On Stage: Bellydance Superstars

Upon walking into the Byham Theater, it was easy to immerse yourself in the whole of the bellydancing culture with a mini-bazaar to attract even the most casual of observers. Tables were filled with coin belts (all the better to accent those hip thrusts, my dear), videos (never too late to learn) and active wear (of course!).

On stage were palm trees and some urn-like tchotchkes decorating the stage, looking like a large entrance to an ethnic restaurant. Then the Bellydance Superstars entered from the sides stomping their feet in bharatanatyam fashion, arms floating like tendrils in the air. A heavy-duty psychedelic video (very effective throughout the show as it turned out) was playing across the full-stage screen at the back and the music was blaring its sinuous message.

Welcome to Bombay Bellywood.

The title, course, is a play on India’s Bollywood, a nickname created for the country’s film industry, which is the world’s largest. This production was obviously created to ride the colorful hip scarves of India’s current popularity, given the success of “Slumdog Millionaire” and the increasing play of Indian actors on American television and in the movies.

But, like Bollywood, you couldn’t underestimate these ladies, where “sumptuous” was worn proudly in the body art, multiple bespangled costume changes and undulating torsos. It wasn’t your mother’s bellydancing — all of it was pumped up to engorge the senses. It wasn’t really Indian — several of the dancers seemed more expert than the others.

But it was easy to marvel how the dancers could toss their hair in unison. Some looked like cornfed all-American beauties — one dancer, obviously trained in ballet, even whipped through fouettes as part of her solo. I loved the dark-hued tribal quartet — their internalized style looked like they were sharing a secret, but it packed a dramatic punch.

The male solo dancer and contortion artist, Samir, could dislocate his shoulders and performed an exciting solo, ripe with the kind of muscular accents that only a man can do. Clad in a black jumpsuit with flared legs and working his arms like wings, he had the imperiousness of  Odile, the Swan Queen and was always a standout in the performance, except when he tried to blend with the female ensemble in one number dressed in skirt and veils. Petit Jemila (the only other name I caught) looked like a goddess in three-inch heels as she engaged in rhythmic exchanges with masterful percussionist Issam Houshan.

As the program progressed it was apparent that these performers were at the top of their game, but I wish that there was a more detailed program to give them full credit. I don’t know how classically-trained Indian dancers would feel about the performance — there were a number of styles, even contemporary urban in this blended dance family.

Everything seemed larger-than-life (perhaps geared towards bigger arenas) and the enthusiastic audience seemed to overdose on it by intermission. No doubt, however, that this was a fun-tastic evening, backed by trained artists who knew how to put on a heckuva show.

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