From Good to Great to Gold – AFBD, Raqs Royalty of Atlanta

This is dedicated to the late Queen Harish for whom we owe for promoting dance in a way that celebrated all of us. He will be missed and may the Universe guide us and keep his spirit near.

Atlanta Fusion Bellydance’s 10th-anniversary show was a production that embodied the art community of Atlanta. Hosted by one of the newest members of the ATL International Community, Mr. Cortez, it began on time and was VERY organized. The venue was easy to reach by GPS. The Yelp reviews note that there is no parking but there was valet and it was managed by some of the most polite young men with which I ever left my car. Big shout out to Byron on that team.

The community showed up in support of AFBD, lots of families, grandparents and international community members. The dining hall for the dinner that followed was quite lovely and well decorated. There was fruit and cheese for guests and the staff was really nice at the location. The seats were cushioned and comfortable for the most part. Myself and the young man beside me were a bit wider in the waist and therefore the seat, while soft and enjoyable, did pack us in like sardines. I’ll be glad when I’m well and things like that are no longer an issue. Other than that I’d consider having an event there because it was just so well done. Not too informal and not OTT Black Tie, heels only. Locations like these should be the STANDARD for all shows and only go up from there.

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From the front entrance to the flowers on the table, the place was decked with decor.

Check-in was smooth as well. I lost my VIP wristband within minutes of receiving it and the AFBD team were able to get another for me within seconds. While I do not suggest one be as careless and aloof as I was this evening when getting myself through the door, it’s nice to know that they weren’t horrified and I didn’t have to pay another VIP fee to replace it. Thank you, Deonce!

Great Show Open
One of the highlights of the show was the video that was produced (impeccable editing – I should know. I worked at CNN for over a decade and editors are gods and goddesses, you gotta get it right, it’s an art). This video featured the core members of AFBD and a few guests speaking about the beginnings of the company including the former studio prior to their move to the current space. As a long time volunteer with MissBellydance.com, I feel having them so close is another reason MBD is still in Atlanta. They have been a huge inspiration and very encouraging. The video commentary was quite touching and focused primarily on their relationships with each other and the sisterhood they have formed. The entire visual was reminiscent of the early Bellydance Superstars productions with chimed openings and middle east charmer rhythms. I feel it should be a documentary and submitted to the library of congress or at least submitted for a PromaxBDA award. Really great material there!

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Excellent Video!

 

Show Highlights

Fatin and Aziza lead the first performance along with familiar faces that I see at all the shows. The highlight of their performance was the Isis wings whose significance was explained in the video shown prior to this show opener. While Aziza and Fatin were dominant and prominently featured in this piece with amazing stage presence and their famous, pristine raqs presentations, the other dancers presented strong skill. I remember when several of them started dancing and they have grown to be confident and an asset to the community. Well done!

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Heidi was also a wonderful addition to the show. She combined several styles and danced to music that saluted her Cuban ethnicity/heritage/roots. I was happy to see her mother there who is also SUPER supportive and another strong asset to Atlanta’s dance comm. She was like a swan, graceful and beautiful. I could have watched a few more pieces with her as a solo. I kept thinking members of Balkan Beat Box would also appreciate her performance. Very Nice! Que pasa contigo? Usted, habibti! Usted! Oh yeahhhh!

Mina was in the show this evening. She’s been a strong supporter of AFBD for several years. She’s often at their shows and I know she appreciates their work. This set was one of my favourites of the evening. I loved her ensemble, a dazzling body stocking with a matching full panel skirt that swayed with every move. The ambiance hue was violet and lavender. It was gorgeous and she danced well. Really enjoyed this set from her. The music was perfect and fit the essence of the event. This was “well fused” and, again, I enjoyed every bit! More of this!!

I’m known for saying who stole the show and tonight it was Aziza Nawal and her team. I see you, Carole Ann and you look AMAZING dancing to my all time favourite Iranian singer, Moein! Together they danced to a mix of top cultural favorites from the region including Iran. They started off with a nice Saidi piece spinning canes like pros. Then they segued into one of Moein’s most known songs that is often classified as “classic bandari” – yes gawd! Boloooo!! Boloooo! Boloooo Masha’Allah! This was my absolute favourite set of the night (and there were many who nearly took its place but this remained the best set for keeping true to the root of rhythm in the region and doing a segue …as fusion is often presented in the region…a clear segue). Beautiful!! Yani, helowa!!

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This was especially amazing for me because I can remember dancing around with Aziza and Amani at Taverna Plaka during my raqs superfan years. The rare occasion this song came on I’d go nuts on the dance floor spinning and leaping in the air as if it were a wedding. That was 10 years ago and it was a joy to see her carrying that spirit and skill well into the future. She did this song justice and I pray we get to see more and more of her in the coming years doing sets like this with great dancers like that!

*Aziza did a second set this afternoon – a solo – and it was just as powerful as the group piece. She danced to a classic as if it was second nature. Those close to me know I moved to Atlanta for two reasons. My dream job called and I wanted to be in an international community a lot bigger than the tight-knit but tiny (10,000 vs. 100,000) one I was in. I saw one photo of Aziza on the cover of a magazine and I literally packed a bag and waited for an offer. When it came, I moved the same day and threw a stone over my shoulder. I thought being in ATL was going to be even bigger and better and it was for a very long time because of artists like Aziza who kept our culture alive and kept it real. She is a big reason I stayed happy and sane. I owe her!

Next Steps in Presentations

With that said, I feel it’s time we start celebrating our top artists to the fullest. We need singers. That song and many others featured tonight are famous because of the greats who sang along with the dancers. Some of you may know them as the “man in the suit” and Fatme who continued her fame right alongside great raissat like Dina. We gotta get some men in suits on stage singing with these local legends. I guess I better get my abbayah dusted off and the sheet music. Where’s Christy? Let’s. do. this.

Karma Karmelita was also in the show and danced to what I believe was one of Nagwa Karem’s hits. Karma was as powerful as expected and a roaring success with the audience. To not have her featured in a show is equal to risking failure. She is a must!

 

Jenny – my goodness. She is just supreme. I love her style. It’s all JENNY and the nods to various cultures is just the icing on the cake. I ADORE Jenny Nichols! Her husband knows it and heaven bless her mother, I feel her spirit knows it too. I love that lady. I even have a doll that I found in the American Girl Store that I was drawn to because she reminds me of Jenny. It’s sitting in the front room right now in a pretty dress. I might bring her to class but I don’t want Jenny to freak out. There was a running joke that Jenny lived inside one of my Hello Kitty bags and if you opened it Jenny would pop out and dance for you. Well, with my doll, we’re close enough. Okay, enough Jenny fanning…

Her video was excellent and I feel if you’re a true fan of this community you gotta get a copy. I know I want to put a digital version on my website and several other places including celebrating it on MissBellydance.com. Her performance, from costume to choreography along with Haliesha and team was OUT OF THIS WORLD. I LOVED IT. So fusion and so professional! Much like Karma, Jenny is ESSENTIAL FOR SHOWS. She has it all! Nice job! More please…more Jenny and team! Also, I want the jackets they were wearing…like seriously. I need that STAT!

Kalinka was also featured in tonight’s celebration and she brought the house down in a very spiritual way. KALINKA was EVERYTHING! While watching her and enjoying her energy, I was able to see where we lack support for great artists like this. This performance was perfect. The costume, the song, her stage presence…all of it. Yet, we were a little quiet. I know part of it was because we were mesmerized. It was very hard to pick one’s chin off the floor but the music was there to get us up. Had she been performing for an Egyptian or Lebanese audience, jackets would have been thrown on the stage and people would have been up in the aisles. She was THAT good! I had the hardest time watching her because I WAS FORCED TO SIT STILL THROUGH SOMETHING SO MAJESTIC I FORGOT WHERE I WAS!

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I don’t know what venue or place we can have these shows and still have a substantial stage plus the ability to stand up and SUPPORT great dancers in regional fashion (literally and figuratively). I wanted to get up and slap the stage, take off my tie and swirl it around. But if I had I would have been a show within a show. I should have got up and sat next to Nicolas so I could sing and clap culturally. Instead, I was sitting with the new guy from Turkey and neither of us were “ourselves.” Kalinka’s performance was a wake-up call that we need to reevaluate the opportunity to praise a dancer the right way. She deserved a few jackets at her feet and flowers too. TAO BONITA!!! Now THAT right there…that’s raqs sharqi! Muito obrigada, Kalinka! You did that!

The show close was AFBD’s teachers dancing to a great classic that I used to play on raqs cocktail repeat. I found it in the stack of music at my cousin’s market in my teens. I loved it. It was a great way to end the night! Another winner!

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Many thanks to Leena and her girls for wearing MissBellydance.com’s Soraiah Star couture!

Honourable Mentions
Mad Hatter Dance Company’s sword piece was beautiful and showcased the technical artistry of our community.

Maddie was a delight with a full Maghreb tea tray filled with flames. She not only danced but did floor work and intricate isolations showcasing her skill. She’s a great showman! Has been for years! Much appreciated!

Magnolia – her costume was incredible. She wore a bedluh that was embellished with what looked like broken mirrors strategically covering the bra and belt. That costume could have come out and danced on its own and we’d have been amazed. It was super nice!

Lessons Learned:
Always bring cash! In future, when there is valet, we need to know so we can tip them accordingly. I gave him a dollar because that was the only change I had on me. Not cool. They were as wonderful as the performers and deserved to be tipped. So, lesson learned, when at raqs shows, bring cash because there’s usually a cash bar and lots of other things where credit cards are not accepted. This is the first venue I’ve been to without an ATM.

Turn the pre-show music down! There is no reason for pre-show music to be that loud. It was so loud I missed my opportunity to bond with the new Turkish guy and his BFF. We tried to speak but ended up in silence because yelling over each other was just crazy. When having shows with pre-show music, it would be best to have two people come down front and test the volume. If you can’t have a decent conversation without your throat hurting, then it’s too loud.

STELLAR SHOW

It was more than respectful of the occasion and paid homage not just to the work they’ve done but also to the region where raqs sharqi originated. It was not overrun with one style, the performances were inclusive and the whole event was the epitome of what many artists aim to achieve in this town. Big thanks to Faaridah for pushing through. There’s nothing easy about being a show producer. It’s far from cheap, it takes a good solid year to plan and even when you have support one can sometimes feel very alone. Faaridah found a way to bypass those obstacles completely with an incredible team in tow.

When you see AFBD’s name on a production you IMMEDIATELY clear your calendar because you know it’s going to be worth your time. She has given Atlanta’s dance comm (and the southeast’s) something to look forward to for over a decade! We are truly grateful!! I wish AFBD several more decades to come! We’ll be 86 years old making zaghareets in the lobby of the TWELVE and local parades! Insha’Allah!

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Bellydance Time Capsule – Celebrating The History of Raqs Sharqi

*As always these comments are all mine and do not reflect the views of any organisation or team with which I am affiliated. These are just the thoughts of one international community member. I speak for myself and not the entire expat community of Atlanta or the Southeast.

Raqs Al Seniyya - Maghreb tea tray dance, beautiful addition to the historic show

Raqs Al Seniyya – Maghreb tea tray dance, beautiful addition to the historic show

The theme was ‘time capsule’…and the brilliant minds made this into a true Raqs Theatre style show on par with the ideas and programs that are done in Raqs Theatre in Egypt and beyond. So I was very happy that there was a context versus a bunch of beautiful women appearing on stage out of nowhere and just doing their thing. This allowed for those who are not from or familiar with the culture to understand what was being presented. So there was Faaridah and Maeia preparing for the show and they stumble upon this treasure box. The box contained items from every era of Raqs Sharqi since B.C. The intention was to feature each prop and then present the dance that matched it? I think they decided at the last minute not to do that as it would take up so much time and there were already…what? 27 performers? I don’t know. But…each piece had an outstanding historical intro so that was really all that was needed. I would like to see this done again but perhaps video taped and sold as “The Best of Raqs Sharqi…a time capsule” and include the historical skits and settings. Then, distribute it globally. If any of the producers are interested in doing that let me know. We can discuss it…then work out the funding and get it done.

Highlights
Here are just *some* of the amazing performances from that evening. There were more than 12+ sets, so the show was exceptionally long but very nclusive!

Jendayi and her team presented the B.C. style of Raqs featuring the series of Goddesses that are often referenced in this era. It was a very nice opening to the show. What stood out for me were the costumes. They featured a lot of the era’s script and symbols in a very tasteful way. It didn’t feel kitschy or silly. It looked good. Congrats to this team for thinking about their music, fine details and respectful choreography void of stereotypes.
Again, excellent opening. I wish this had been presented at the Fox with bold lighting striking down like lightening highlighting each person’s moves. Very nice piece…

imageTallita’s Meleya Leff routine was awesome! I really wish we had more Egyptians in the audience and fans of this genre with which to get into it. I was ready to get up and wiggle around like my uncles (and bold aunts) would do for this one. She wore a red dress with the traditional flower accents on it and a black meleya with which she spun around playfully. Meleya Leff is one of my favourite dances from our industry and I’d happily have that piece presented at important milestones in my life. Tallita did a fantastic job! Mabrook wa shukran.

Aziza Nawal’s raqs team presented a piece from the Mazin family (Egypt). I won’t go into historical facts about them because that would require a publisher and a summer for readers to finish it due to their vast history in the region. In short, the Mazin sisters were very well known in their area and would put on shows in house and at functions. This performance by Aziza the Great!! 😉 and her team brought me to tears. This family has experienced some great challenges of late and their surviving sister still faces opposition in various ways due to the “times.” It’s nice to see someone celebrate these ladies for the simple fact they are a huge part of Raqs history that gets pushed aside and overshadowed by the commercialism by which our culture has been touched. So, shukran Aziza and team for being so inclusive. The whole presentation, from zills, to their signature formations was just gorgeous.

Culturally accurate Ghawazee - Mazin family salutes

Culturally accurate Ghawazee – Mazin family salutes

Diane Coriani, founder of Zeina Dance Company floored us with a very authentic and passionate Karsilama. I just need a minute, I might start crying again… whew…mercy. It was so good. When I was a little girl, I used to love to watch the men dance and I still do. This is where I learned the art of our cultural entertainment. The men were so spirited and would leap into the air with kicks and spins. They would put their heart and soul into any space that let them and at the Turkish festivals, Greek fest and other programs you’d see those guys shoulder to shoulder, line dancing til nightfall. Drenched in sweat and still looking ultra amazing, they’d pause, clap and one person would go to the center and tear that dance floor up!!! THAT is what Diane did last night. Like a member of a male trio, she got out there with her footwork and fierce energy to bring to life what few get to see outside the international community. She later said that she wished she had been able to really bring it forth or something but I think what she presented was enough to get the point across. Her silk road suit and regional kufi cap was a thing of cultural couture. I was there when she bought it and I was wishing they had one my size because I wanted it too. It really worked well for this set and I do want to see it again. If I was in good health I’d go out and do it with her, I absolutely miss this so much and, much like what Aziza and her team presented, felt like this is a part of our industry’s history that isn’t presented enough to western audiences. As we see more of the cultural dances of the people being put on stage, I’m sure that Karsilama and other regional line dances -plus some- will be embraced. Mabrook Diane!

Samora started off ACT II which pushed us into the most modern eras of our art. Having a raissa at a wedding is now a staple, not a luxury or an option. If you don’t have a dancer, then you might as well have not gotten married in my culture. I did expect Shemadan but going along with the modernity of our time, this was a typical scene that could have played out in a non-hyphenated American home. A couple stood before us, Ryanne was the officiant and the two got married. They threw the bouquet, Leizel caught it, knocking me down in the process (just kidding, it legit landed at her feet, I guess she and her husband can renew their vows for fun. xoxoox Hire Samora for the ceremony!!), and then they sat at the wedding table. The decor, while minimal was so perfect. Orchids in vases, white decor highlighted with cool lights. Samora’s costume matched the setting and she danced to a modern Egyptian song which talked about the singer’s passion and feelings. It was quite lovely. She did an amazing job, you could really feel the emotion and sentiment. Not everyone can master songs like that but Samora did and did it very well. At the very end she placed the veil around the groom and exited the stage just as the lights dimmed. THIS is theatre raqs and was perhaps the most beautiful scene of the night in that it literally looked so real I’d say that couple can just consider it legit and go buy a house. It’s done! Loved this!!!

Kalinka and Tallita presented a Khaleegy and Kawleeya mn al Emirates (Em-ir-ahts vs Emir-aHtees). Tallita appeared first and did a very beautiful and well executed Khaleegi piece that suddenly paused. She slowly turned around to find Kalinka coming out to the dance floor with powerful steps and footwork that eventually led to a grand set of Kawleeya moves. That, too, stopped and suddenly the music changed as the ladies exited…beladi masri music blared and out they reappeared in white thobes with hair ties styled just like Aida Nour and Tito’s duet from the International Bellydance Conference of Canada. How am I supposed to stay seated during presentations like these? It’s not possible!!! I struggled!! omgooooodness, aiewwaaaaa! yani, helowa!!! Merci mamnoonam, it was incredible!!!! Muito Obrigada ladies!! Next time, make it longer!

Jahara Phoenix appeared next with American Tribal Style pieces that would have made Carolena Nericcio quite proud. (Out of respect for this lady, I hope everyone learns to say her name correctly. She has influenced us greatly in one way or another…so…yeah, I’ll get a recording of her saying her name so we can publish our salutes and have precise pronunciations) Basket, swordwork, zills and floorwork were first presented and followed by iconic ATS raqs transitions. It was amazing as expected. JP really know how to become favourites and household names. I was completely swept away, so much so that when it was over I sort of “realised” ohh, I’m in a theatre…this was not a dream. Yeah, it was THAT good.

imageThe Golden Era was first presented by Lady Morrigan who presented a flawless set representing the great dancers of film (both Hollywood and Egypt, but more Egypt). There is an old recording of shows featuring Nadia Gamal and several others…Naima Akef? I can’t remember but it’s out there and the cover features one of them with a simple bedluh – in this case a bi-quarter skirt and bra top, matching shoes and an expression to die for. Lady Morrigan nailed that entire image. Not only did she master it with physical features, she matched the moves as well including the fleeting vanish at the end so known to many films when the dancer leaves the stage or exits the scene. I was mesmerized, I was taken away…we were immediately transformed back in time and it was spectacular, I felt like I was in my uncle’s old shoppe near the university, drinking strong coffee with a stack of old VHS tapes of movies. It was perfect! If you love historical representations of the Egyptian film era, you would have loved this…awesome, awesome, awesome!

imageBeth Mendez’ piece was another impressive one. Her opening was the strongest of the routine and her costume realllllly took us to a new place in raqs couture. She made it herself! Find the photos, it’s to die for…that thing was some intricate piece of work. I loved it!!!!! And that ruffled veil…oohhh honey! I’d wear that out on the town! This set was a fusion of Flamenco and Raqs Sharqi. It was not the fusion we’ve seen with big huge commercial steps and kitschy choreography. This was a truly hardcore solid set that featured music from the region…the classic material. The music won me over in this case and the next time I see it, I hope it includes a troupe or maybe two others to give it a really strong feel. It was a lovely piece that should be celebrated by more than one. Very nice material, really impressive.

Northside Tribe presented Gothic Bellydance – that Lacy…man she sprinkled some seasoning on that troupe, they were hot! They looked gorgeous, sexy even. I think I said that Lacy’s recent performance at EOB14 was one of my favourites since I first saw her perform but this was even better than that one. Their whole troupe was insync and you could feel their fondness or maybe even attachment to this genre. Very nice presentation!! That could easily be placed in a film project or some sort of scene in a modern movie. A-grade material right there! Congrats!!

Awalim in Time Capsule show

Awalim in Time Capsule show

Awalim performed one of my favourite pieces in their repertoire. It’s rare that I don’t see Ziah with this team but they held their own out there and did a fine job with it. Every single second of that routine looked flawless as if they just break this out at random any time and any place. I also enjoyed hearing the history of East Coast Tribal/ECATS. That was a great compliment to Awalim’s contributions to this region. I do feel they are quite a powerhouse in that genre and remain a staple on the scene. What a great achievement!

imageShahrzad was the final performer of the night…and when she entered the stage in that gorgeous solid gold pailates costume I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Sure enough, she again, jussssst blew us away. I couldn’t even write anything about it. I just put my pen down, put my phone for taking pictures away and just sat there bracing myself. I can’t even speak on this…I just cant. You had to be there to see this. From deluxe, supreme tummy flutters to flawless travelling steps and regional moves that can only translate well on someone who bathes themselves in the Arab world to the audience interaction, it was allllllllllllllllllllllllllll flawless. ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL OF IT!!! CADA MOMENTO!!! TUDO, TUDO, TUDO!!!! I. CAN. NOT. STRESS. ENOUGH. HOW. INSANELY. AMAZING. THIS. SET. WAS.

The show…was great!!! There weren’t any bad, boring sets. Everyone brought their A+ game…they were on it! I was so glad that I had been able to make it. I was so happy to support the project and huge thanks to Faaridah for wrangling this together alongside all of the others. It was an enormous task that came together beautifully and I’m so happy that we can do things like this here in Atlanta…the southern gateway to the world!

Enjoy this great video of Shahrzad

*Full review on Raqs Atlanta – Yahoo!

Bellydance Evolution – The Biggest Game Changer in the Raqs World

Alice in Wonderland Cast

Alice in Wonderland Cast

Bellydance Evolution’s Alice in Wonderland was a major game changer in the Raqs World. This was the perfect marriage of a storyline and Middle Eastern art. What made this stand out as a pillar of perfection was this team’s ability to mesh classic Mideast art and music in the context of a timeless classic tale. It. Was. Everything!!!

My usual reviews detail from start to finish the highlights of the programs, the costumes, the presentation, any shared backstories where applicable and so much more. But I understand that not every city has had the chance to see it yet and spoilers are not popular. While I always love to know in advance what I’m going to view I respect others’ wishes to walk in fresh and unassuming. However, I am going to express my grand emotion and excitement regarding several cultural aspects of the show from an Alice in Wonderland superfanatic (I love the White Rabbit & Alice as is known by all linked to my social media accounts) and my appreciation for Raqs Sharqi began long before I was born being one from a Nigerian family with Middle Eastern extended relatives. So, as always, these comments are from my cultural perspective and are my opinion – not representing any of the media organisations, businesses and associations with which I am affiliated. I celebrate 16 years as a fan of this art having travelled to numerous cities just to see top Raqs Stars. I live for this! This is ‘what I do.’

The show began with an incredible opener featuring what, at first, were unfamiliar faces to me. It wasn’t until about 2 minutes into the piece that I realised these incredibly skilled raissat were actually Heidi of Jahara Phoenix, Samora, Aziza Nawal, Nawar and a slew of others. This immediate change and transformation from award winning dancers, popular international community raqs artists and teachers to exquisite, top notch professionals on a level I had not ever seen before made it VERY clear this show was a game changer. We were immediately warned with every move that we’d need to hold on, the industry as we knew it…was no more. ‘Bellydance in the USA’ 24 hours ago, is gone. Jillina’s vision is the new now!

The costuming, the moves, the physical presentation from their eye shadow to their hair was an indication that thought had not only gone into this but also blood, sweat, tears and CULTURAL RESEARCH (and maybe a little soul-selling because some of those moves and intricacies are not revealed outside the deepest parts of the region). These were not the women we knew before, they underwent a re-birth like nothing I’ve ever seen. Compare it to butterflies taking flight after a long process in the cocoon aka rehearsal and refinement. That Jillina is a genius. I have no idea what she did to them but she has got to be the plastic surgeon of Mideast dance skills. I can not stress this enough. She is also very culturally conscious beyond the surface. Some choreographers, show producers and artistic directors are keen to change their cast into one aesthetic. If Jillina is the sole person responsible for the way those ladies looked then she deserves an award for ‘Cultural Excellence’ and perhaps recognition from specific groups that award the preservation of beauty for people of colour. I’m the child of non-Americans and ethnic minorities. I have lived in the west and know the pressures many are put under to change oneself to one particular aesthetic. I’ve seen this hurt our art. But this is no more, this stage was void of all stereotypes and cookie-cutter images or imagery. THIS WAS INCREDIBLY REFRESHING. Going forward, no one will EVER be able to get away with hiding ethnicity in dance in exchange for pleasing the beast of western commercialization. This is the new now…be real, be you. Jillina allowed the dancers to shine and represent the true ‘Raqs World’ as we African, Arabs and Eastern ex-pats and families know it. For me, I feel we have regained a sense of pride and respect in that we can be allowed to love ourselves again without prejudice and conforming to a mere percentage of our natural selves. THIS is a historic moment not just in our industry but in the grand scheme of the way beauty is marketed. Lay down the gauntlet of ethnic shaming and the tyranny of colonialism in modern day. This show has paved a new path, alhumdulillah!

So many scenes included incredible costuming!

So many scenes included incredible costuming!

Alice in Wonderland: The Show
You didn’t have to be familiar with the story to understand it but it sure helped. Otherwise it may have been this incredibly fashioned kaleidescope of absolute wonder. For those of us who read this story once a year at annual Japanese Tea Parties, well…haha, you can imagine we were all over this production like a little child in a doll store.

Fast Learners: I have no idea how these dancers managed to learn so much so fast. This was a crock pot of cultural dance that was polished and presented beyond perfection. I love the interaction between Alice and that Bunny. OMG, the Alice in Wonderland superfan in me came bursting into zaghareets and screams. They way in which the symbols of the tale, the key, the “drink me” and “eat me” sign were all so well-presented it turned us into 3 year olds. We were ecstatic!

Issam as a tabla playing chef: Issam’s appearance drove us to bits. He is such an extraordinary musician whose talent and kindness are leaps and bounds above a plethora of celebrated artists. It was a brilliant idea to have him alongside, playing the chef of all things, he turns the tabla upside down, it becomes a cooking pot…see, it’s things like this woven into the show that make it so incredible and enjoyable for all who love this tale.

Other outstanding elements are the inclusion of every. single. cultural dance in the region. From the new(er) sha’abi (think of Yael Zarca’s version) to the Tanoura Masri featuring spinning and “derviche tournement” (think Sal Maktoob Vanegas and Mohamed Shahin); it was there! And borrowing a phrase from Issam’s earlier work, “Let me show you…”

The marvelous moves of the Caterpillar were a highlight  for Atlanta's Internationals

The marvelous moves of the Caterpillar were a highlight for Atlanta’s Internationals

For one thing, signature regional moves and level changes (think Tito Seif mn Al Msr) were brought forward in solos. Tweedle Dee and Tweetle Dum, complete with spinning propeller hats danced around with a traditional tahtib scene. I’m not talking some little walking around with canes in pretty dresses, this was well-thought out, regionally researched and again, here’s that term…another example of “perfecting perfection.” Then, there was the beautiful green caterpillar played by the ever-loved Sharon Kihara who we in Atlanta met in person several times before, and up-close and personal at BOD 2011. This caterpillar exquisitely segued into a khaleegi routine that meshed into Iranian Bandari with a bit of bedouin dance as well. Now, let me tell you how fierce this was…she went beyond hair tosses. She had several Iraqi Bedouin dances down to a science…the very intricate moves that are extremely hard to teach in that you don’t just learn to move your head a certain way, the spirit has to take over for that to be executed correctly. She was steeped in ta’arab grandeur if that makes any sense. This was my favourite part of the whole performance. She then went into a very vibrant set of hair tosses with her team using modern fusion style costumes incorporated with ethnic cuts from the region. Those of us who see this daily will know what I mean, from the hair stylings to the garments, this was all so intricate that not only would I have invited my baba and mum, I’d have asked for several tourism boards in the region to please come and see this. It was unreal. I failed to keep quiet, my zaghareets rang out so loud, people near me began to do their own versions, so soon it was a myriad of cultural calls coming not only from the 19th row where I was sitting but also from the 20th and back. Even kids were bursting from emotion. We just lost it…there was so much cultural pride at that moment I could barely stand it. I was certain if it got any more intense I’d be escorted out. Again, had I been on the front row I may have been disruptive so I suppose it was a blessing that I was in the back.

The scene with the parasols meshes and morphes into the Cheshire Cat...you gotta see it...it puts the T in Talent!

The scene with the parasols meshes and morphes into the Cheshire Cat…you gotta see it…it puts the T in Talent!

The Spinning Mushrooms & the Cheshire Cat: At this point, my soul has floated away and is in a type of midst in the theatre. All I had left was a little bit of my voice and my eyes. Enter the stage, several women with parasols and EurAsian attire. Very serene, very beautiful and culturally accurate costuming. Remember the part in the book where the Cheshire cat appears and disappears…well, let me tell you how these perfectionists perfectly executed this piece. They form an incredible circle and the parasols are lowered, coming together to form the face of the cat. Petite Jamila, the spinning kitty, who spun a minimum of 6 veils, catching several from Alice, appears and reappears as the face/parasols float on the stage. It was majestic and supernatural even. I was just as afraid and exhilarated as I was reading the book and seeing the movie. My heart is weak so I have to be careful getting too emotional but I was seriously covered in goosebumps, my skin and hair were bristling, I got cold chills watching this play out. And if that wasn’t enough, here come these textured masses on either side of the stage. They have covered tops and as they begin to spin I see them form mushrooms. These are the Tanoura Masri mushrooms, faces covered! Just like you see on several presenters from Egypt. They were completely blinded in this set from start to finish, spinning in brown and beige textured Tanoura suits with the mushroom tops floating up, forming actual human Tanoura Masri mushrooms. This was one of those ‘mic drop’ moments…but not just mic drop on the stage with a hard thud. This was mic drop into a swimming pool…complete with electric shock and sparks flying all over the place. I was done at this point, this show was now the greatest raqs show on earth. THE GREATEST!! It had surpassed every wedding I’d ever been to, it was on par with the IBCC, BOD and all that inbetween. Nothing…nothing compares.

Lamma Bada: The next scene is very important to ATL’s community. Many know of the band Allah Yustur who revived the importance of this song in our town. To see it included last night with such finesse; the white garments, the Spanish style and Flamenco movements to start and then to burst into the Rroma material which is the other half of that great Rrom lineage was incredible. What was also nice was to hear the beginings of the song and the low hum in the audience of people singing along (at least in my section). Now that proves this town “gets it.” Atlanta has once again allowed its cultural side to manifest and perch. Kudos ATL!!! Mabrook, be you!! Thank you BDE for bringing it out of us.

Other notable scenes that meshed cultural dance with great significance were the ‘Queen of Hearts’ scenes and the tea party…where I have to say Louchia and Heidi shined beyond comparison. The way in which the skirt became a table and watching Alice run between characters to try and get her place at the table…I mean, good heavens, this was incredible! You have to see it. From the Mad Hatter to the court and croquet, all of this show was everything. It was again, perfection perfected complete with an international cast dotted with ex-pats and first generationers like myself (i.e. Heidi, Constance). It redefined raqs theatre and reminded us of what we should be doing in this industry. THIS is real fusion, it’s identifiable, it’s real, it’s relative…it’s raqs!

The tango of the Mad Hatter and the Hare ( #DanieloTheBestBunnyEver ) is fantastic!

The tango of the Mad Hatter and the Hare ( #DanieloTheBestBunnyEver ) is fantastic!

Too Soon?: Surely something was wrong, nothing is perfect! Well, in this case it was. BDE’s AIW was perfect! I think the only thing that worried me was the “off with their head” scene. Given the news of the day, beheadings of western journalists with the executors’ “supposed” ties to the region and earlier this week, an aid worker given the same fate (?), this scene was a little bit of a trigger for me. Fortunately, the humour brought into the scene, which included Heidi’s dad coincidentally being brought to the stage with Jillina removed the memories of what we’re dealing with in the real world. It was so well put together, including the hair colour of the little cut heads matching the garments of each principal character that I didn’t think of the incidents for long. I have no idea how in the world the team could have rearranged the piece this late in the game with respect to the news. But, at the end of the day, the tales’ gruesome section was somehow made gorgeous and perhaps no one even thought about it from any other perspective.

I can’t think of any other theatre production in this industry that has been as moving and grand. I’m overwhelmed and I can’t wait to see what they do next! Even if it doesn’t make it to Atlanta I’d like to travel and see it. At this point, I’m simply speechless and steeped in gratitude for the intense work and over the top effort put into the entire show.

Hugs & Hallway Tears
After the show, I had to go sit down because I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I first spoke to the members of Turkish MissBellydance.com to get their reaction. They were speechless much like I was. I really couldn’t talk for about 30 minutes. It was so intense that when Aziza came over to say hello I couldn’t get any words out. I just started crying. I’m fighting back tears writing this.

Wrapping Up EOB 2014: -Back at the Twelve- Issam has just come in and again, emotions are high. One thing I’ve managed to do is leave the stars alone. I haven’t taken any photos, no pictures, nothing with anyone. I didn’t dress up in my cultural attire, I simply took a back seat and have kept quiet. I’ll let my fingers and social posts speak for me. I thank Danielo for sending a friend request, happy to be friends with Issam already. Seeing him in person is very difficult. I really want to get up and go sit next to him right now but I know I’d throw my arms around him and hug him as long as he let me. #TeeHee

Big thanks to Faaridah for going through with this massive endeavor. This was too much in every aspect. It’s just too much work for one person but again it somehow turned into this incredibly beautiful event that has left the entire city and surrounding communities speechless and in awe. I’d write more, but I’m verklempt, talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic, -incredible dance communities with a passion to keep the countless cultural connections alive and well in creative ways… discuss!

Thanks for reading!
-Andye
*Full Weekend review coming to Raqs Atlanta inclusive of Friday’s show featuring the Amazing Amani Jabril, Aziza Nawal and Jenny Nichols (who stole that show hands down)! Enjoy!

*Pictures are from Google images and public files as we weren’t allowed to take any photos or videos of the performance – if there are any issues with the above usage contact me at @andyeisthenews