(MA) Snake Dance Theater presents "Egypt-o-Mania"!

by Shae Rossi 

On Saturday October 11th, I had the opportunity to attend Egypt-O-mania: A Love Affair with the East 1890-1950. Billed as “A Belly Dance Benefit, Vintage-Style,” Egypt-O-mania was “inspired by America's fascination with all things Egyptian and Egypt's adaptations of Hollywood style and western music.” The show was also a fund raiser, hosted by Snake Dance Theater, for the Bantwana Initiative. The initiative's mission is “to improve the well-being of vulnerable children and their caregivers and families affected by HIV and AIDS and poverty.” 

 

 

I learned a lot from this event about what can make or break a show. For example, in the weeks leading up to the event, the dancers did something unique that I haven't seen done for local events before. On the event's Facebook page, some of the dancers took turns interviewing each other about the pieces they would be performing. That was how I learned that a dancer I was excited to see perform would be doing a piece inspired by Ruth St. Denis.

Tamsyn Bindal. Photo by Scott D'Amato.

When asked why she'd been inspired by St. Denis, Tamsyn Bindal wrote: “We were looking for an inspiration from the early 1900s, and Ruth St. Denis is a pioneer known for introducing Eastern ideas to modern dance. She's absolutely perfect for a West-looks-East theme! In addition, she's an inspiration for both the belly dance and modern dance communities, both of which I've studied, so it felt right for me personally.”

Along with the interviews, which generated much excitement and anticipation on my part, Snake Dance Theater also booked a photo shoot for themselves, and used the gorgeous vintage-looking, flapperesque images for event promotion. This further stirred the pot, as well as generated a great buzz on Facebook.

Suffice to say, I anticipated the event with quite a bit of fervor. The evening was full of ups and downs, however.

Every single dance performance was outstanding. The costuming was beautiful to the point of being mind-blowing. The choreographies were fun, sensual, dynamic, and often surprising. This wasn't a 100% belly dance show, first of all. There was an adorable flapper-kitten piece, with pointed ears and everything. This might sound silly, but the choreography was smart, sassy, technical, and made me think of Mia Michaels. There were musical interludes, with drums, accordion, and other instruments. There were traditional cabaret-style pieces (I think nearly every other piece had a veil involved), and there were also a few Hollywood musical numbers that were outstandingly fun. There were Isis wings, lanterns, canes, more veils, and swords. There was a sacrifice to an island god, and a dance of the seven veils.

Flapper kittens! Photo by Scott D'AmatoMy favorite pieces were the flapper-kittens, and the Ruth St. Denis piece by Tamsyn. Not only was Tamsyn's peacock costume gorgeous, but she danced mostly with her arms, and with her hands forming bird beaks. Her movements were precise and muscular, sharp and fluid at the same time. She moved like a long, delicate bird; all angles that flowed smoothly from one position to the next. It was mesmerizing, and everyone around me remarked on how lovely it was.  

There was also a cute piece by Johara about a maid who secretly wanted to be a famous dancer. Her solo with a feather boa turned into a fun and energetic Hollywood musical-style number, complete with two backup dancers in velvet vests. Their foot work, kicks, and antics had the crowd whooping and cheering.

This show's offerings were astounding. I so dearly wish they had had the technical support they deserved. And I don't mean the technique of the dancers, which was lovely. The sound person for this show seemed to be having an incredibly difficult time. It seems he didn't have the ability to play MP3s on his setup, which is mind-blowing in this day and age. Instead, each dancer had to bring him a CD that day, which he would then spend time inserting and starting. For each number. Which meant that there was tons of dead air, where the house lights would be down and we'd be sitting in the darkness, just waiting for the music to start, with the dancers often waiting on the blackened stage. And apparently this was the first time he was running through with these CDs, because the music would start out blaring, or ridiculously quiet and the sound person would then frantically work to adjust them.

How the music wasn't gotten to him early enough for him to have set his levels is unknown. He was apparently there all day, and the dancers have known for a long time what music they were dancing to. Maybe there was some huge melt down with his gear or something that day. Whatever the case, it led to an incredibly frustrating experience for audience and performers. There were even two women who were doing singing numbers who ended up doing so a cappella.

In addition, during various parts of the show, a small band of musicians gathered at the foot of the stage and played a few songs. They were fantastic, and it was incredibly hard not to get out of our seats and dance, but everyone was straining to see them. Nothing was happening on the stage, so I'm not sure why they hid the musicians where only the first few rows could see them.

Malaya leff. Photo by Scott D'Amato.Two other things would have taken this show to another level. The first would have been to have had an MC to help keep the event moving smoothly, and the second would have been to have had a program. For some reason, none of the dancers were introduced and none of their pieces were explained. There apparently was a program online, but it wasn't accessible while we were there, and the audience was quite confused as to who was who and what they were doing. The only reason I knew one of the acts was a tribute to Mata Hari was because I'd read the dancer's interview online. Until I connected the dots, however, I couldn't figure out what she was doing at all wandering around the stage with a lantern and what I now think were stolen documents or something. I also didn't know until someone explained to me after the show that the sweet looking lady who seemed to be dressed in her Sunday best was singing a Billy Holiday song I didn't recognize. An MC and a program for the audience would have solved this issue neatly, and put the performances much more into perspective. 

This was a great, show, however. I hope that, between the door prices and the raffle, they were able to raise money and awareness for the charity. The variety of the lavish costumes seemed endless. The performances ranged from ballroom and the roaring twenties, to classical cabaret, flamenco, drag queen, silver screen, and beyond. In all, this was a fantastic show, and the performers did themselves much credit in the face of so many technical difficulties.

Shae Rossi is a writer and editor who has been dancing and exploring belly dance for nearly fifteen years. She is a teacher, performer, choreographer, troupe director, eternal student, and recent member of Vadalna Tribal Dance Company. Shae has a love for all forms and types of belly dance, though American Tribal Style is her deepest passion. When dancing as a soloist, Shae fuses her background in various styles of belly dance, along with many years of martial arts and body therapy training.