On the chilly night of December 8th, a throng of curious event-goers approached the Cambridge Y. The mysterious event, "Revelations: Dark Fusion Theater and Bacchanalia", produced by Spiral Light Productions and the ABRAXAS Dance Theater, encouraged attendees to dress for dark delight and masquerade, hinting at possible audience participation. Upon entering the theater, we were enclosed largely in darkness and the sounds of a live band—Spiral Light—playing. The program was virtual, a video presentation flashing in the back as the attendees mingled with a number of local tribal dancers. The dancers glided seamlessly from the audience to the front, improvising to the dark music and sharing the stage back and forth with one another, including the entrancing snakes of Zehara Nachash, who danced with a number of performers. Socializing was encouraged and friends chatted and mingled, wondering what would happen next.
The music quieted and Alan White, a spunky and energetic Dionysus, took the role of narrator and guide for the audience. After speaking on the mysteries of the season, hope, despair, and the end of the world, he asked the audience to indicate with their thumbs, as the Roman emperor did, whether the show should end in life or death. Yes, the audience was to choose the ending of this show -and the dancers in the final piece would have to adjust their performance accordingly. Never let it be said that the ABRAXAS Dance Theater is not willing to take risks! The dancing began with the ABRAXAS troupe and Tiffany Grey performing the piece “Armageddon”. This troupe is known for its innovation, drama, and excellent coordination and this piece was no exception. Fiery lighting exposed the raw torment and fear of those whose world has fallen to a catastrophic chaos. Unlike other ABRAXAS shows, Revelations was an experiment in partnership with the greater community, allowing other troupes and duets to appear under their own direction. For a full understanding of this vision, I recommend listening to the Belly Dance England podcast interview with Aria Michaels Paradise, director of ABRAXAS.
The next piece was “Angel”, performed by Troupe Shivani under the direction of Dina LeDuke and featuring Baseema. This troupe brought on the despair of demons under the leadership of a menacing lord of darkness, only to reveal a delicate but pure-hearted heroine in chain mail reminiscent of the Crusades or Joan of Arc. A hard-fought sword battle ended with a single bright spotlight revealing the heroine emerging victorious and surrounded by the defeated darkness.
Serpenour, the powerful duet team of Di’Ahna and Jaylee, turned up the bling factor and the heat as “The Woman of the Apocalypse and the Whore of Babylon”. The costuming was dazzling, but couldn’t hold a candle to the amazingly coordinated performance of these well-matched dancers. Both fought for the spotlight only to find greater power in working together. I am rather convinced that they have a psychic connection, although I’m sure their perfectionism and rehearsal have much to do with it.
If we want to have quality events, if we want performers to take risks and create respect and greater awareness of our genre reaching into the more classical dance forms, we have to support them.
Ameena and Neylan, both of Rhode Island, performed next in “Lilith:Incarnations and Transformations”. Lilith is a recurring character in dance performance, and I think she is especially fascinating for women in the belly dance community; a symbol of feminine power who has been scorned and demonized for her very sensuality is a theme many can relate to. Both of these performers have dealt with these issues on a performance and a spiritual level, and they brought this struggle and imagery to the stage.
The stage became a wind-whipped, arid, punishing wasteland in the dramatic presentation by Baseema and Mathura, “A Glimmer of Hope”. They performed the pain and exhaustion of their endless individual journeys through the storm yet found hope and strength in one another. I felt that this piece also addressed an issue dear to the hearts of many in the belly dance community - the importance of sisterhood and community in making it through life’s battles.
Having travelled through multiple interpretations of visions of darkness, pain, battle, and transformation, the evening was brought to a close with “Revelations 21:1, Paradise Found”. This was a daring piece as it was to be an improvisational number done on the theme chosen by the audience: Life. Aria Michaels Paradise, Holly Ferreira, Bevin Victoria, and Zehara Nachash clawed their way back to life after the Apocalypse, each reviving in their own style and uniting to find joy. After the dark offerings of the evening, I think I was probably not alone in macabrely wondering what the other option, Death, might have brought to the stage as it had been done with such relish throughout the show.
I needed time to truly absorb the evening’s performances, but of one thing I was sure: more people should have attended. The show was well-located and publicized. Perhaps it was the date being close to the winter holidays or the cold, but it really seemed tragic that so much work and professionalism could be put into such an event without better response. This was not a “belly dance” show; it was dark theater expressed in lyrical dance styles that, as explained, were a dark fusion. There should have been more public attendance, but it would have been nice to see greater support from the belly dance community.
All photographs by Peter Paradise Michaels
of RavenWolfe Photography
Why? If we want to have quality events, if we want performers to take risks and create respect and greater awareness of our genre reaching into the more classical dance forms, we have to support them. The expense in personal time and effort, as well as money, is brutal to present something of this caliber. No, it is not a hafla where there are many dancers performing and it is often only other dancers in the audience; it was an attempt to reach a wider audience. We can all learn by watching other dance styles, and while ours is not based in Western classical styles, we can certainly learn from and appreciate them. The traditional dance training of Aria Michaels Paradise informs her company not only in its choreography but in the work ethic she demonstrates. When you watch ABRAXAS perform a choreographed piece, you know they had to rehearse, perfect, and invest in it. This is something that all dance troupes who wish to perform need to take heed of. It is magic when a group moves as one and with such passion and feeling as ABRAXAS.
This event was, as I mentioned, an experiment. After a number of ABRAXAS-only shows, they decided to reach out to the community. This was a risk, and certainly when you have a group as well-polished and professional as ABRAXAS on the stage, the other performers open the door to comparisons. While the styles of groups may differ, the need for polished performance and costume presentation is important. A paying public expects this. It was courageous for both ABRAXAS and their guests to open this door.
The lighting, the live music, and the venue were all fabulous. I’ll admit to some confusion about the event itself. I wasn’t completely clear on what was going to happen when I got there, and once I got there I still really wasn’t clear on how it was a Bacchanalia. I would have liked a more connective story from Dionysus to tie the performances together, or even to see him interact with the dancers. I did appreciate the lack of flashes and the respectfulness of the audience. I didn’t see cell phones up and recording or snapping, which is not only rude but distracting for audience performers alike. Hurray!
I applaud the courage and generosity of ABRAXAS in creating this event and sharing the stage with others. On leaving I was left wanting it all to happen again. I could see the theme of this show carrying on from year to year in an annual event, with different performers and presentations each year. With such a juicy topic, and seeing the variety of ideas that came forth this year, I can only beg for more. I would also hope that the attendance and participation of the community in this event would grow as well. Who knew the end of the world could be such a joy to attend?