Suhalia Solo, August 5, Lesher Center for the Arts

11 Aug

A member of the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Committee is expected to cover the many genres of dance in the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties, seeing at least twenty during the period September 1- August 31.  This includes the obvious: ballet, modern, tap  and “ethnic” dance, particularly Indian forms and flamenco. It  has expanded to include hip-hop, praise and ballroom dancing, plus unusual video recordings of street dancing.  Practitioners of these forms have  earned an Izzie  dustable and  accompanying certificate.

With Abby Stein and Paul Parish, two Izzie stalwarts, I made it to an early Sunday evening performance August 6 to see Suhalia Salimpour at the small theatre of  Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts.  It had been a sellout for quite some weeks.

Many years ago I took classes from Jamila, Suhalia’s mother, when UCSF’s Millberry Union programs had included a brief introduction to danse du ventre, belly dancing or whatever one calls this intensely feminine dance form.  Jamila, a handsome raven-haired woman, had delved deeply into the background of the form, reputed to have developed as a ritual helping women prepare for the delivery of their babies.  With the Chicago  Exposition of 1893 designed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World, the ritual  had become an entertainment form for the tired businessman of the Middle East.  In 1980 Jamila compiled the evidence in a monograph she titled “Middle Eastern Entertainment at the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893” with three strong-faced women adorning the cover.

Once I had seen Suhalia as a young girl dancing with Jamila, perhaps in the Bal Anat troupe which Jamila had organized.  Since then, a variety of ensemble and individual dancers perform the style.  There scarcely is an Ethnic Dance Festival where the alluring form fails to be present, some with swords balanced on the head while the torso is lowered ceremoniously to the floor with accompanying music.

Now Suhalia has her own daughter, Isabella, who came forward to introduce her mother and the seven musicians comprising The Salimpour Band.  The seven led off the evening, clothed in blue-black shirts and trousers, some with shaven heads,  looking quite formidable.
The music from their instruments invited you, compelled you to want to step past a shaggy curtain into an incense-redolent interior to watch a sloe-eyed woman clinking finger cymbals while circling a small space provocatively.

Out came a cheery, smiling, chestnut-haired woman with minimal red chiffon cascading from below her naval to her bared-feet  and a similar hued bra and scarf.  Immediately, the cogniscenti in the audience emitted the characteristic vibrating, trilling  as it howls.  You can’t miss the special sound, the Furies turned Eumenides  about to  appear.  Wikipedia calls it Ululation, is practiced at all joyous occasions and is called zaghareet.

The expanse of Suhalia’s flesh was at variance with my memory of Jamila who frequently espoused a black  coverup, creating mystery with the suggestive allure of danse du ventre.  Different generation, different attitude; Suhalia exhorts her viewers where Jamila seemed  removed, her allure mysterious in my memory. The technique, however, remains the same, the dazzle created by vibration beyond the hip flips and the pelvic undulation.  To see progressive quivers on the sides of the body while the navel signals its own exercise is a staggering phenomenon, no matter the covering around it. I think the technical term is considered isolations.  Suhalia accented such dual tremors as she raised her arms to rumple her hair, like a woman in climax, or possible labor.

The zaghareets were unending from the predominantly feminine audience, many of whom study with Suhalia.

After Suhalia’s inaugural number, the ensemble played and several musicians performed brief solos.  The Salimpour Band included  Ziad Islambouli, percussion; Fadi Islambouli-guitar [electric]; Robert Roberts, doff; Ibrahim Masri, oud; Morris Musharbash, mazhar; Ahmad Berjami, keyboard.  These names were given me, but what I recognized were a tambourine,  two or three forms of doumbeks. Manjeras or cymbals were not used, the keyboard a contemporary substitute for the santour or hammered dulcimer.  The technicalities didn’t really matter when caught up in the insinuating minor key of the melody and the insistent sound of the doumbek.

In her second appearance Suhalia emerged in flesh colored drapery, shimmering with brilliants, handless gloves covering her arms.  She engaged in a captivating exchange with the principal drummer, up close and cuddling;  on cue, off came the drummer’s tie. Many zaghareets.
Jamila, Suhalia and Isabella espouse a supremely feminine dance form;   may their special dynasty flourish.

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One Response to “Suhalia Solo, August 5, Lesher Center for the Arts”

  1. anton ness August 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    , I wish the true message can also be delivered which is larger than the accounting of San Francisco Ballet in 1974, which in my mind is the vehicle for my underlying motive, and why I wanted to steer clear of too much “detail” which is already in print. The last line in the review on Amazon touches on my theme as follows: Even though it’s a gentle read it reminds us of how important it is to do what we can to try real hard for something truly worthwhile.
    In my prologue I also state my wish very clearly as follows: This should inspire those who believe in supporting their resident performing arts companies in their communities and to continue doing so with a glad heart.
    My ultimate goal is to reach the average person and inspire them to support live theater in their community along with a wonderful and true story as to how it can be done from within an arts organization.

    Anton Ness

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