An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance
EEMED Audition

When Movement Takes You to Dream Lands!
By Kimberly Riskin

Cymbal Autumn 2004: 10.

As the lights dim the only sound in the small theatre of the Electric Lodge in Venice, CA is the clickity clack of coins on the dancers' skirts as they move into position. The audience takes its cue, settles in, and becomes still in anticipation for An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance (EEMED) to begin. We have all come to see something unique and fresh. Dance that has no limits forces us to think and leaves us wanting more. Whether we have heard about it from a flyer, a friend, a performer, or teacher we all know we are in for a treat.

The lights come up and before us are three dancers all stacked upon one another forming a three-headed totem pole. "The Three Faces of the Moon" performed by the group Bast, comprises of The Maiden (Dangeruz), The Mother (Freya), and The Crone (Yasan). The moon is our backdrop on this enchanted night as we are taken through the different stages of womanhood. Our Maiden in white dances with the sweet grin of innocence, while the Mother comes forth and bears child, and the Crone reminds us of the power, wisdom, and force of old age. Together they dance under the moonlight reminding us of the entire circle of life.

The next performance threw us all for a loop: "Dueling Butte'(s)." This laugh out loud, actually laugh till you cry out loud number was preformed by Anaheed, Amara, and Djahari. The music they choose was a classic American song "Dueling Banjos." The ladies took the stage with their backs to the audience, so they could show us just that, their butts! Doing some amazing glut work, they dueled with their butts in time to the music. As a dancer I have to give major credit where credit is due, this number gets a 10! Not only hilariously funny but definitely brings a new term to buns of steal!

On the flip side, the piece "Transference" proves this evening is not all laughs. We take a deep, dark look at depression and the emotions that come with it. When the lights come up, we are looking in on the lives of two busy lovers. One is completing a degree pounding away on her laptop with piles of books all around. The other is preparing for a dance show, rehearsing pieces, and adding final touches to costumes. You are suddenly aware of all the stress and tension the couple is going through. Amara plays the student and Sa'Elayssa the dancer. We witness the student being pushed further and further as she realizes her deadline nears while her lover the dancer is wearing her self-thin with concern and fright for a strong performance. The dancer discovers a positive outlet through meditation and finds herself in a renewed state of mind. When she goes to share her new found happiness with her lover the dancer finds the student in a sad and painfully depressed state of mind. Not knowing what to do she clings closer to her distraught companion and allows all her pain to seep into her happy mood. This performance was riveting and heavy with emotion. Both Amara and Sa'Elayssa where able to transfer the audience into the lives of these two depressed lover. They pulled our hearts through so many emotions with just the powerful expressions on their faces and movement of their bodies.

The fog lifts and we are rushed away to the sea. The salty ocean air calls to us and we now have a glorious scene to behold. A mermaid (Cassandra) perches on a rock with a satin blue sheet as the ocean below and the sand, which is a 6-foot by 4-foot pile of broken glass beside her. Our first impression is Wow! It is a real life Arial, but unlike the Disney cartoon she is not rated G. She has fiery red hair falling down past her shoulders as gems and jewels adorn her curly locks and face. She has no clothing on from the waist up but the most amazing fin binding her legs. The costume is made of a vibrant green-blue material with netting and seashells woven in. Just breathtaking! She holds a mirror to her face as she struggles with wanting to know more, to be free, and to know what it is to walk on land. She breaks her mirror and uses a sharp shard of glass to cut herself of her bindings. She slowly finds her balance and does an awe-inspiring side show act of walking, lying, rolling, and shimming on the sand/broken glass. I found myself holding my breath in fear of seeing her really cut her skin. This performance bought such mixed feelings from the audience, we gasped in fear as we realized our graceful mermaid was going to push us to a painful edge and we rejoiced when she shared with us the happiness of being free and able to move as she had longed.

Subee Djinn (Katherine, Katrina, Nikii, Sashi, and Tonda) took us back in time and into a dream world called "Marionette" that taught all the bad catholic schoolgirls in the audience to behave. Two girls playing the marionette dolls also had amazing costumes! Their hair was done with braids; one had a hanger through the back of her head to make them stand straight out just like Pippy Long-Stockings. Their faces were painted with all white makeup, pink or red circles for cheeks, very precise drawn in lips in the shape of hearts with glitter red lipstick, and huge oversized lashes. Their outfits consisted of brightly colored crop tops, checkerboard black and white tights under bright orange or green puffy pantaloons, big full bright petticoats with ruffle socks, and shiny black Mary Jane's. Connected to some sort of thick rubber band like material that ended in two crisscrossed wood pieces, they were life size marionettes. Our two sexy schoolgirls come onstage to find their new "toys" and begin to wreck havoc. They twist and turn the dolls violently until it seems they have been broken and then leave them in a heap to go to sleep. The marionettes awake to find their evil owners resting peacefully and decide to have a little fun of their own. They hook them up by their schoolgirl cuffs and manipulate their bodies violently. Just when the girls think there is no hope for survival their mom, dressed in a red 50's outfit looking very prim and proper comes to their rescue. She shows them there is nothing to fear as they toss the dolls aside and all go back to sleep together. Just when you think it is all over, both dolls pop up with eyes open before the stage goes black. It makes everyone jump in their seats and release a nervous laugh. This fun and freaky tale makes you feel like you have just witnessed the beginning of something much more horrible. The costuming was quite spectacular and the way the marionettes moved keeps you wondering if you are in some carnival dream.

I have only outlined a few of my favorite performances for this year's Evening of Experimental Middle Easter Dance. When I left, I just wanted more. I felt as if each piece opened new ideas and thoughts in my head and I kept wondering how each character's story would continue. It is so exciting to find funny, moving, spooky, and bold pieces all in one show! I know that all the talent and energy each dancer commands makes this evening unique and something worth seeing. Amara has created a wonderful new way for Middle Eastern dancers to express their ability to think, act, and move differently within their element. Just as we all strive to learn and perfect veil, swords, floor work, zils (the list goes on and on) all Middle Eastern dancers should be able to add the term "Experimental" to their repertoire.