by Morgana Mirage
From the sparkling ballrooms of hotels in Egypt and Beirut, to the snow-covered mountains of New England, Aurel D’Agostino and a shimmering array of talent circumnavigated the globe on a tour of music, dance, and joy. The event aptly summarized in its name, “A Celebration of Friendship Everywhere,” took place Aug. 17 at the Holiday Inn in Mansfield, Mass.
The opening performance harkened to the golden age of Oriental dance, with a grand, orchestral sound. An ensemble led by none other than George Maalouf played the classic Arab standard, “Haram Tahabek” (forbidden to love you) made famous by the singer Warda.
Aurel entered in a dazzling pink and gold costume with shimmering Isis wings, and performed with her signature energetic style.
She sang another Warda favorite, "Batwanes Beek", meaning, “whether near or far, I cherish you.” Her greeting to the audience was warm and unifying, saying she was “so grateful, so blessed that there are people who want to go out and have a good time with their friends and families.” This song was followed by the Egyptian folk song, “Ah Ya Zein,” meaning, “Oh, beautiful one.”
Then it was time for some serious stepping up, as the Mirza Ensemble, directed by Christine Mirson-Tohme - also known near and wide by her dance name, Shadia - entered to perform a set of exciting dabkes in which Aurel joined. Dabke is the national dance of Lebanon, meant to be dance with spirit and pride.
Aurel, who had demured from the stage for a bit, reappeared in a sassy Turkish costume for a sassy Turkish dance in the traditional style, with long skirt, flared sleeves, and a flair for fun. The song this time was another favorite - “Istemem Babacim,” which literally means, “I don’t want to, papa, I don’t want to. ” She explained in comic fashion the meaning of the song, in which a strong-willed young woman rejects a number of suitors that her father presents.
Photos by Peter Paradise Michaels of RavenWolfe Photography, courtesy of Aurelevant Productions.
From there the show began a graceful segue to the sounds of Japan, with a mesmerizing mix of music, poetry and martial arts merged into a unique art form, by Soke Grand Master Tsjui, with Samurai drummers and the time-honored taiko drum. The performance was also a blend of an original creation, and an ancient practice in which the drum retains a sacred and honored presence in Japanese culture.
Not everyone could make the leap of musical setting from Japan to, say, Vermont, but this Aurel did, with not only music, by a moving memory - of her loud, jovial Italian father, and her Irish grandfather influenced by the local Yankee culture, and who was more reserved. But when the former played “Danny Boy,” an English folk song that has become synonymous with Irish history, there was a meeting of the minds and hearts, through music. Aurel offered her own rendition, and though the room was mostly dark, it’s fair to say there were misty eyes about.
Aurel also sang an Italian song, in homage to her Italian heritage, and “Cielito Lindo,” or “Beautiful darling,” a Mexican song of enduring popularity, whose chorus of “Aye, aye, aye aye, canta y no llores,” (please sing, and don’t cry) is familiar to many outside Mexican culture, mostly from film.
Aurel involved the audience, urging them to join in the songs, and then got them on their feet to bust out a move of their own, with Middle Eastern, Latin and even American pop music, with a fitting coda - Katrina and the Waves’ 1980s hit, “Walking on Sunshine.”
And although it was well into night when the show ended, it’s fair to say that’s how concert goers felt as they departed.
Morgana Mirage is associate editor of Belly Dance New England.