Monday, June 6, 2011
When I first started dancing, fusion performances were among the minority, which often made them stand-out in a line-up. Usually the "fusion" was a blending of dances (say Indian and Bellydance, or Flamenco and Bellydance) or using something un-traditional - like a rock song instead of Arabic music. These rarely pushed the envelope, but still provided a sense of variety and contrast to a more traditional line-up. Which generally made them a bit easier to remember to the average audience member, who may not know the amazing differences between a Turkish Romani piece, a Melaya Leff, and an American Cabaret piece.
(It should be stated that even within a given style or genre, there can be a lot of variation - a show on Egyptian dance can feature pieces that are modern as well as classic/Golden age - folkloric, and fantasy - and that will generally be far more entertaining than 20 dancers all showcasing modern in similar lycra costuming and pop music. Same with Gothic - performances can span from industrial and cyber to romantic and steampunk, from dark and mysterious to light and comedic - a lot more exciting than 20 dancers all in black tribal fusion attire popping and locking with angry faces to techno.)
It doesn't take a genius to figure out though, that if a piece really stands out, is in extreme contrast to everything else, it will be recognized for that and get talked about. And every performer wants to be recognized and talked about (preferably in a positive light). So there has been a distinct trend in recent years to try and out-contrast everyone else in an effort to stand out. The problem with this is that instead of offering a variety of pieces that compliment each other, a show can become a cacophony of "LOOK AT ME" - which means often that performers then try even harder to be louder and more different. This can be very problematic on several levels.
On one hand, it is an excellent idea to challenge and push oneself. In fact, this is at the root of artistry - not being satisfied and continuing to push forward. But it shouldn't happen solely for the sake of comparison to others - because you can only truly compete with yourself. When you seek to compete with others, you may stop evolving within the true nature of yourself. Because in order to "compete", it often means making yourself similar to someone else, rather than following your own inclinations.
Another problem is how far do you go before it stops being coherent with the overall thread of things? More specifically, when does it stop being bellydance? Or does that matter? I suppose it depends on the show and the venue, but I also think a lot of people aren't asking themselves this question. Recently I saw a piece I enjoyed - it was fun, it was well-choreographed, good costuming, and musicality - and so on those terms, it was very successful. But then I asked myself, what does this have to to do with bellydance? Besides a few isolations - nothing. So yes, it was entertaining and done well as dance piece, but it really didn't have anything to do with bellydance - not in the music, or the costuming, subject matter, or the movements - but it was presented at a bellydance show by someone known for being a bellydancer - and that was the fine string that connected it all. And I asked myself, is that enough? Especially when less-discriminating audience members are most likely thinking "that was cool! I need to do something like that to stand out and get recognized!"
Likewise, I saw rave reviews afterwards about a performance I had seen live at another event, commenting on excellent technique, musicality, etc. I watched the video to remind myself of the piece, and I agreed there were some beautiful lines and lovely dancing, but three minutes in, I had yet to see anything bellydance about it. Modern dance, yes, contemporary yes, ballet, yes....bellydance no. Was it good dancing? Yes. Was it bellydance? No. What someone held up as their best favorite representation of bellydance at an event, wasn't even bellydance. My mind boggled, and the irony is not lost on me that the main complaint coming out of my mouth, is the same complaint I heard rallied against fusion over the last 10+ years - so if MY eyes can't find the bellydance, then there's something serious going on.
I think it's extremely vital for us as a community right now to consider these questions when watching performances, and to ask this of ourselves, if we wish to continue to be known as bellydancers and perform in bellydance arenas. We need to be able to recognize the difference between a good dance performance and a good bellydance performance. It doesn't have be traditional bellydance in order to be good bellydance, but it also shouldn't be so far outside the spectrum that it ceases to retain any of the qualities and characteristics you should find under the bellydance umbrella. And if these things aren't clear to YOU as a dancer, then it's time to get more educated about traditional bellydance. In order for us to move forward and evolve, we have to know our roots.
And just because it's being presented on a stage at a bellydance festival by your favorite dancer isn't enough to make it bellydance, or mean it's a good idea either. Do your research, expand your roots, and get those brains moving people! Trust me, it's a good thing!
Posted by Tempest at 8:44 AM