The Belly Dancer - theatre/dance review

The Belly Dancer, by Darkstardance Company, was performed at Etcetera Theatre from 9th-11th August, as part of the on-going Camden Fringe Festival, and I attended the final performance. Produced and directed by Darkstar herself, the show also starred dancers Kathy Pearlson and Demelza Fox, alongside Team Darkstar, Darkstar’s student dance group. Promising ‘an experience in modern fusion dance’, also termed Tribal Fusion Bellydance, the show fused the ancient tradition of belly dancing with a range of traditional and contemporary dance forms from all over the world, including hip-hop, gypsy dancing and flamenco.

Staged in a small black box theatre space, for an end-on audience of about 60, a cloaked figure took the floor from the house opening, seated and draped in purple velvet, swaying and pulsing, whilst the audience took their seats. As the lights changed, she rose and was joined on stage by the four Team Darkstar dancers, who ritualistically unveiled her to the sound of haunting female vocals, set against rhythmic beats and distorted electronic sound. This opening, titled ‘The Ritual’, was the first of fifteen dances/vignettes, which comprised the evening’s show. A mix of solo dances by the three leads, Darkstar, Fox and Pearlson, and group dances with the ‘team’, these performances did not tell an over-arching narrative, but instead show-cased the different ‘fusions’ of dance.

With a plethora of colour and textures, the costumes (sadly not credited in the programme) changed for each dance; no props or scenery were used, rather changes in atmosphere (there was never really a sense of place) were dictated by both the use of coloured fresnels and the style and tempo of the music. The mélange of music and sound was one of the most powerful aspects of the show, fusing percussive Eastern drumming with explosive techno-beats, choral chanting with beat-boxing and distorted electronic sound.

The three main dancers commanded the stage well, and their different styles stopped the show from stagnating, although it still would have benefitted from some editing. Kathy Pearlson came across as the most technically talented, with a more refined technique and good control over her syncopated movement and isolations. The way she moved her abdominal muscles was disconcerting and had me sat contorting my own stomach whilst watching in an effort to try and understand what she was doing – to little effect! Demelza Fox also stood out as the most beguiling to watch, more playful and emotive, as her dances had an aspect of story-telling the others lacked. In her dance, ‘Crytallize’, she seemed to portray a siren, in blue velvet, luring us to our peril, to the sound of earnest strings morphing into a techno-beat. This was the most subtle of the many female archetypes I was hoping to see, and although I spotted the sorcerer, other manifestations such as the oracle and the witch were, unfortunately, not clearly portrayed.

In addition to this, although I was looking forward to the meeting of hip-hop/street dance with this traditional Middle Eastern dance form, ‘Earthquake’ and ‘Sin’, by Dancestar and her team (clad in hoods and trainers), left me unconvinced; instead of fusing the two forms, the lack of technical ability meant it seemed to lose the essence of both. I was also disappointed that the finale consisted of three Lana del Ray songs (one for each solo dancer), meaning the show ended on a very Western note. Although the purpose of the performance was to experience and enjoy the evolution of belly dance, and its fusion with other trans-continental music and dance forms, I never felt I got to the heart and accessed the true power of this ancient and mystical art form. That said, it was refreshing to watch an evening of dance where the bodies of the women dancing were celebrated, in a way that was playful, sensual and erotic, rather than superficially ‘sexy’.

(c) Kate Massey-Chase 2013

Darkstar Dance company

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