Aurel raqs the Paris Cabaret

by Amina Delal*

I was so surprised when they asked me to review Aurel’s show. For I’ve a strong bias and hence, am not exactly an objective opinion. Can’t be helped. I’ve known Aurel since her belly dance infancy. While I’m at it here, I’ll also out myself as one of her pushy stage mothers pretty much since the beginning. 

We met in Amira Jamal’s class: me a highly seasoned professional, she an ardent student who’s flame burned with curiosity. I love seeing someone so enthused and watching them as they bloom. It inspires me to view the dance through the wonder in their eyes. I don’t recall whether we bonded before her first recital performance. We had great fun in class together but that credit goes to the excellence of the teacher (giver-goddess that she is). 

The student showcase was staged in a proper theatre with an intimidatingly large proscenium stage, good lighting, and sound. Some people never get to appear in such a grand venue (and one so challenging to project one’s energy to an audience at such a distance). The choice of music was left to each participant as well as whether to use a prop such as a veil or cane. Whatever it took, for just going out there to dance, never mind solo, is an act of considerable courage. 

For her debut, Aurel chose a drum solo, a nervy choice for any novice. At the time I did not know she had a conservatory degree as well as tremendous performance chops. I only know what I saw, that she absolutely got it. She was able to express every beat, embellishment, and accent of the percussion, something requiring strongly-integrated listening skills and bodily control. The audience was transfixed by her, myself no exception. 

In fact, there’s a video somewhere of that performance when she stopped the show. And, as she’s totally nailing a climactic accent, you hear someone spontaneously moved to shout, “Yes!” That was me and I’m still shouting. 

As she’s grown and evolved, Aurel has made it her business to become truly knowledgable about belly dance, relentless in her continual pursuit of excellence. The woman works her ass off in her her exacting, exhaustive study of Middle-Eastern dance and the associated cultures, both traditional and contemporary. I’ve watched (in awe) her growth as a performer and as an inspiring educator much-loved by her students. She never disappoints me; I am so proud of her. And that is just her dancing.

Her singing persona gives her additional dimension as an entertainer, integrating a lifetime of training as a musician and performer. She once described herself to me as a moving singer. This whole other skill set - well-honed by a career of jazz gigs, weddings, and corporate shows - gives her distinction well beyond that of a backup singer or show girl. 

As an entertainer, educator, and choreographer, becoming a producer was only natural. After years of sold-out student showcases, her own nightclub gigs, educational lectures, and gala functions, who better to give us so enchanting an evening’s entertainment suitable for absolutely everyone? 

Photo by Pam Ela, courtesy of AuRelevant Productions. 

And what a perfect intimate venue is The Paris Cabaret, this cute, cozy, inviting dinner theatre in Stoughton, MA with its own loyal following, most of whom hadn’t ever been to a Greek restaurant or seen a real belly dancer. Yet before long, Aurel had this sedate American audience throwing both arms in the air yelling, “Opa!” throughout the performance. 

With her show by the same name, she brings nightclub-style belly dance (also known as “Cabaret”) back to its original intimate setting, much as it was when originally popularized in this country just after the second World War, the golden era of going out to night clubs and the variety floor show. 

Sold out in advance (with another in the works), Aurel brought her enthusiastic audience all the “live” in live-entertainment. This carefully-crafted blend of authentic Near and Middle-Eastern traditional music and song for Western eyes and ears welcomed everyone without a whiff of “foreign”.  Right at home, the eager audience enjoyed a yummy, authentic Greek dinner (just like your Yia-Yia made) serenaded by the Kokoras Brothers ensemble featuring Mike Gregian, with guest drummer Bill D’Agostino for extra swing. As the merry guests were savoring the meal, the room buzzed with excitement. Then shortly after dinner was cleared, the lights dimmed and it was on with the show. 

Well, talk about the hardest-working woman is show business, Aurel took her audience on a Mediterranean tour never even panting. She charmed them with songs in Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and English; liberally sprinkled with stories, gentle humor, and absolute grace in dance. I saw a room full of smiling people completely mesmerized and enjoying themselves immensely. 

Because she explained the context of her songs with story (and a little schtick), the audience better appreciated both the music and dance. Their delight was evident in genuine smiles, as many kept time to the music by swaying and clapping along. They were enchanted by the tray dance with cups of tea and lit candles, the swirling of the veil, and her expert musicianship in the dying art of finger cymbals. Never mind the stunning array of costuming - all glitter, beads, and bling-o-rama glam down to her rhinestone-studded hose and sparkling shoes. She was the epitome of the Tini Mini Hanem (the Turkish song about a tiny, enchanting little lady) just as the belly dancer is supposed to. 

I kept thinking about how this audience might feel about attending a more traditional venue for this genre: a Greek or Armenian dance or club or, maybe, were they invited to an Arabic wedding or hafli. Now, after seeing Aurel’s show, would they venture out to attend? I wonder. 

Perhaps so, especially because they felt so welcome. So appealing an introduction might whet an appetite for further adventure and spark a new interest. Go to an church picnic or bazaar? Attend a concert or other M.E. club or party? Take a belly dance class? As Madame Shadia would say, “Why not?” 

And if they never see another belly dancer at a club or event, they’ve already witnessed a consummate pro. We’ve always been especially blessed with fine dancers and musicians in our community, many of them are greatly skilled, studied, and experienced. However I know of no other today whose well-rounded abilities could present something so universally appealing. 

So when next she’s appearing, go to the Paris Cabaret and enjoy the show that only Aurel can create. You can trust her to present our much-loved dance art beautifully, in only the best of taste, appropriate for any and everyone. 

And to my purist friends I say, don’t worry (Mike Sarkissian would be pleased). You know there is no one fussier than I am about quality in performance and there is nothing but class here. No, it isn’t today’s typical nightclub show. It is bigger than that, not only because it attracts a wider audience, but for creating only the right kind of impression. You want Aurel as an ambassador. We couldn’t get better press. For everything she presents comes from a place of careful study, with a complete respect for the dance and its associated cultures that shines from her devout love as only she can communicate it. Opa Aurel; well done. You’ve accomplished your goal here. And I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.