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Hadia in Sydney - A Review

16 September 2014

Until her Sydney visit began to be promoted, I’d only vaguely heard of Canadian teacher Hadia. But once the Hathor Dance Studio’s publicity machine swung into action, everyone – at least, everyone connected to Jrisi or Johara on Facebook – soon learnt that she is a woman of many years’ experience, with a deep knowledge of the body, and a unique understanding of the dance from the biomechanical perspective. Having suffered a number of injuries over the years, I was particularly intrigued.

Hadia’s visit to Sydney was co-sponsored by Amera’s Palace, Jrisi Jusakos and Sydney dancer Johara, and I was excited by this collaboration, as I always love to see members of our community working together. The visit was a short one, squeezed into Fathers’ Day weekend before her subsequent longer visit to Belly Dance Adelaide.

I attended the Sunday 5-hour “intensive”. It was only 2 weeks since my ankle surgery, so I was unable to dance, and instead learnt by watching and taking notes. Hadia’s approach was indeed organic, as promised: moves evolved from the basic natural walking motion. Yet this wasn’t always as easy as it looked! It soon became apparent how much we, as experienced dancers, have taught our bodies to move in quite unnatural ways. This made me think of how often, when teaching, I might describe the technique of a move as being somewhat counterintuitive. Over months, years and thousands of repetitions, these initially counterintuitive ways of moving become second nature. Yet given bellydance’s origins as a social dance, perhaps we are over-complicating what should be more relaxed and natural? This is an idea I’ve been thinking about quite a bit over the past year as I’ve been working with Alia Thabit (author of the soon-to-be-released book Midnight at the Crossroads: Has Bellydance Sold its Soul?, which I can’t recommend too highly based on the snippets I’ve seen so far).

Hadia’s focus is on safe dance. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have technical rigour, but rigour need not mean pain or forcing the body in unnatural ways. There are several moves that she sees commonly done in ways that are potentially very damaging (such as Souheir Zaki hip drops jamming the lower back, and break circles where the upper body also swings around). I have many pages of notes describing her explanations of moves that we all think we know, but from a new perspective. Plenty of fodder for my own practice as well as my teaching!
Hadia’s experience shone through in everything she did, whether detailing the nitty-gritty of technique or discussing Arabic instrumentation and rhythms. She was a warm and generous teacher who enjoyed a chat during every break and often had us smiling and laughing. I appreciated the time she took to discuss my injury and treatment both before arriving in Sydney, and on the day. I look forward to being able to explore her concepts more once I’m back on my feet.

THE SHOWCASE

Billed as “a fabulous evening full of colour, excitement and inspiration”, featuring exquisite live music and performances from Hadia as well as local and interstate dancers, the Showcase took place at Amera’s Palace on the evening of Fathers’ Day & October. It’s wonderful to see how the new owner Ali is making use of the studio not just for classes but also for parties and performance events, totally transforming the space through lighting and furnishings. Curtains were pulled, tables set, candles lit; and the evening began with a cute introduction from the three hosts in which Ali played tabbal while first Jrisi, then Johara took a short stint balancing on it.

With 18 acts in total, broken by an interval for supper and social dancing with the band, it was a substantial evening’s entertainment – and too much to describe each act! The variety was remarkable, spanning modern Oriental and Shaabi, folklore, American Tribal and tribal fusion, and even Bollywood! Not all the performers were professionals: students from Hips Don’t Lie, Amera’s Palace, Hathor Dance Studio and Cinnamon Twist each presented group pieces that filled the stage. But of course it was Hadia who stole the show.

Her first dance was a Turkish Rom in the characteristic 9/8 karsilama rhythm which gives the dance a powerful rolling energy. I’m no expert, but Magda Boz (who’s more experienced in the style) tells me it was just like how the women in the villages dance. It is clear that Hadia loves the party feel of this dance and is completely at ease with it, interacting with audience members and inviting them to join the party. The song was about children; she gave special attention to the young girls in the front row, to their delight.

Her second performance was the evening’s finale: classical Oriental with the live band consisting of Jamal Zraika on table, Ali Higson on riq, Mohamed Lelo on qanun and Emad Nosir on violin. It certainly takes experience to perform with a band you’ve never met before! Hadia must have been happy with their playing, because the first song (Alf Leyla wa Leyla) was followed by another, then a drum solo, and more... When the band struck up El Toba – which they commonly use as an exit piece, expecting her to bow and leave – she couldn’t resist continuing to dance.

That love of dance shines through constantly. Hadia’s dancing is genuinely expressive without being overacted; technically adroit without being fussy. Not for her the aggressive power of modern Cairo dancers like Randa or the meticulously polished look of many Russian dancers: Hadia is more relaxed, flowing and organic. Of course, she still hits her accents too, using the tricks she taught in the workshop for making them more effective. She doesn’t try: neither to do lots of “stuff”, nor to show off. She is a joy to watch because she allows her passion to infuse her being, and invites her audience to share that rapture. In a word, Hadia is authentic.

We were treated to a surprise second international guest: Modi from Lebanon. I remember enjoying his workshops and impressive performance when he came to Sydney in 2003. This time he seemed oddly nervous initially, hitting accents too soon and over-dancing the taqsim; but as he relaxed and warmed into the climax of the piece, that powerful stage presence came through once again.

One of my favourite acts was (Perth-based) Michelle Ridsdale’s infectiously energetic Bollywood. I’ve always enjoyed Michelle’s performances: again, it’s largely because her joy is so evident, and she wants us all to share in it with her. She was totally in the ebullient spirit of Bollywood. Sure it’s cheesy, but you just can’t help grinning the whole time and bopping along! It helped that I love her second song, Ooh La La. The choreographies were cute and very apt, and I didn’t mind the repeated chorus because she used it to interact with different segments of the audience.

Representing folklore, in addition to Hadia’s Turkish Rom dance, were two more acts. Farrah: The Egyptian Dance Artists presented an elegant waltz-time Muwashah (also known as Arabic-Andalusian) choreography by Farida Fahmy. As a member of Farrah – and I’d have been dancing with them if it wasn’t for my injury – it would be inappropriate for me to review the dance. Hadia, who knows the dance well, said that this was the best she had ever seen it done. A flattering comment, given that it was not Farrah’s best performance! Michelle Ridsdale (who had been in the WAMED workshop when Farida taught the routine) also commented that she loved what Farrah had done with it.

The other folkloric piece was an Azeri wedding dance – totally new to me! Canberra-based group The Land of Fire Performing Arts Ensemble was represented by dancers Jacqui, Kirsty and Pippa from Raks Zahirah. It turned out to be a slow and stately dance in elegant long dresses which imbued a regal mood to the piece. While the symbolism wasn’t obvious to me as somebody quite unfamiliar with the culture, it was clear that they had taken great care to represent the dance faithfully. Kirsty was graceful and gracious in her leading role with hand candles. She and Jacqui had earlier presented a light hearted pop shaabi duet, so it was enjoyable to see their versatility too.

For me the most outstanding troupe piece was a fan veil dance by Cinnamon Twist from Wollongong. Virginia never ceases to impress me with her choreographic skill and range of styles. This was another wonderful example of how she maximises the impact of her routines through cannons and formations. The “Twisted Sisters” are a tight-knit and dedicated bunch who put a huge effort into learning and rehearsing – and it shows. They all looked confident and connected throughout a routine with numerous changes and a tricky prop: fan veils!

Natalie Harvey represented tribal fusion with a piece containing Spanish and Indian influences. When done well, fusion is superb; and Natalie was captivating, seamlessly integrating elements from each of these cultures into her technically precise tribal style. Her stillness and composure are striking. It’s no wonder she was one of the dancers selected for the tribal roles in Jillina’s Bellydance Evolution earlier this year.

All the other acts involved live music: what a rare joy! It’s so lovely to see musicians and dancers interacting. Cristie’s troupe, Oreades, brought an extra element of risk to their group improvisation by collaborating with Ali and the Dum Ka Teks, her drumming troupe also based at Amera’s Palace. This looked like it would have been great fun to work on. Ali and Cristie are also collaborating with clarinettist Alex in a new trio, Bohemia. The three of them look fantastic together, and their playful interactive performances are always a pleasure to watch. Ali and Alex’s backgrounds in entertainment bring an extra level of fun, making the audience feel involved.

Dancing to a live band is a rare luxury that can bring out a dancer’s best or worst. There’s rarely much opportunity to rehearse, so as long as she doesn’t succumb to stage fright (and thankfully nobody did), the solo dancer is likely improvise in the way that’s most comfortable and familiar to them, thus highlighting their individual style. Sydney newcomer Zooey Aleeza – recently moved here from the UK – gave a juicy rendition of Zay el Asal. I’m looking forward to seeing how her potential evolves.

The other three soloists are all women that I have worked with for years and watched hundreds of times, so I’m hardly an impartial critic. Jessica Moreno got a last minute surprise when Ziad Moussa stepped up to sing the lyrics to Beddi Shoufak Kil Youm (apparently he hadn’t been present at the one rehearsal). Although this threw her a little, she kept her composure and was swept away by the music, floating dreamily across the stage while still remaining grounded with a very Egyptian feel. Jrisi, proudly parading her peacock costume from Jillina, danced to El Fen with characteristic nimbleness, making excellent use of arms and gaze to add drama and texture. And Johara, resplendent another amazing Jillina costume, breathed new life into the classic Aziza with her superbly sharp accents and intensity. All three are seasoned performers with outstanding stage presence, technical skill and use of space. It’s understandable that this might not have been their best ever performances, as they were all in multiple pieces, not to mention exhausted from all the organising and workshops. But still, I always love watching them, and it was a particular joy to see each of them interpreting live music and sharing their unique personal style with us.
The band also deserve special mention for their essential contribution to the night. Live music brings an immediacy, rawness and unpredictability that is at the soul of Middle Eastern Dance but is often lost when we work with recordings. Jamal’s long experience playing for dancers enhances the show for both dancer and audience, while Emad’s violin really sings with emotion, and the qanun is a very special treat. I just wish we could have had a 10-piece band, to fill out the sound even more.

Gosh, I haven’t even mentioned the food, with Ileana’s fabulous catering! Or the joyful social dancing that carried on well after the performances finished.

Overall it was a delightful evening, and a privilege to be in the audience for such a diversity of talented musicians and dancers. A big thankyou to Johara, Jrisi and Ali for making it happen!


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