An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance
EEMED Audition

The Soul of a Dancer Lives Through Experimentation
by Melissa Crandall

Jareeda. Jan/Feb 2002: 17-18. (Also published in Cymbal Winter 2002: 20.)

The second annual An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance [2001] took place at Highways performance space on September 28, 29 and 30th in Santa Monica. Laura (Amara) Osweiler has produced another conglomeration of captivating and provocative dance pieces with L.A.'s talent. Amara says she produces the shows for the fun of working with other creative performers, and is impressed by the quality of participants in the show. In addition, the timing of this year's production, just under 3 weeks after the terrorist attacks, is a show of support for the Middle Eastern community, and a harmonic blending of cultures with a positive spin.

Highways performance space is an eclectic mix of black box theater and art gallery, inside the 18th Street Arts Complex. The lobby area exhibits artwork which can be perused while waiting for the show to begin.

The night of exciting dance performances began with an invocation and celebration of the "Soul of a Dancer" by Marula. Inspired by Khalil Gibran, Marula's evocative and graceful dance rang in more spiritual and lovely dance pieces celebrating the dancer's spirit. A late addition piece by Sa' Elayssa, whose Roma gypsy dancer grandmother passed away that week, was a beautiful tribute and sweet so-long expressed in graceful, flowing, dancing blue. "Dream of Tara" (Marguerite and Art Kusuhara) envisioned the dancer as the embodiment of light and healing. "The Lotus and the Cross" (Anaheed with Sieg Heep) juxtaposed western and eastern spirituality using music by the beautiful Sheila Chandra singing in what sounded like Sanskrit and Latin. "Face It" (Jheri St. James) played with masks and how the body dances differently with different faces. "Strength" (Tatianna) was a poignant piece, using stark colors, oversized veils, wind machines and intensely dramatic techno music to dance through the dark night of the soul as the fight for a life gripped by disease fights on. Moving the show into an even more abstract mode, the three figures clothed in white of "Ditma" (Amara and Ya Helewa!) explored the balance, or lack thereof, of the dancer when she is feeling uncomfortable and awkward.

The second half of the show explored more of the earthly and sensual aspects of the dancer's soul. "Envenomation" (Sa' Elayssa) used the backdrop of modern rave scene to explore obsessive love. A Gothic Princess from another world, Sa' Elayssa and her cameo'd cohort (bet you couldn't guess it was Djahari looking like a club boy as cute as ever) made us feel the addictive pull of sensual love, no matter what the consequences. "The Harem" (Amara dancers and 'Tandemonium' the Persian dance duo) took on the almost comical view of the Europeans' fantasies about what went on in the Eastern harems, and the 'naughty' goings-on that were speculated about! The women of the harem and how they relate and support one another was also expressed by the relationships of dancing together, sans les hommes. "Bare Essences" (Anaheed with Amara) used a backlit scrim and nude dancers' silhouettes to explore the form and shape of dance without the distraction of the flesh. "Take a Tip" (Jheri St. James) performed an expert ethnic dance where she balanced a round basket on her head, "a symbol of woman, but... what's in it?" Topping their epic success of last year, the Grand finale was presented by Desert Sin (Djahari, Tatianna, Cassandra, Tawni Tyndali, Tonda Cuvina, and Sa' Elyassa). "Undulating Through the Cacti" was a piece of Western/Eastern synergy, combining country line dancing and bellydancing (!), which morphed into an exploration of how women can exploit and expose themselves and one another; we can take great pleasure in it, or we they lack comfort with our own bodies, this can cause repression of women by women, even in the name of Goddess. Desert Sin director Djahari had this to say about the piece, "Yee f***kin' Ha!" Amen, Sista!