Monday, February 25, 2013

Spring-ing into action!

Well, here in Fredericksburg we had a relatively quiet interlude after our New Year's Eve show, quiet enough to work up about a dozen Sword Combinations for Tribal Odyssey (I'll write about that soon on my TOBD blog). Now it looks like things are revving up again.

March is looking to be quite busy!
First up is our usual Spring Hafla, this time just for students:
hafla flyer
flyer for our student class hafla in March

Then PRISM is joining me at my bellydance demo for the local group that hosts a "Women's Forum" (open to everyone), featuring classes on diverse subjects all day long. Lunch is included!

At the end of March PRISM and I are road-tripping down to Charlottesville, where I began my teaching career 25 years ago! Wow. How I wish the Al Hamraa Restaurant had been around then, that would've been SO much fun! There's more info on that gig posted on Tumblr.

Do you think I have enough blogs? LOL!

  Anthea / Kawakib
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Friday, February 1, 2013

tuning in... to improv

red bellydance costume
dancing to Lissa Fakir (about 2:25 in video)
Photo by "Mr. Latifa", David Wilkinson
Ever wanted a peek into the mind of a bellydancer while she improvises? Read on.

A lot of my writing (especially the articles for Zaghareet! Magazine) focus on ways to develop easy solo bellydance improvisation, so I'm deconstructing this video of me improvising to live music to explain what's happening in relation to some of those concepts. When you see something with an asterisk* that means there's a link at the end of the post that takes you to an another article.

First, it's formal* (onstage in costume); and the venue and context* can be summed up as: live Arabic music for an audience of belly dancers. Now that's fun! That means I can dance "right" (authentically) instead of working an audience who doesn't know what's going on. I can rest assured that this audience knows both the music and the Raks Sharki style and will appreciate the performance for what it is.

The musicians playing in this video (gotta love them, they're pretty awesome) are mostly the house band(1), with a guest instrumentalist sitting in (actually a Greek musician on... bazouki? sure, why not!), so they're feeling out the music together as they go, following the keyboardist who leads the changes. Have some fun watching that. And YAY for having a leader! Sure beats dancing to a band going through a power struggle.

In a situation like this (unrehearsed) I always ask the band what songs they like to play best, and from their top picks, choose well-known favorites - hence "Lissa Fakir" - perfect! I love that song, and when I hear it I always think of one of my dance idols, Soheir Zaki. Yummy.
So we all know the song, but without rehearsing together you (the dancer) won't know which instrument will play the next taqasim, or how the band as a whole will handle the bridges and breaks, etc. So you have to keep your ears totally focused on the band at all times. Luckily I'm pretty good at hearing music cues - I could probably win big on a "Guess That Tune" musical game show!

During the song's intro there's already a Pattern/Change* going on as the melody winds through several rhythmic sections, but an intro is just the appetizer for the main meal of a song (see storyline of a solo*), so the changes are small and subtle.
When the actual song begins about 50 seconds in, I release that built-up energy into travel steps (a "Step-touch" - a 2-step foot pattern* with a sway and hip lift) going backwards to keep the energy low. The keyboardist Hisham interprets the beautiful melody so well, conveying such emotion, that even a minute and a half into the song you can see it coming through my shoulders (raising the shoulders raises the emotional content of your body language).

When the music's energy builds again and starts "driving" (about 2.40) it's time to circuit the stage, with a 4-step* variation - I want to get to another part of the stage because the audience is on three sides, including deep into the corners. During the many taqasim of this lovely piece I try to use different body poses as well as facing various directions to give the audience wide range of visuals. I find it's often boring to watch a dancer who faces front a lot.

Hisham is wonderful with a synthesizer (what a wonderful invention!) and can provide a wide range of instrumental sounds which means we'll be exploring different movement quality even in this short number, from the shimmery kanun effect to violin and accordion sounds. Along about 3.10 we're getting into it, it's feeling good - who wouldn't want to dance to this band? We know more taqasim are coming up - I check the band and they're busy figuring out who's going to solo next or something, so continue...
In that funky Saidi rhythm section around 4.15 I begin to travel towards those people in the back corner (the ones you can hear are having a great time) so that we can enjoy a moment together. Always make sure you give some focused energy back to the people who are giving it to you onstage, including the musicians. Just don't overdo it - everything you do onstage is magnified*.

The middle of a song is always fun in a different way, sort of like a sandwich - the bread is good, but in between there's SO MUCH to experience - it's one taqsim after another - and so we go on for a minute or two. I can see I'm feeling the diverse energies happening* at this show; I have dance friends and a student or two in the audience; I'm excited and there won't be much of a slow part in my dance tonight.

The song starts nearing the end with a funky maqsun rhythm toward 5 minutes in; which is probably my favorite part so far; but there are dancers waiting their turn in the lineup - so I know we'll be wrapping it up soon.
What are we NOT seeing? A lot of floor patterns: I'm going with the flow and just getting where I felt I should be, without thinking of using the floor very creatively. "...disconnect from all intellect and let the rhythm affect. To lose your inhibition, follow your intuition. Free your inner soul and break away from tradition"(2)

I'm paying such close attention to Hisham's playing that you can see at about 5.27 I hear the ending immediately... watch the drummer pick up on it next. Maybe Hisham checked the time and decided to wrap it up!
I bring myself back to the center - but near the band - to finish. Without the musicians, I wouldn't be dancing; so rather than ending in the middle of the stage like "The Star of the Show" I go upstage to finish more like part of the band. Performing is egotistical enough without overdoing it, and personally I loathe watching dancers who seem extremely ego-driven onstage. Isn't body language interesting?

And by the way, do any of us (me or the musicians) pay any attention to the waiters walking through? Absolutely not, because they're not part of the show! Of course we're aware of them, but to give them any focus while we're performing would be inappropriate. So though the audience may sometimes be distracted - and probably even amused - the performers carry on as though the waiters aren't even there.

Last but not least: before I came onstage, did I remember my pre-performance devotions*? Of course! I always ask for a blessing before dancing, and ask that my mind makes the right choices. And was I channeling the Creative Spirit during those few minutes? Obviously! For me, that's what makes for a good show.

*Interested in these concepts? Here are links for more info on:
formal improv; venue and context
storyline of a solo
2-step foot pattern 
4-step foot pattern
powerful performance space
connecting with your audience onstage
pre-performance devotions

(1) Casablanca Band: Hisham on keyboards, Moisin on tabla, Ibrahim? on drumset, Jamil on flute. (George? on bazouki). My memory with names isn't so good, so I may be wrong.
(2) Black Eyed Peas

If you have any questions or comments please let me know, I'd love to hear from you.

  Anthea / Kawakib
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