Monday, November 10, 2014

Sofian studio spotlights emerging bellydance artists

Brenna Crowley leads the tribal fusion group
Zilla Dance Ensemble.
(photo: Pixie Vision Photography)
Nisreen specializes in Egyptian-style dance.
(photo: Stacey and Clement Lespinasse)

What's new on the bellydance scene?

Now there's a question seldom asked by typical New York City dance observers. Then again, some of us are far from typical.

America's Middle Eastern dance--which boomed in the 1960s and '70s through the popularizing work of New York's Serena Wilson, Morocco and Anahid Sofian, among other star dancers and teachers--would appear to have settled into an obscure "ethnic dance" niche with fewer cabaret venues for shows and few, if any, connections to the broader pipeline of contemporary dance ventures, resources and advocacy. But is that the complete picture?

The venerable Sofian, herself, has kept career and company going for decades, and last evening she gave the fourth presentation of her Atelier Orientale series of evenings at her small studio on West 15th Street. Curated by Kaitlin Hines--a Sofian company member and choreographer of her own Raqs Uncommon troupe--the show was created to highlight up-to-the-minute styles in bellydance (or Oriental dance, as Sofian chooses to call it). The form remains vibrant and, in Sofian's words, can claim a 21st Century renaissance. She writes:
Interest in this ancient dance is now at its highest since the Sixties and Seventies and continues to grow world-wide. Nearly every state in the U.S. and every province in Canada has teachers and troupes, and the dance enjoys immense popularity abroad, especially in Brazil, Europe, Australia and Japan. Articles continue to appear in major international publications, and there are hundreds of websites dedicated to the dance. Many of the movements have found their way into our own dance culture through break dancing, hip hop and the performances of such pop stars as Shakira and Britney Spears, and appreciation of middle eastern music is also at an all time high thanks to the world music explosion, which has brought many of the great middle eastern musicians and music styles to renown in the West. This explosion, however, has brought with it a mixed blessing to those of us who fear that the beautiful mother of all these styles has all but disappeared.      
And what of that "beautiful mother," as Sofian calls the generative form? By evidence of last night's show, I'd say Mom manages to hold her place in the mix but, at times, might be a little stressed by what she finds around her. Or maybe I'm just projecting.

For my taste--formed in the '70s by my training with a disciple of Serena Wilson--this dance genre has much variety and power on its own without the infusion of external, sometimes jarring elements. Some of the participants in this atelier--with their odd and gimmicky theatrics, Halloween-like costuming and blunt choreography--did justice neither to this gracious dance nor their own dancers. But there were sublime moments, too--most notably, Tatianna Natalyja's The Unveiling, a solo to music by the great Nubian oud player and singer Hamza El Din--that served as testament to the elegance and ingenuity of the Middle Eastern dancer.

Tatianna Natalyja
(photo by Andrea Qasguargis)

Natalyja displayed skillful control of her polyrhythmic isolations, sharp accents, expressive flow, dignity and inherent drama. Although she was, by far, the program's most polished performer, others also contributed interesting work. I greatly enjoyed Brenna Crowley (leading her Zilla Dance Ensemble in an excerpt from Four Chambers), the kind of dancer who so clearly, and with every fiber of her being, feels the music--in this case, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake--that you completely understand why she dances and, actually, why you dance, too. Nisreen's Ya Hanady solo delivers a sly yet precise and fairly straightforward Egyptian cane dance with its twirls and strikes of a slender cane. Leading her trio of three graces in the atmospheric Rapture, Refuge and Release, curator Hines also brought a grounded and luxurious sensibility to performance. If not every curatorial choice demonstrated that wisdom and beauty, her own presence embodied it.

To learn more about the Anahid Sofian Dance Studio and Sofian's future projects, click here.

1 comment:

Eve De La Terre said...

All critique is an exciting opportunity for evaluation, re-evaluation and growth and we appreciate the time that was taken to write this review. Thank you!

However, when you're a fairly new performance collective that has just had coffee with a Broadway director, been booked at Dixon Place (and in talks with another even larger theatre) and having phone conversations with an agent who's booking in Dubai because THEY liked what they saw --when they saw it-- we can't be too discouraged over one vague, bad review posted on someone's personal blog.

C'est la vie, you can't please everyone. Onward! Upward!

We are not, never have been, and never will be a "belly dance" company. However in a show promoting "new voices" including theatrical, experimental and fusion work involving Middle Eastern and North African dance we were asked to present a little piece of a relevant, work-in-progress production.

Ms. Hines is a lovely person who more than proved that she isn't afraid to work hard and take risks which speaks volumes about her as a *young* curator. Brava!

Perhaps we made the "wrong" choice in our presentation but, luckily, many of our tiny dance community did appreciate the work and made an effort to tell us so (including the dance photographer who hunted us down after the show.)

Thank you again!

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