Friday, 7 March 2014

Sequins on my Balcony

It's been a month(!) since the Sequins on my Balcony show in Cardigan and I'm still in a bit of a post-show anti-climax.  It doesn't help that my OA has flared up but despite that, I had such a great weekend.

Several months ago, my lovely friend and dance teacher colleague Rose decided to invite Yvette Cowles down to Cardigan as the February Visiting Teacher, and for her to perform her one-woman show 'Sequins on my Balcony' at Theatr Mwldan.

The idea was to share the profits between local cancer charities and Rose's 'Fit for Life' dance teaching, which will allow her to offer some concessions for classes or workshops. It was a little daunting to think we would need to fill the 250 seat Mwldan 2, especially for a Friday night show. Ticket sales went extremely slowly at first, which is normal but always worrying.  In the end, thanks to some heavy marketing to the non-belly dance community locally, the show was nearly a sell-out and £900 was raised, a third of which from a charity raffle.  There were some beautiful, generous people there that night!

The first half of the show was a brief sample of various styles of belly dance, like a potted history, with Yvette's one-woman show in the second half.

I'd been so wrapped up in paperwork and accounts in January that the technicians' notes and cue sheets for the first half of the show were done at the beginning of February, a week before the show.  Luckily, the dancers' requirements for lighting weren't too difficult and I could piggy-back our requirements on the lighting effects specified for Yvette's show in the second half. Normally, getting dancers' details is like trying to herd cats, but this time it was quite easy.  I think this was partly due to the calibre of dancers we had invited, and partly due to not asking too early - by the time I wanted the information, everyone knew what they were dancing to, what they were planning to wear and if they had any specific requirements for lighting or stage direction.

No sooner had I completed the technicians' notes than our first dancer pulled out, having hurt her back and been told to rest from dancing for at least a month. It was too late to change the programmes, but I changed the tech notes and Rose handled the gap by adding extra commentary on the potential goddess-worship origins of the dance at the start of the show.

On the day, we had a 'working lunch' at the theatre cafe and started in with the tech runs.  Yvette had tweaked her show script and wanted a prompter as well as a stage hand to move a clothing rail at one point, so I reviewed the critical points in the show script as the technicians did some rigging. Time went on and the tech rehearsal began to run later and later. Dancers arrived and the juggling started.  At the half, I still hadn't got up to the dressing room to do my own make up and costume and was beginning to fret and snap. We finished a very abbreviated tech run for the first half just before letting the audience in and I staggered upstairs to slap on costume and make up.

Melanie dancing baladi at Theatr Mwldan
Dancing Baladi in my Assuit costume
The first half lighting could have been better, as it seemed a bit dark.  A couple of us felt that we had to dance in the spotlight to be seen. But, as the saying goes, it was all right on the night. The dancers were all fabulous and included Stephanie Gawne, with an elegant and graceful raqs al saif (sword dance) in an lovely Ottoman period inspired costume, Alanya's sassy and cheerful Saidi raqs assaya (stick dance), expressive and exuberant modern cabaret and drum solo from Zara and Lyza Chthonia's deep, beautiful and melodic tribal fusion. The first half closer was an uplifting, easy piece choreographed by Rose, illustrating the inclusivity of belly dance. I had run through Rose's 'Yay' choreography  with my groups for the first few weeks of term, so anyone coming to the show had the option of leaping up onto the stage to dance. I was so pleased that some of 'my' dancers came up to join in with Rose's, filling the stage. The following week, there was an Article in the Tivyside about the show,  with a lovely picture of the stage full of dancers. (Me and mine are squashed in at the back!)

Yvette was wonderful, touching, funny and graceful.  Her show weaves anecdotes about belly dance, cancer treatment and relationships with snatches of dance and physical comedy into a seamless and absorbing story which touched some members of the audience deeply.  I like to listen in to comments from the audience as they leave, but in this case they were coming up to tell us how much they had enjoyed the show.  When I popped into the yarn shop in the market the following week, I was told that there were women talking about how great it was, in the shop on the Saturday morning!

A few days before the show, I woke up in pain, feeling as though I had somehow twisted my right knee during the night - my osteoarthritis flaring up. It's never a good time for that to happen, but just before a show and workshop weekend is the pits.  Saturday was taken up with workshops on adding drama, character and expression to the dance, and exploring the female archetypes in Egyptian dance. I had worked on these topics before, but Yvette brought such clarity and simplicity that I felt as though I needed to dance before I exploded with all the fresh knowledge. I danced a little and sat out a lot. My inner wise woman enjoyed dancing to the violin taqsim and it struck me that raqs assaya with a couple of my walking sticks could look pretty bossy, if not downright dangerous.

There was a party in the evening, where Zara and her Mum managed a fashion show of belly dance costumes.  They had even brought a dress in my size for me to model! I didn't buy it; it was black with silver decorations. As I looked down at myself, I felt all wrong, as if I were going to dance at a funeral!  The colour was not me -  I prefer gold highlights, especially if I'm wearing black, which I don't think suits my skin tone very well.  My black and silver Assuit costume is my exception which makes the rule. My friend Sue also modelled a beautiful dress, again in black and silver.  It had cut-away shoulders and lovely sleeves, with a diamond-shaped mesh-covered tummy.  If that had been in my size and perhaps in royal blue, teal, copper or golden-bronze with gold sequins and beads, I would simply have had to buy it.  Considering that, as usual, I don't have any money, it's just as well it wasn't! I sat out for most of the party, but managed a quick American Tribal Style jam with Wendy Steele, an ATS dancer and author who has moved to Lampeter, and my friend Lyza (who teaches Black Sheep Belly Dance improvised tribal style, amongst other things!).  Doing ATS in a sparkly galabeya feels extremely strange!

Since then, Rose and I have met to start plotting future events. I'm trying to rest my knee as much as possible, partly so that I can dance and at least fulfil my teaching and workshop obligations, and partly because the flare is worsening, despite the rest, massage and gentle range of motion exercises, so now even the top dose of my painkillers is only effective when I can find a comfortable position with my leg up. It's extremely frustrating, as I've only had a period of several weeks since my left knee flare cleared up and my knees were merely achy. So if you see someone pause in her gentle perambulation through the supermarket car park to let out a mighty zaghareet and whirl her walking stick like a tahtib assaya at an impatient motorist, it's probably me letting out my feisty old lady boss woman.

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