumed appropriately. It felt complete and definitely left an impression.

The last set was choreographed by Dhyanis and danced by her along with "Troupe Dhyanis". I would love to say it was wonderful because I like these women but talents were uneven and the presentation too much like a hundred other Belly Dance based presentations I have attended over the years. Also, the show was much too much. I would have preferred to see each half on consecutive evenings.

Congratulations to Dhyanis for a job well done and to all the dancers who strive to do more than the same old same-old. If I neglected to mention your dance, it doesn't mean it wasn't any good; it simply means that the evening was overwhelmingly long and included so many, many dancers.

Next time the Goddesses run rampant in Marin, you must attend. However, we can hope for fewer dances, more dramatic clarity, perhaps a mistress of ceremonies to guide us through, and even more distance from the tired typical belly dance movements.

Dunya's Amazons


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