“Dancing In The Sunset ~ A Celebration of Maghreb Music and Dance” held February 1, 2014 at the Live Arts LA Theater in Los Angeles, California

Aubre Hill is known for her involvement in dance education; she is passionate about world dance in particular, and is a resource for the belly dance family tree. I was excited to learn that she had put together a show featuring dances of the Maghreb, the region of Northwest Africa west of Egypt known more generally as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The show was held at Los Angeles Live Arts, which is a beautiful, yet simple and elegant space in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of LA. It boasts floor to ceiling black velvet curtains and a big, beautiful black wooden dance floor that places the audience on the same level as the dancers.

The show opened with Qabila Folk Dance Company, directed by Aubre, performing a Moroccan Shikhat piece.

The Shikhat women are a dichotomy; although they are known for performing at various public festivities such as weddings and births in Western Algeria and Morocco, they are socially marginalized because they do not hide that they are dancers in their private lives.

This particular performance presented ten dancers in vibrant orange and red dresses, floating along the floor, performing various pelvic circles and tilts. They moved gracefully along through sassy lines and pleasing angular formations. Their hypnotic hair swinging, much color and smiles lit up faces in the audience!

Next, Olu performed a dance originated by the Ouled Nail people of the mountains of Algeria. It was enchanting, authentic, and fun! Keeping the energy up with staccato hip and chest accents, quick hand movements and engaging smiles; she also charmed the audience with the flirty use of her scarf.

Marque Bissell and Esteban Vega did a traditional dance of the Haha, a tribe of Berber people in northwest Morocco. This is traditionally a 6/8 rhythm drum solo performed with the feet. Their stomping, clapping and smiling had a strongly captivating effect and was quite adorable. I was all smiles about this show! Its lineup had an easy balance of soloists and groups, and male dancers.

Haha Men
Marque Bissell and Esteban Vega
Devilla and Isis Siren Sekhmet rocked an extremely impressive “Tunisian Shaba Dance” (“Water Pot Dance”). The Pot Dance is from southern Tunisia, and celebrates the main industry of the area: pottery. It depicts women gracefully returning from the well, balancing the water pots on their heads.

I was able to talk with Devilla after the show to gain a bit of insight to this special piece. Apparently, she searched high and low for the water pots, all the while rehearsing, using juice bottles filled with pennies and sand. In the end, they used the juice bottles painted gold. They made their own traditional Milaya, which is a large piece of fabric draped around the body to form a dress, out of a bolt of fabric that Devilla had been gifted years ago. They even made the khlal pins that traditionally hold the Milaya in place from pieces found at a local craft store. These ladies dance together often, and their happiness shows!

Rosa Rojas and Company performed a captivating “Guedra Dance” using their own voices and bodies to create the sound. There is something hauntingly personal in a performance with voice. “The Guedra Dance” is a joyful trance dance also known as the “Tuareg Blessing Dance”. The person in trance uses her hands to translate the energy of the sounds, moving her body to-and-fro in a rhythmic motion. The supporters chant and clap, seated around her as she sways and flicks her hands. The intense movements of the dancer represent the many emotions associated with a ritual of blessing to family, the community and God.

Rosa does guedra
Aubre Hill gave a dynamic solo performance to “Lamma Badda”, a Sama’i 10/8 rhythm reminiscent of the Andalusian time period in early medieval Spain.

She wore a costume that symbolized every day clothing.

Dancing and twirling about the stage passionately, she embodied the poetry of the song quite beautifully. (Because I am a tribal fusion nerd, I really enjoyed this next number, and I squealed when I saw their costumes.) They wore big pantaloons of gold lace with a maroon under-color. Their custom bras and belts (some created by the members themselves and a few Medina Maitreya pieces) were the perfect blend of glitter and metal. They were the quintessential gold sparkly goddess belly dancers with decorated faces and heads.

Red Moon Bellydance, directed by Jenn Aguilar and choreographed by Meryl Jensen, performed an exciting number with an American Tribal Style (ATS) base and elements of Tunisian and Egyptian bellydance. Aubre included them in the show because of their ATS based aesthetic, as the form itself is a fusion of dance from across the so-called gypsy trail, including the Maghreb.

Red Moon
Red Moon
Marque Bissell performed a traditional Moroccan Tray Dance. The tray holds a tea set, as tea is an art form and tradition in Morocco.

In the U.S. this dance was made famous by the late well-loved dancer, John Compton.

Marque’s piece was happy and playful. He included the exciting (and difficult) floor turnovers and ended with spins. I think I may have held my breath. How did he do that?

Lumina, under the direction of Aubre Hill, gave a devotional piece to a traditional Berber Sufi song re-composed by a local modern artist. Their costumes were simple black dresses and their message was finding spirituality in everyday lives. They started with movements reminiscent of everyday tasks into dancing not characterized by hip work. This strong group allowed solo time for each artist while the others formed a supporting chorus. They moved and spun around each other creating a little scene, infusing bliss into familiar movements.

Amel Tafsout and Fela
In the the grand finale, Amel Tafsout was enchanting. She entered dressed in red and floated across the floor with quick hand and foot movements. Amel’s piece, called “TawHeed” (Oneness), was about reconnecting with oneself and finding one’s own strength. Her piece was an interpretation of the beauty and strength of her female ancestors and of women in general. Her style is based in dance of the Maghreb, yet is infused with personal and unique experience. She used two emotional pieces of Algerian music, and to end her set, her friend, Fela, played the drum for her dance. The camaraderie between the two of them was enchanting.

This show had the most amazing curtain call I have ever seen! Live drummers from studio IQAAT were on hand to serenade the dancers as they took their bows. The entire evening ended on a high note: they basked in community as their audience came forward to partake in an open dance floor. The entire evening was a breath of fresh air–an evening that oozed with Middle Eastern artistic culture.

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