An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance - 2008
by Mariam Gevorkian
The CorsAir 24 Oct. 2008.
Zaghareet! Mar/Apr. 2009: 55-57.
Amara and crew rocked Electric Avenue in the dark side of town with the 9th annual “An Evening of Experimental Middles Eastern Dance.” The black-box theater of the Electric Lodge in Venice, CA was splashed with a dazzling concoction that shattered the boundaries of traditional Middle Eastern and Belly Dance. For years, Amara has brought together a spectacular production that transforms the dancer's body into a tool for storytelling. "Each person comes with their own vision of what experimentation means for them in that moment in time, so it's very open to different interpretations," she said. The result is a psychedelic showcase of various acts that use synergistic elements of dance, intricately designed costumes, and provocative storylines to enthrall audiences.
The prevalent theme for this year's show was the transient nature of life and the certainty of death that ends it. The evening began with Amara's "Twilight," an agonizing tale that transformed the stage into a confined limbo. The fluidity of her movements and the pained expression on her face intertwined with components of Middle Eastern and contemporary dance revealed a moment in time that hung in the balance of life and death. "We try to apply it to our own lives, so it allows us to express things beyond the typical belly dance," said Amara.
Sina and Tatianna of the dance group Desert Sin presented "Lot's Wife" as the follow-up. They twisted the angle of the famous biblical narrative to offer a new perspective. The two dancers explored the possibility of a predestined path, suggesting that perhaps a greater force intended for the tragedy to befall as a message to humanity. The two dancers responded to each other's movements as if they were being pulled by invisible strings of energy, paralleling the notion of fate.
To lighten the mood was Sayyadina in "Spy vs. Spies," a comedy that took dancing out of its typical context and translated it into an art form for which limitations didn't exist.
The same could be said for the visually binding "Enchanted Dune," performed by members of the Gulistan Dance Theater. They toyed with superstitions held by early Silk Road travelers. Spinning a fable of temptation, they allured a young traveler to his death with their extravagant costumes and dance.
In "Minara," Amara expressed a rollercoaster of emotions through a mixture of ballet and Middle Eastern Dance. The breathtaking choreography exhibited the mastery of her body, which defied the physical threshold and glided across the stage with ease.
The next number, "Peach, Pear, Plum" by the Elysium Dance Theatre, twisted a new screw in doing "the robot." The irony captured in motion was about a malfunctioning robot girl who wanted to break free of the mechanical life and be human. She led what looks like three Victorian scientists to observe the world through the eyes and gestures of a machine.
Then viewers were transported to the Tang Dynasty with the help of Sayaka Pereira, Bailey Williams, and Michael Lee, in a piece titled "Xin ~ Kokoro." The inspiration for it is the true story of Yang Guifei, popular in Chinese opera and film. "But they don't show the initial confusion from her part," said Pereira. She tried to convey the warrior spirit of women through a blend of modern, contemporary, and Middle Eastern dance merged with martial arts and swordsmanship.
One of the most touching pieces was perhaps the "Dance for a Beautiful Life," in memory of Kamaal's mother, Anna Lucille Magnanti. The two dancing spirits (performed by Anaheed and Tonda) bestow a man (performed by Kamaal) with the touch of life, who thereupon carried it in stride until he dissipated back into the beyond.
Aepril Schaile's piece, called "The Washer at the Ford: The Morrigan II" was in memory of her dearly departed Coda, a wolf-hybrid who was her companion for 12 years. "I had so much grief about it that I wanted to do something with it. I felt that this archetype was speaking to me as a way to transform and create something artistic and beautiful instead of just horrible." Her striking guise as a wailing woman who foretells death voiced this grief in perfect synchronization with the music and dance.
The night came to an end with the Ya Helewa!’s "Warm Fuzzies," a colorful and cheery group that were devastated by the invasion of Greed into their land of good and plenty: "the idea is that we're being poisoned by our own thoughts," said Jenny Hodges, Facility Manager at the Electric Lodge.
Each of the ten dance routines in this year's program was as gripping and versatile as the next. "I loved the spectacle of it…the obvious work that went into not only the dancing but also the costuming and lighting and the staging," said Hodges, who takes care of anything that "catches fire or falls." The interpretation for each piece was different for every viewer. Sound producer Joseph Newhouse said, "it's life and death, emotional coping, physical coping, fighting…" You be the judge.