Middle Eastern Memories

Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Gillies Avenue (Cnr Silver Road) Epsom, Auckland

01/07/2016 - 01/07/2016

Production Details

Phoenix Belly Dance is proud to present ‘Middle Eastern Memories’. Featuring high quality local, national and international dancers, and starring Joana Saahirah, the dance sensation from Cairo, in New Zealand for one performance only.

Joana Saahirah’s dance and teaching style are deeply influenced by her wide background (dance & acting) as well as by her career in Egypt (8 years of daily performances with her own orchestra in the most renowned venues) and her recent travels around the world.

Joana Saahirah´s style rescues the essence of Egyptian dance, building a bridge between the East and the West, uniting the best of both sides. Rescuing the GENUINE heart of Egyptian dance while adding a modern, personal, universal twist to it. Her main goal: discovering a magical dance form that allows us to explore and empower the best of ourselves – in dance as in life.

Joana will be performing a variety of baladi, mejanse, drum solo and shaabi. These are integral parts of Egyptian life and culture, and Joana will be bringing them to the stage with all her raw, disarming charm

The Show, ‘Middle Eastern Memories’ is all about sharing moments of learning, sadness, joy, yearning, and everything in between, drawing on our own memories of the Middle East. Whether performing a style from Egypt, or a choreography learned from one of our mentors, or dancing to a piece of music that reminds us of our travels in Turkey, we’re putting our stories and memories on stage to share it with you and transport you through time and space through the secret world of Oriental dance.

Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Epsom

Fri 1 July 2016 7:30 PM (doors open 7:15 PM)

Bookings: iTICKET 09 361 1000


Dance , Belly dance ,

Charismatic dancer brings Cairo to Auckland

Review by Raewyn Whyte 02nd Jul 2016

Middle Eastern Memories is perhaps the widest ranging evening of Oriental dance presented so far in the ongoing showcase series mounted by Phoenix Belly Dance with guest performers.  Curated by artistic director Candice Frankland, the showcase series celebrates Oriental dance as a communicative theatrical art form which can profoundly stir the audience while also entertaining them.

Middle Eastern Memories brings professional and community performers to the stage alongside international guest dancers. It presents an extraordinary array of styles and genres of performance, along with a similarly wide-ranging array of colourful costumes embellished with all kinds of bling, set to music ranging from recordings of solo accordion and lush orchestra to a tinkling music box and live drums.

Fifteen distinctly different dances are presented during the two hours of the show, a carefully balanced series of group, solo and duet works.

The Phoenix Belly Dance professional troupe open the show with characteristic elegance, grace and charm, with rainbow-banded silk scarves floating overhead as they move quickly in shifting formations. Beautifully colour coordinated outfits feature pastel toned panelled skirts with requisite beading and sequins on bras and belts. Each dancer features in a short solo framed by the group, showing off such elements as spin turns, shimmy patterns that travel up and down the torso, pelvic isolations accented to match the beat of the music, rippling arms and flipping hair.  In the second half of the show, dancers from the Phoenix Belly Dance community troupe dressed in black desert robes draped with colourful scarves present an Algerian Berber folkloric dance emphasising floor patterns and careful spacing which they adroitly accomplish.

Later, Candice and Vanessa dance with large white veils, wearing billowing white skirts and glittering bras and belts. Dappled projections play across the stage floor, and as the veils float and fly, they pick up the dappling of light in a phantasmagoric display, there’s a feeling that this dance is for pure pleasure. In contrast to this, Candice and Cindy present Letting Go, a dramatic yet gentle, slow and sensual Oriental-styled duet choreographed by Candice to farewell Cindy from the Phoenix troupe after several years. The flowing dance shares their sadness in dissolving what has been a rich creative friendship.

Lily and Mirian present a traditional Sa’idi folkloric dance, with energetic bouncy footwork that makes me think of donkeys, somehow. They are dressed in dark blue and brown vertically striped robes, with headscarves, hip scarves and ankle bells. They carry silver canes which they swing and spin and tap on the ground as if chasing off marauding jackals and foxes, or herding sheep, and the dance closes with victorious ululations. 

A series of solos present strong contrasts. Zummarad’s solo shares with us the remnants of Ghawazi traditional dancing of late 18th/early 19th century Egypt passed down through Khariya Mazin’s family. This dance features finger cymbals and  upper body articulation rather than the more familiar hip and torso patterns of more recent choreography. Steps and small and precise.

Tatyana dances a vigorous drum solo accompanied by two live drummers, covering lots of space, and the pace and rhythms are ever-changing. She is wearing gorgeous aqua and silver layers over white pants, with similar colours in the beading and sequins of bra and belt.

Shakeelah dances Black Opal in honour of Egyptian Oriental specialist Serena Ramzy whose dancing has long inspired her. Shakellah’s dancing is almost serene, slow and stately, with careful placement and a generous smile and it is evident that she is matching the rhythms of the music very closely. Johara is vivid in rich burgundy and her Baladi dance clearly shows her differing responses to the accordion and percussion sections. Vanessa has stop-go control over her torso muscles  and beautifully spiralling arms. Mirian makes spins turns and shimmies her own special thing  and is very popular with the audience.

Ishtar’s “So Much I Love About You” is rich in shimmer and sensuality, and almost effervescent in mood. She impressively displays her control in up and down and side to side ripples, shimmies and quivers, sustained through travelling steps and changes of level. Candice sets belly dance movement completely aside as she makes a touching tribute through gestural movement to her sister, mother and grandmother, accompanied by a music box and a Monopoly board.

For all of its variety, polish and panache, this roster of fine performance looks extremely conventional when set against the dancing of international guest artist Joana Saahirah who closes both halves of the show with extended solos.  Her Egyptian Oriental dancing straight from Cairo is avant-garde and very contemporary, informed by all the kinds of movement she encounters every day, as well as all the forms she has learned through many years of research and study.

Her dancing seems largely improvised yet is clearly well informed by a rich understanding of the structures, elements and values of traditional and conventional  Egyptian dance.  Her movements show utter control of her own body and all the refinements of shimmy, shiver, quiver, vibrate, and ripple, back bend, head whip, arm ripple… and so on that you could possibly imagine, all interlaced with the gestures and signifiers of metropolitan living which flicker through via micro-movements. As you watch you feel as if there’s a whole city there with her on stage, street sweepers, policemen directing traffic, a haughty camel, old ladies sleeping in the sun, street kids taunting one another with vulgar gestures, market sellers haggling over prices, suave businessmen seeking to charm, a socialite sipping a cocktail, beggars, backpackers, protesters… And you’d swear that the musicians to whose recordings she dances are right there on stage with her, so responsive is she to the nuances of their recorded tracks.

She looks like a rock star, and certainly owns the stage, moving confidently and freely in any direction, and taking everyone’s eyes with her, no matter where or how she moves. When she comes down off the stage to dance amongst the audience, her charisma is palpable and I feel sure that some aspects of her approach to dance and choreography will infuse the locals who take her workshops following this evening of performances. 


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