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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Enchantress

I created Enchantress in the fall of 2007 for the instructional DVD Fantasy Bellydance: Magic.



This clip shows a performance from October 2, 2009. I danced as part of a showcase, Metamorphosis, presented by Venus Uprising.  Thanks to cameraman Scott Shuster.

I'm not sure why the video goes slow-mo at 4:17!  It's not a special effect, just something screwy with the conversion.

Style
Enchantress is an example of artistic belly dance: genre-redefining belly dance transposed out of its traditional context as folklore, social dance, or nightclub entertainment. Although Enchantress may also correctly be called fantasy, fusion, theatrical, pagan, medieval, cabaret, and tribal, it represents more than is described by any one of these labels alone, and doesn’t conform to the conventions of any single category. The piece draws on movement vocabulary from ethnic and cabaret belly dance, but the steps are creatively sequenced into unconventional combinations, mixed with mime and theatrical gesture, and executed with an attitude of gravitas and level of precision most often associated with tribal and tribal fusion styles. The music combines fantasy and tradition: atmospheric vocals sit on top of Egyptian folkloric percussion. The bell sleeves, fitted bodice, and dropped waist of my dress are common in belly dance costuming, but these elements have been reworked into a bliaud that evokes medieval fantasy. And, Enchantress is not only dance, but dance-theater, with a distinct character, narrative, and dramatic arc.

Choreography and Reference Notes
To match the subject of earthy feminine magic, I choreographed Enchantress in a heavy style, using strong accents, large torso isolations, fast momentum-driven transitions, and a low center of gravity. As always, I carefully reflected the structure of the music in matching choreography, but, because I was working primarily with unaccompanied rhythm, I was also able to choose and sequence steps in the service of plot. My use of finger cymbals adds depth to the music and dramatic punctuation to the choreography.

I teach Enchantress as a workshop offering, and the dance is also available as an instructional DVD. I’ve made choreography notes (including a music diagram and finger cymbal notation) available for download here.

Costume
The bodice of my dress is a flesh-colored leotard; it’s tacked to a skirt made of flesh-colored chiffon and dark green nylon spandex mesh. Both are covered by eveningwear lace fabric from Better Choice Fabrics and Trimmings, 260 W. 39th St, New York, NY, and artificial oak leaves from Dry and Silk, Inc., 123 W 28th St., New York, NY. Thanks to Erica Young for her assistance in design and construction and especially for hand-stitching me into this creation. (My leotard is stretchy, but the green lace on top of it is not. While I wore the dress, Erica patiently tacked the lace to the leotard one knot at a time, and did not stab me once.)

Cymbals

On the Fantasy: Magic DVD, I used Saroyan Afghani Cymbals in German Silver. These cymbals have a low tone, and their size gives them a substantial appearance. For the 2009 performance, I used a combination of cymbals to create an eerie dissonant sound: I have one of the silver Saroyan Afghani cymbals on my right thumb, a Turquoise “B Oriental” on the left thumb, and a pair of Turquoise “A”s on top.

Rose of Damascus ("Medieval" Belly Dance)


I created Rose of Damascus in 2007.  At the time, I had considered it to be a minor project, and was amazed to see it go on to become my most-watched YouTube video.


Style
“Medieval” belly dance, as shown in this clip, should most definitely be considered a fantasy concept.  While it’s true that the historical roots of belly dance stretch back to antiquity in the Middle East, there’s no historical basis for placing belly dance in the British Isles or Northern Europe during the middle ages, and it’s very unlikely that any dance of this era would have the formalized vocabulary and precise body lines shown in Rose of Damascus.  Although I did intentionally choose more natural looking textiles, my costuming follows contemporary conventions from fantasy faire style, not any historical example.

Even if the form is not historically accurate, though, it sits very comfortably in the long-established traditions of romantic medieval fantasy, and for me and many others, draws a feeling of authenticity from sources other than history.
"The Accolade," Edmund Blair Leighton, 1901

Despite its fanciful concept, the actual content of Rose is largely lacking in gimmickry, making for a dance that feels genuine and warm.  Because a medieval theme suggests a simple aesthetic, and because Rose is a work created for a formal theater stage, I was able to take soft movements from the cabaret style of bellydance and show them without the artifice that usually surrounds cabaret style dancing.  Without the trappings of the nightclub (the sequins, the spandex, the push-up bra, the disco lights, the indiscriminately pressed ululation button on the electronic keyboard), one sees not only the sensuality that is always acknowledged in belly dance but also sweetness and sincerity – characteristics rarely associated with this form of dance.   

Rose also benefits from exceptionally organic transitions.  Although I chose steps carefully, the fluid look to my dance largely reflects my having followed the fluid structure of the music.  Rather than breaking into predictable verses and choruses in 4s or 8s, the phrases of Flos ut Rosa, the music I used for Rose, break out in to groups of 2, 4, 5, 6, 11, and 13 measures, arranged without any repeating pattern that I can discern.  Unlike many dances that seem to build, Rose seems to fall away, like water.  (My experience performing this dance, however, wasn’t anything like drifting downstream.  The rote memorization required to hit the accents in Flos ut Rosa makes it an exceptionally difficult piece.  See the music diagram further down in this post.)

Aside from its wandering structure, Flos ut Rosa is easy to hear in a belly dance context, further contributing to the natural feeling of Rose.  As in Middle-Eastern belly dance music, the melody line follows a pattern of call and response and repetition with variation; accents provide punctuation within the flow of the music; and, in passages of solo instrumentation, a full deep sound is achieved through the use of a drone.  Although the instrument providing the drone, a symphonia (a type of hurdy gurdy), is European, it is similar in timbre to double-reed or double-pipe instruments from the Middle East (such as bagpipes, mijwiz, and mizmar/zurna).  One also hears violin, which, while European in origin, is commonly used in Middle-Eastern music; rhythmic percussion (possibly a frame drum); and a clear bell tone that evokes delicately-played finger cymbals.

Finally, on a more mundane level, Rose provides a rare vehicle for my red hair and freckles to seem perfect for belly dance.   As a peaches-and-cream American, I work with the continual challenge of seeing my work judged differently—generally more critically—than that of someone who is (or merely looks) ethnically Middle-Eastern.  (Once, I was even sent home from a job.  I had been hired over the phone by a restaurant manager, but was turned away at the front door by the restaurant’s owner for not looking "exotic enough.”)    It is a wonderful change of pace to have instant and unquestioned credibility simply because I look the part, although I do roll my eyes over the irony that such a non-authentic item in my repertoire should garner more praise for authenticity than my carefully-researched Middle-Eastern dances.

Music
Flos ut Rosa is played by Estonian ensemble Rondellus.  The track is on the CD “Carmina Sanctorum,” and is also available as a free download from their website.  Rondellus is perhaps best known for their CD “Sabbatum,” a collection of Black Sabbath covers arranged in the 14th century style and sung in Latin.

Technique and Choreography
I’m flattered, although somewhat bewildered, by requests to teach medieval bellydance.  The dance steps in Rose come from the same vocabulary I use in all of my work.  (My DVD, Beautiful Technique from Step One, provides an introduction to this style).  It’s been suggested that Rose has a somewhat Persian look, and while I do acknowledge some Persian influence throughout my basic technique, I think the Persian look of Rose is primarily an artifact of the time signature—a certain amount of right-left-right/left-right-left is inevitable anytime one is moving to a ¾ or 6/8. 

I do teach combinations to medieval music, Enchantress (the choreography performed and taught on the Fantasy:  Magic  DVD), and plan to have another workshop-ready medieval choreography for 2011.

I do not teach Rose as a workshop offering, because the music is simply too hard to anticipate.  Try counting along at home:

Time code
# of
3-count measures
Musical phrase
0:00
2
Introductory percussion
:04
5
double “bong” accent
:12
6
triple “bong” accent 
:22
11
lute (ends with repeating motif)
:42
5
double “bong” accent (ends with repeating motif)
:50
4
triple “bong” accent
:57
11
violin
1:14
5
double “bong” accent
1:22
6
triple “bong” accent
1:31
13
symphonia  (ends with repeating motif)
1:52
4
double “bong” accent
1:59
6
triple “bong” accent
2:07
4
false ending
2:14
5
double “bong” accent
2:22
6
triple “bong” accent
2:31
2
false ending (ends with repeating motif)
2:34
5
double “bong” accent (ends with repeating motif)
2:42
4
triple “bong” accent
2:49
5
double “bong” accent
2:56
6
triple “bong” accent
3:06
2
false ending (ends with repeating motif)
3:09
4
double “bong” accent
3:16
6
triple “bong” accent

At this time, I do not have official choreography notes to share for this dance.  However, if you have a question about a specific step or combination, please feel free to email.

Related Work

My Enchantress is another dance with a medieval feeling.   (YouTube, DVD).