Tribal Whoosh: My Two Days at Tribal Fest™ 12: “Year of the Unicorn”

Kim and I arrived on Saturday morning and after doing a quick tour and an examination of the program, returned to the hall just in time to see Chandala Snow-Shiva, an upcoming Santa Cruz fusion artist. She was enchanting, moved like a goddess and I found tears rising (for the first but not the last time that weekend). But she was only the first of the two hour spectacle of dance we witnessed. Taisa Ja Surya performed a classic Ukrainian dance. Ginger Blue performed wonderfully dangerous vamps. ShupaDa created a tribute to Bob Fosse (Big Spender and Chicago) that would have made Fosse proud and was not one bit out of place on this stage. Falbanka Dreamteam from Germany performed a hard-driving, industrial fusion. Crystal Silmi performed both solos and with her reunited troupe, RaksArabi…that driving music is still pumping through my head. Blue Moon Haven performed ATS® to Scottish bagpipes and were soon followed by TriDevi Tribal with more Celtic accompaniment. Donna Mejia’s “Intrepid Bodacity” (and her solo later in the afternoon) falls into the WCIS? category: What Can I Say? Then, Paige Lawrence, the dark sorcerer of tribal fusion threw himself into a dance frenzy leaving it all on the stage. Whhhoooooossh! I was stunned by the professional levels of creativity, originality, and skill demonstrated by these dancers. And I saw only a fraction of the performances over the weekend.

For all the technical prowess and innovative choreography TF™ 12 dancers exhibited, the clear sentimental highlight of the weekend was a charming vignette performed by SOOZ Tribal. It happened mid-day on Sunday and simply told the story of a teacher and her students: Sooz stands by a stool reviewing her syllabus when two shy new students arrive. We are lead through our own early attempts at wearing a hip scarf, our own goofy mistakes and confusion, our own discovery and delight. One day, the students are late causing Sooz some concern. They arrive to announce that they are starting to teach their own students. As they part in loving respect for one another, a new girl walks in and Sooz begins again, standing high, proud, and elegant. We leapt to our feet cheering with tears running down our cheeks. I think she was surprised by the response…I think we were surprised by the response. But she had told our story and touched upon our collective experience…how could we not respond with abandon.

It was the Year of the Unicorn at TF™ 12 and they were everywhere. There was a coloring contest at the henna booth featuring a variety of unicorn designs. One of the dance troupes made their entry on the stage just minutes before the contest was to close: They each had sparkling, colorful unicorns painted on their bellies. It was charming. (I left my entry on the kitchen table which was a shame because I thought it stood a good chance of winning. I never learned who won.) There was also a unicorn trivia contest going on all weekend based on some disneyified mythology in song—they played the ridiculous thing at the end of the festival. Rainbows and popcorn…really? I think unicorn mythology needs updating. The big attraction though was the ten-foot-tall unicorn rocking-horse which one could ride for a small sum. I climbed on and oh, what a joyous experience. I could have slept there.

Back in the hall, as I watched dancer after dancer, I became convinced that we were watching something other than bellydance. What evolved out of American bellydance fusion has become a leader (or should be a leader) in theatrical dance. Bellydance has become an idiom for expression, the way ballet and modern dance are foundations upon which choreographers layer vernacular forms and contemporary themes. In the broadest sense, ballet and traditional/folkloric dances are driven by ages-old traditions and practices. Modern dance has been characterized by its emphasis on discovery and invention—on change—rather than on convention and continuity with past traditions. Perhaps contemporary dance forms, in contrast to both conservative and groundbreaking approaches to movement, can best be defined by their processes of fusion.

With bellydance as foundation, today’s choreographers layer or integrate historical theatrical traditions and aesthetics as well as contemporary vernaculars and social sentiments. April Rose and Aubre Hill, in modified business suits, one hand in the pant pocket, strolled an imaginary Wall Street with ¾ shimmies in a modern piece called “Keeping On,” a socio-political statement of the economy. UNMATA’s driving, even belligerent choreography for a veritable crowd of dancers was both raw and sophisticated. And Zoe Jakes’ Bhoomi Project was filled with elegance, mischief, and bawd. Watch the stunning new kid on the block, Illan, with his mentor Rachel Brice with their strong, sleek, sinewy bodies to witness the high professional levels tribal fusion is producing today. Go to my YouTube favorites to see some of these performances.

Don’t miss Tribal Fest™ 13: “Halfway to Halloween” May 15-19, 2013. Should be plenty ookey and spookey!

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