I’m aware that it’s ages since I’ve last written. Somehow life – and dance – just got in the way. But it’s been a joy to immerse myself in dancing and teaching over the last few months as it’s what I love most.
Johara Dance Company's ‘Elemental’ tour is now well underway and on Saturday we did a show at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London. Whereas on previous occasions, we relaxed into the performance, this time we were all affected by nerves. The combination of performing in front of our ‘home crowd’ and knowing that the performance was being videoed made everyone edgy. And speaking for myself, I don’t think it was my greatest performance. That said, it was great to get such effusive feedback from dancers and teachers I really admire such as Maggie Caffrey (pictured below with partner Jacques, Sharon Gordon and Kathak teacher and performer, Sushma Mehta) and Heather Burby, as well as from friends and family. We knew that this show was breaking new ground but I think the audience was surprised by it. Jo Wise should be congratulated for taking the dance in such a radically new direction. Like other company members, I feel really privileged to be a part of the experience.
This month I’ve also been crossing the UK to teach workshops. I had a lovely – though wet - weekend in Cornwall teaching Bollywood for Liz Newman, and the following week taught a Bollywood workshop in Stirling for Warda before going to the weekend at Ford Castle, organised by Farida Dance.
One of the things I love most about this dance is catching up with old friends – as well as making new ones. At Ford it was as though my dance history was flashing before my eyes; I first met Sara Farouk over fifteen years ago and haven’t seen her much since; Tracey Gibbs was one of the first dancers I ever met, and Anne Kingston, Kay Taylor and I, well, we go back an awfully long way too. And I enjoyed spending some time with Charlotte Desorgher, whom I’ve only met fleetingly before.
The atmosphere at Ford is always great, with everyone up for enjoying themselves. Kay and I spent much of the time doing the final assessments for teachers on the last JWAAD Diploma Course. It was great to see how they had all evolved into such good teachers, each with their own individual teaching style.
I did teach some workshops myself – my take on the Bambuteyya (aka as the Drunken Sailors Dance – not I hasten to add the official description!); Cairo Goes to Hollywood (aka as Camping it Up with Confidence) and Samba Reggae Fusion. I don’t think I’ve ever had such fun teaching – largely due to the enthusiasm with which the women threw themselves into all of the classes.
Friday night’s Bambuteyya class was only an hour and then, like the other classes, we performed it for the group. I’d brought sailors hats with me and some, by happy coincidence were sporting this season’s nautical look, so we made an impressive bunch (I thought), staggering into the room, in pairs, as though we’d had a few too many. Some did actually pass comment that we were rather too convincing, but it must be all those years of Method Acting. I must congratulate Christine Emery (aka Her Royal Hellness, and my partner) for another Oscar-winning performance.
After the group dances there was a hafla with a number of people performing – some for the first time – and varied and entertaining it was too. I’m always amazed by how innovative people are, and was particularly impressed by this burlesque act (see pics).
On Saturday we had the teachers’ performance. It was fantastic to see Kay, Sara, Charlotte, Tracey and Anne all dance. They’re all so good and so individual – proving how every woman can the make the dance her own. I performed my ‘Elemental’ solo, a 1920’s femme fatale number to a Mario Lanza song. To start with audiences are never very sure whether or not I am being completely serious, but hopefully by the time Mario sings ‘Just like a pigeon lights upon the sand…’ they are no longer in doubt. And in case they were, on this occasion, after I stabbed myself, the caretaker, Graham, obligingly grabbed me by the arms and dragged me off stage. (I was a bit miffed that he wouldn’t carry me but he swore blind that he had a long-term back problem.) It didn’t seem to matter either that I was obliged to mime stabbing myself – apparently, it would have contravened Health and Safety regulations had I used the butter knife from the Ford Castle kitchen as planned.
This piece of high camp definitely helped get people in the mood for my ‘Cairo to Hollywood’ workshop, which was designed to improve people’s performance skills by looking at the way bellydance has been depicted on screen. I was a little concerned about how well it would go, when I saw how hungover/ exhausted certain people were. (There was a lot of partying going on the previous night.) But with hindsight, I think it probably helped.
There were a number of stupendous performances as we all playacted at being sultans, harem girls and handmaidens. (No, it’s true, it wasn’t exactly politically correct, but then neither is the way bellydance is portrayed by Hollywood.) Claire Stubbs was awesome as a Sultan, showing a mobility of eyebrow that would give Roger Moore a run for his money, the harem girls were Samia Gamal personified, and a number of handmaidens were worryingly proprietorial of their sultans. I was the jailer and apparently took my role hard man role a little too seriously. (Yes, I find it hard to believe too.)
But this paled into insignificance compared with the Theda Bara-esque depictions of Cleopatra. If you ever need proof of how successful thinking on your feet can be, this was it. I’d chosen a violin and cello taksim that starts off moody and ends up deranged, and the idea just came to me there and then to pretend to be Cleopatra, –stately and queen-like at first, but who, when she receives the news that ‘Mark Antony is DEAD!’, goes completely unhinged and finally kills herself. My God, I’ve never seen anything like it! Twenty women took to beating their chests, flinging themselves around the floor and wailing. (Except for one who took a different approach and ran round in a circle cheering.) They were magnificent – even if they did keep sidling up to me for the rest of the day to whisper, ‘We hate to break it to you, Yvette, but … Mark Antony is DEAD!’ Cue lots more beating breasts and wailing.
It was hard to top that, but in the afternoon I had fun teaching a samba reggae fusion workshop to twenty or so women who still had enough energy to leap about and shake their booty. It was great to finish Ford on a high.
Then it was back to Kay’s with Sara and Eman Zaki for a night chilling out. Eman’s workshop at Ford was a revelation; she and Sara both taught the same Farid el Atrache piece, but while Sara did the modern version, Eman taught it in the style of Samia Gamal. Eman used to be a professional dancer and her mother danced at Badia Masabni’s cabaret alongside stars such as Samia Gamal. Not only is she a mine of information about the ‘Golden Age’, but when she dances, she looks exactly like Samia, with just the same fluidity and softness. She explained that her husband forced her to stop dancing when they got married, but now she is on her own, she’s delighted to be able to share her knowledge and expertise with others. She’s such a lovely, generous person and it’s a true privilege to be able to learn from her.
It was the perfect end to a really fun weekend.