An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance
EEMED Audition

by Monica Khudan

Jareeda Jan/Feb 2003: 17-18.

Amara shakes up the belly dancing of the old with her production of “An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance.” The intertwining of traditional Middle Eastern dance forms and contemporary dance forms gives birth to a tantalizing night of fabulous performances. A talented group of women express their stories, their emotions and their creativity in 13 spectacular pieces.

Melissa Crandall in her piece, “A Different Drum”, expresses the frustration and the angst a dancer feels when she is trying to practice her art, while the outside world is determined to interfere and interrupt her creative flow. The music itself becomes an integral character in the piece. At first the music creates a hectic environment in which she, the artist, is unable to plug into her creative outlet. Then a change in the music helps Melissa to transition into the dancer who overcomes her obstacles and just begins to dance. Her beautiful and fluid veil work expresses her freedom from life’s restraints.

When the lights come up for Desert Sin’s “Sacramental Skins”, the entire audience gasps at the sight of two beautiful women, Sa’Elyassa and Djahari, and their painted blue bodies. Their crowns, which match the gold hip sashes delicately covering them below, shimmer upon their long black hair. This breath-taking piece combines Kama Sutra poses with Middle Eastern dance. The striking contrast in the music between hard-edged techno and sweet lulls of Indian music fuels, what seems like, a struggle between good and bad. Desert Sin describes the piece as the absence of guilt and sin. All I can say is Wow!

Watching a jellyfish in water is a magical experience. Amara brings that magic onto the stage with her excellent undulations, adorable facial expressions, and shimmery, bellowy, tentacles in her elegant piece “The Jelly”. Once the patrons are wrapped up in the beauty of her dance we are taken by surprise when Amara is captured in the end by a fisherwoman.

Tandemonium’s piece, “Is It Safe To Dance”, proves that Middle Eastern Dance is an art form that can fit into any genre of music. Dancers, Claudia Immerzeell and Jean Duranti dedicated the piece to Mohammed Khordadian, who was recently convicted in Iran for the corruption of public morals for teaching dance. He was banned from dancing or teaching for life and could not leave Iran for ten years. But during the week of the performance, his sentence was successfully appealed and he was free to leave Iran. Well done ladies! Hopefully, the spirit of your dedication will find its way to his soul.

Desert Sin performers, Alsana and Tatianna, toy with us in their deliciously wicked performance in the “Darkness of Duality”. Alsana and Tatianna start out their piece in sheer black veils holding candles. They hook you in with a sensual, perfectly synchronized dance. The sensuality is more than emphasized with their exquisite backless beledy costumes and gold coin hip sashes, which lay across their naked bottoms.

The legendary Anaheed brought the house down with her amazing butt and hip shimmies in “Rock-A-Belly”. Her gray puddle skirt, which has a bright red puddle on the front, did not hinder the power of her shimmies. The poodle did bring a nice 1950s twist to her Middle Eastern Dance performance. As she performs a drum solo to “Wipe Out”, she pulls off the skirt revealing strips of red material. This piece once again proves that this dance can be expressed in any musical genre. This was definitely a crowd pleaser.

“The Hole In Willow” is a story about a woman who is confronted by the deceitful spirit of her past lover. Amara’s group Ya Helewa! Cleverly brings the story to the stage. Their incredible movements did not leave a stone unturned in this expressive piece about a woman with a wounded heart. Cassandra looks angelic in her white mask and her white, flowy Renaissance dress. Kim Williams plays the deceitful spirit, who is superbly dressed in a hooded robe with long fingers and gold mask with the large hooked nose accentuating her creepy mannerisms. Amara’s costume plays up her hermaphrodite character by combining a black hat, vest with a crop top, tight pants and mask. After struggling with longing and false offerings, Cassandra regains her independence by purifying herself and recapturing her heart.

Djahari’s jarring performance in “Reoccurring Scream”, took us on an emotional journey. We see her in this long red dress with a red corset and long black elbow length gloves. Her stunning presence gives the impression of an imprisoned woman on display. At first she looks as if she is forcing herself to be happy while moving like a puppet held up by strings. The audience has this overwhelming feeling that she is boxed in a prison of some sort. We see a transition take place when she begins rebelling against the puppet master. She rips off her red dress and her straight black hair wig and breaks out in a horrific scream. After an exhausting emotional path, Djahari slowly gains her self-control back. Amazing. Another spectacular piece by a Desert Sin member.

“Inverse” incorporates Duncanesque, Banat el-beledi and Saidi dance styles to show how women play a role in suppressing other women. Women can sometimes be just as damaging to the female gender as men, societies, governments, etc. Our gender has come a long way and we have made tremendous progress for ourselves. However, there are forces that continue to try and hold us back, and sometimes even by members of our own gender. Amara and Cassandra come out on stage nude, happy, and free. Other women start to gather on stage and decide that Amara and Cassandra should not be allowed to be nude, happy, and free. They begin to dress Cassandra and Amara until they were satisfied with the amount of clothing covering their body. They both try and hold on to their freedom by continuing to dance between their forced dressings. Regardless of ending up covered from head to toe in binding chadors, Amara and Cassandra still express themselves through dance. Unfortunately, they express their pain.

Inverse” transitions into the next piece “Cry of the Heart” choreographed by Laurel Victoria Gray. Eight women, dressed in chadors, perform a slow lament. This piece holds a special place in my heart because it reminds me of what my fate would have been if may parents did not leave the country we came from. I would have grown up without any rights, without freedom and restrictions, which would have suffocated me. Freedom is extremely precious and some women were not as lucky as I was.

“Hypothermia” is an emotionally moving piece by Sa' Elyassa. She glides onto the stage in her ethereal robotesque moves with blue lights attached to her body. Her costume consists of glittery body make-up, dreaded hair, and one white eye contact. She did a wonderful job bringing the illusion of being frozen to the stage. Her robotesque moves depicts the ice age she is experiencing {with moments of soft defrost interspersed.}

What comes to mind when you hear “Hoochy Kootchy Dancers” and “Little Egypt and Little Little Egypt”? Could it be the belly dancing stereotypes that have shaped society’s image of Middle Eastern Dance? Anaheed’s “Carnival” is a fun little piece that pokes fun at the stereotypes and the people who helped created them. Anaheed and Greg Osweiler play two callers who compete for the audience’s attention.

Ya Helewa! wraps up the evening with “Even”. “Even” is a piece about the universe in its peaceful existence just as mankind comes along to disrupt the path with chaos and lack of consideration. Cassandra and Kim perform a six-minute shimmy while representing the universe (ouch my legs still hurt thinking about that). Djahari and Amara, who represent mankind, run up on stage and collide with the universe. Cassandra and Kim helplessly stare at each other as mankind plays, rip their veils off, and block their paths. All of this happens around the fifth character in the piece; a television set with a dancer playing on it. The television represents a Goddess. The environmentalist in me loves this piece because it is a great portrayal of what we are doing to the earth.

This show is a must see not only for Belly Dancers, but also for people who are fans of Middle Eastern Dance. I am privileged to be able to watch them express their creativity, pain, happiness, sorrow and tremendous talent. I salute you all and I cannot wait until next year.