A picture speaks a thousand words. Look at those gorgeous girls dancing out in front of a live 15-piece swing band! As you see, I had fun with costuming this dance. I told all the girls to buy the little black dress of their dreams. Some already had one hanging in their closets. Others went shopping and had a blast at the after-Christmas sales. Another found the perfect little black dress at Sequels. So much fun! Nat & Coreen joined forces to come up with the cute little hats with face netting (you can’t really see it in this photo).
photo: alistair maitland
This dance also has a story. This is a dance that had a mind of it’s own. Originally, I had wanted to put a skirt dance into the show. We had spent a fair bit of money on beautiful dancing skirts a couple of years ago and have only worn them on the theatre stage once. So I thought that I’d like to choreograph a piece for this costume. I also really liked the band’s version of Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and so decided (intellectually) that I would pair the skirts with that chart. Well, I fought it and I fought it. And it fought me back. It was a wrestling match! I just about gave up. And then instead of giving up, I gave in. I actually had a moment of clarity, standing in the middle of the “studio” ( a 6 square foot area at the end of the family room between the pool table and the writing desk) and let my mind go blank. It was almost an out-of-body experience, if I can exaggerate a little. I actually asked the question out loud (it is very strange to talk to yourself this way!): “what DO you want to be?” Then I looked at my umbrella stand of canes, picked one up, gave it a twirl, nodded, and started taking notes. Why did I resist the cane for so long? Maybe because it just didn’t seem right, somehow, to use such a traditional folkloric dancing item in such a modern off-the-wall fusion. So then I had to still my own misgivings by blending the two in as respectful a way as I could. And I believe I did that – I am my own worst critic and hold myself to some pretty unyielding standards when it comes to authenticity. And I am comfortable with what I did with the piece.
I think probably when you watch a dance (and probably even my dancers when they are learning a dance) aren’t aware of what goes into a piece that is outside just choreographing the movements. This time there was an ethical battle over blending styles, but sometimes there is a great desire to pay homage to a teacher or composer, or to tell a story or relate an emotion to the audience.
Sometimes when you look in from the outside you can see into the heart of the choreographer. For example, when I watched Yasmina Ramzy’s production of Oum
and saw the white hankie flutter down at the end, I saw into her heart. I knew exactly what she intended, and it literally brought tears to my eyes. So what was I thinking about when I put the raqs assaya to Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps? I was thinking of the great artist Tahia Karioka
from the golden age of bellydance, who introduced latin rhythms into the bellydance. She was an early fusion artist, bringing western rhythms into eastern dance. That was the spirit I choreographed with. I used popular, recognizable assaya movements and combinations. In fact, one combination used in the dance was even taught by the renowned Egyptian teacher Aida Nour
. You can’t get much more authentic than that! So the movements were very authentic and true to the assaya. The music was very authentic and true to it’s latin roots. As a nod to the fusion, I did put a little chachacha step into the figure 8 hips. Yes, of course I did! It’s latin music! What would latin music be without a swivel in the hips? But I have seen Tahia Karioka and Samia Gamal and other “greats” do this very same little chachacha step. So that, too, was authentic. I used the costume to tie the two together. A raqs assaya in a latin dress…no! A bellydance costume with big band..no! But those girls out there in their little black dresses, top hats & silver canes? yes! That was the glue that bound them together. More pics as soon as I get them! Meanwhile, here is a picture of Sally (cropped from the larger picture) with Rebekah Bell singing in the background. Fabulous!
photo: alistair maitland