Bellydance Superstars Comes to Cleveland Stage
In everything from cuisine to clothing, there’s a new trend toward fusion, but there exists a fine line between the eclectic combination of numerous cultural aspects and their blatant bastardization by piling together stereotypical elements into a hyped-up performance that is for pure entertainment alone. Bellydance Superstars’s latest show, Babelesque, has at least a big toe and, well, a belly, over that line. Although Tuesday’s performance in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square Center was a ton of fun, even drawing a few elderly crazies fully decked out in belly dance gear, the show could have used a little more refinement.
Belly dance is an Arabic style of dance primarily developed in the Middle East. It is a social dance for both sexes, performed by all ages at gatherings from weddings to festivals. Traditionally, it was learned by imitation at these community celebrations.
The brainchild of entertainment manager Miles Copeland, Bellydance Superstars has become a fast money-making machine in just four years, with international tours, a slew of instructional dance DVDs, CD complications and apparel (I was salivating over a pair of gold faux-sapphire encrusted dangling earrings during intermission).
After a flashy (and I mean flashy as in nearly blinding sequined costumes) opening dance, drummer Issam Houshan, who hails from Syria, partnered with Sonia (dancers are on a first name only basis) for the “Art of the Drum Solo.” The solo dance featured her fluidity and flexibility, sparsely accompanied by Houshan’s complex rhythms. Houshan continued to appear throughout the show with his slightly accented English, riling up the audience and producing a ridiculously awesome time for the sequined dancing figures.
Pieces incorporated hip-hop moves (“Ya Raitone”), Chinese ribbon dance (“Behind the Veil”), Irish step (“Stick Dance”), formal ballet technique (“To the Pointe”), Polynesian dance (“Bellynesian”) and tantalizing whiffs of flamenco and cabaret styles. In more than one piece, jazz and strobe-light clubbing mentality influenced the style.
“Behind the Veil” began with a few dancers on stage, each with two white ribbon-sashes, mostly performing the butterfly move typical of traditional Chinese dance. As the piece progressed, however, it became obvious that those ribbons were the start of something much bigger. Orange, black and white veils soon appeared on stage in a swirling swath of sheer gauze, hypnotizing and dizzying viewers. Three days later, I’m still convinced that anybody with such a high-level twirling capability must be the most tolerant person of motion sickness in the history of mankind (therefore, making her a valuable part of evolution — cloning, anyone?).
Performing en pointe in “To the Pointe” proved to be an unusual feat for the dancer Sabah, but the grace required for ballet did not complement the sensuality of belly dancing. The difference between the two splits the illusion of long, smooth lines and arches from the reality of sensuous, velvety curves. With that said, Sabah later floated in an amazing glissade diagonally across the stage.
Unfortunately, the brief quoting of Riverdance in “Stick Dance” fell flat. Despite the gorgeous, glimmering green costumes I’d happily don to attend my 9 a.m. class, the choreography was both trite and much too stereotypical for my taste. Of course, growing up with urban parents who, for some unknown reason, loved the Radio City Rockettes, I’ve been ruined for any less-than-perfect line dancing.
It wasn’t until Act Two that the dances showcased primarily bare-footed dancers. In many pieces from Act One, dancers wore heels. It was amazing, of course, to belly dance in metallic strappy sandals. Unfrtunately, those heels created a shifty image of less-than-supple and synchronized dancing.
The hard-to-see projected backdrop worked better with some dances than others, providing a steroid-infused version of the iTunes visualizer behind piles of glittering skirts and shawls. At times, it was distracting and at others, it seemed irrelevant.
Artistic director and main choreographer Jillina finally separated from the crowd for a solo piece in “Dance of the Drums,” beginning with a hilarious showdown between drummer and dancer — any rhythm Houshan could do with his hands, Jillina could do better with her feet. Jillina’s talent clearly surpassed that of any other dancer in Babelesque. Not a single dancer even began to rival her ability to glide across the stage in the most convoluted contortions of her core. She had a certain attitude that infused her dancing with power. In the middle of an incredibly complicated move in which Jillina’s back was on the floor, performing amazing curlicues with her belly (a trick that would allow me to see what I had for breakfast six days prior), an audience member called out, “You go, girl!”
Jillina should certainly be applauded for her efforts in choreographing Babelesque — it cannot be simple to put a show of this caliber together. Nevertheless, more attention to detail is needed.