Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reflections on Arabesque's production "Sawah" (2014), Toronto

This past Sunday afternoon, I watched the matinee performance of "Sawah" by Arabesque Dance Company, Toronto.  I had actually been looking forward to this performance for the past few weeks. It was a beautiful, full-length production, and a feast for my senses- I wish I could reflect upon the entirety of it. I would liken this blogpost to snapshots taken by a camera, capable of capturing only moments of a continuous journey.

 The journey in "Sawah" for me began with the music. The music was breathtakingly beautiful, from Bassam Bishara and the orchestra's soulful oud and vocals to the highly skilled and agile percussionwork led by Suleyman Warwar.

A hauntingly captivating moment for me was Melissa Gamal's dance to the taxim played by Bassam Bishara. This opened the dancing part of the show, and I must also mention here how well the lighting worked for this section. Through the lilting melody of Bassam Bishara's taxim and through the darkness upstage, a pair of sinuously waving arms suddenly emerged. The lighting then slowly revealed more of this expressive dancer. I found that the dramatic brevity of this piece added to its mysterious allure. The title piece, "Sawah" was then performed by the entire dancing cast, dressed in white, providing striking imagery against the projected backdrop of the clouds and the sky. At times, the white costumes against the imagery of the sky reminded me of the stories of the ferishtes (fairies).

The next piece was "Jeanie," themed after the t.v show "I Dream of Jeanie." This was much fun to watch- it was a short solo piece, performed by Angelica Jordan, guest dancer from Montreal. It featured recognizable movement motifs from the tv show, and costuming was a nod in the direction of Jeanie's outfit in the show. A second "Jeanie" piece was performed shortly afterwards, with more dancers from the ensemble- also fun to watch, and in between these was another small ensemble piece, titled "Kahramana," which the programme notes tell me was inspired by the genie  character played by Samia Gamal from the 1940s Egyptian film "Afrita Hanem".

I was deeply delighted to watch Artistic Director Yasmina Ramzy's solo, which followed. I found her  movements, deeply connected to the earth, so beautiful and so satisfying to watch. Here too, the lighting framed the dancer beautifully, creating a haunting and mysterious effect. As with Melissa Gamal's opening solo, both my eyes and ears relished this piece.

In the Khaleegy piece that followed, the cheerful, interactive feel of the piece was engaging, and the visible enjoyment of the dancers was  infectious. In the final piece of the first act, I enjoyed the interaction between the percussionists and the dancers, and also greatly enjoyed the individuality expressed by each dancer and percussionist.

Act II opened with "Banadi Aleik," an ensemble piece with dancers dressed in very striking silver, blue and red costumes, with red roses along the sleeves. The Sword Dabki, led by Kranti, followed. His athleticism and energy are so enjoyable to watch! He was joined by four other male performers. This was followed by another ensemble performance by the ladies, now dressed in blue outfits. Yasmina Ramzy appeared again in a brief but engaging solo. And then, three beautiful dancers dressed in deep fusia costumes entered from stage right. Soon afterwards, they were joined by the other dancers wearing costumes in other colours. It was the perfect opening for the energy and joy of the final dance of the performance.

Yasmina Ramzy's Choreographer's Notes on the programme mention that "Sawah" is Arabic for traveler or wanderer. Her notes (also enjoyable to read) also briefly capture certain moments of her own journey as a traveler through the Middle Eastern performing arts. I did indeed find myself in a journey through the experience of "Sawah."  What is interesting is, I find that the journey did not end by the end of the performance. The music, beautiful, joyous and soulful moments of the dance continue to stay with me two days after the performance itself. 

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