Sunday, June 11, 2006

Dancerpades Part II - Still Part II

The Asia Global look-back continues where the remaining 11 contestants perform their routines for the Traditional segment.

Zahira aka Joey was next. Age sucks … I have a real problem remembering all the new names of all the dancers whom I have known for years under a different (and usually real) name. Every time I attend a concert and an unknown, usually middle eastern name is announced, I am always mystified till the dancer appears and I inevitably go, “Oh, it’s So-and-So (real name) …”

So I will just call Joey .... er ... Joey here.

According to 3A, Joey is not only one of the main teachers but also the administrator or school manager for the organiser. When I interviewed some of the contestants from the organiser’s school, their loyalty and admiration for her as a teacher were palpable. However, Joey’s participation raised a question – would it not be awkward for both teacher and students to compete in the same category? Would it be fair? Would it be even more awkward if the student should actually out-perform the teacher and seize the prize from her? Did I ask this of the organisers? Did they reply? Answer – “Mutter, mutter, all sisters of dance, mutter, happy for students, mutter …”

Again, I bring up this point because many of us felt that there should have been a separate category for professionals and teachers such that there will be a more level playing field. It is also one of the reasons why we did not see some of the really talented dancers in Singapore in the event.

I first saw Joey's number performed at the 2003 Hossam Ramzy concert that all of us performed at. The organiser did a duet to Shik Shak Shok as Intermediate students of one of the local schools. Obviously, she adapted this to a solo. Performing this same number at the competition was unfortunate. Based on Joey's level of expertise and the years in which she had to develop her craft, dancing to a song which is generally used as “teaching music”, is definitely beneath her ability.

Perhaps she was overwhelmed with all her commitments but I was deeply disappointed. I believed she was better than this and felt that she did not push herself as a performer or artiste. This assumption was fuelled by her unusually lackluster performance.

I had not seen her perform in quite a while so it was with some bewilderment that I witnessed the myriad contortions of facial expressions splayed across her face during the performance. The Joey I remembered did not resort to such obvious artifice. The cloyingly coy expressions just did not suit her and made her appear contrived, taking away from the enjoyment in her performance. The excessively fluttering eyelashes, the moue, the opening of lips in mock ecstasy sat uncomfortably on a competent dancer who should not have had to resort to these to enhance her stage presence.

I believe Joey is capable of much more than her performance that day. Her arm work timing was erratic and strangely lifeless, she taksimed to fast riffs, utilised basic movements in her choreography that did not showcase her true skill and she appeared oddly tense throughout the performance.

Worse still, her choreography was not original or much changed from the days of the Hossam Ramzy concert, aside from adapting it to a solo instead of duet. 3A, who is more cognizant of the history of the industry, informed me that the choreography was actually the work of one of the organiser’s former teachers – a fairly well-known local dancer. When I asked the former teacher, she modestly refused credit but did look perturbed. I don’t know but it sure made the scoring for originality & creativity a bit of a mockery.

I gave Joey a 7/10 for looking so stunning in her fire-engine red and silver bedlah; 6.75/10 for fluidity of technique; 4.5/10 for expression; 4/10 for originality & creativity; and 5.5/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, Joey scored 5.55/10 – it saddened me. Perhaps I expected too much from her.

The next dancer was one of the budding prima donnas from the organiser’s school, Veira. Decked out in a bright blue bedlah, she looked slightly Turkish-influenced with her head-dress and heavily-beaded fringes.

I have one key word for her performance. Raw. More enthusiasm than control, this slim, young dancer was almost all hard shimmies. Her timing and control was off and it was clear that she is still a beginner as she pummeled out hard shimmies after shimmies with limited finesse. It would have been good to see some gentility and softness varying with power to make the performance more memorable. As it was I can barely remember the song and can only recollect excessive shimmies and the infamous “Not tonight, I have a headache” pose that she overused.

Apparently this young dancer is one of the semi-professional dancers at her school. I am more stringent and demanding of the professional dancers during scoring only because it is the only way to ensure a level playing field.

I gave Veira a 5.5/10 for presentation & framing; 3.75/10 for fluidity of technique; 4.5/10 for expression; 4/10 for originality & creativity – we did not recognise it which was good as it meant it might actually be her own choreography … if it was, I commend her on it even if it was very rough; and 4/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, she scored 4.35/10.

Next up was Layla, also one of my more favoured dancers from the organiser’s coterie of dancers. This tiny bundle of curves is a charming doll-like package who I think, has potential if she can overcome some of her issues. I am hopeless at remembering song names but according to 3A, it is the song about the woman and her hipscarf. And the choreography is from Nayma Hassan, which we have seen many times and in fact, Layla performs this number regularly at her hotel lounge gig.

It was disappointing but unsurprising that she chose to go with the tried and tested so as not to weaken her chances. I was dismayed that they did not attribute the choreography to Nayma Hassan though.

Layla displayed a common problem among most of the organiser’s students – the overly wide-splayed legs creating a rather unflattering silhouette and line, especially on such a diminutive girl. I like Layla’s stage presence as she has a certain spark but it is dampened by the over-doing of facial expressions. For some reason, most of the organiser’s students employ a calculated simpering, coy stage persona which does not work well for all. Layla almost carries it off because she just looks so darn cute but she needs to temper it. If she had eased up on the excessive sidewards, come-hither glances, the fluttering eyelashes, the moue & pouts and silent little ahs and oohs, I think she would have stood a stronger chance of placing.

I thought the choreography was a little ambiguous. There were too many pharoanic arms and the very unfortunate “come-hither” arms (I have only ever seen these demonstrated by the organiser’s school) to make this almost too modern cabaret style to be truly traditional. But I shall not be pedantic as Layla executed better techniques, musicality and stage style than some of her schoolmates. I liked her undulations but felt she could have layered more.

The typically bad finish to her choreography made me cringe but I did enjoy her performance more than her predecessor. However, looking around the room, I sensed the room had not connected with her. When I analysed it in the quiet aftermath, I realised it might have been due to her facial machinations which created a wall of artifice between her and her audience. Her poor choice of costume may have aided in this alienation. The fiery alternation of orangey-red and bright yellow in a tattered handkerchief skirt seemed mishmeshed and badly put together. I think it created confusion (is this traditional or pop fusion?) and lowered her stage cache. A pity, as I still think Layla has potential but is perhaps heading in an uncertain direction. I wish her all the best though.

I give Layla a 6/10 for presentation & framing; 6/10 for fluidity of techniques; 5.75/10 for expression; 2.75/10 for originality & creativity; and 7/10 for rhythm & musicality, giving her a total average of 5.5/10.

Following Layla was Ayana, a vaguely Japanese-looking dancer. Tall and standing proud, Ayana floated in with a veil number and a beautiful Tiffany-blue and white bedlah piece. The colour choice was excellent against her very pale complexion and I enjoyed her entrance. Until I heard the music.

She chose a Hossam Ramzy piece from his Flamenco Arabe 1 (I think) CD. Look, this is the traditional segment so fusion music like flamenco fusion is not acceptable. How this could have happened was beyond me, especially from the organiser’s school.

Sigh … anyway, her shimmy walk which was quite strong although she handled her veil poorly. She had a poor sense of drum accents and struck me as a dancer who would have been better suited to a lyrical piece because she exhibited some nice fluidity of movement. Her timing was slightly off, which is a nightmare when dancing to the demanding percussions of a Hossam Ramzy piece.

Frankly, I thought Ayana over-reached herself although she has studied the dance form for 2 years now. Hossam’s pieces are never easy to interpret unless you have an extremely strong sense of rhythm, musicality and timing. It’s worse when you do not understand flamenco and try to dance to it. She just should not have chose flamenco music for a traditional segment … I will not even go into how the middle easterners among the audience responded.

I gave Ayana a 7.5/10 for presentation & framing; 5/10 for fluidity of technique; 5.25/10 for expression; 3.5/10 for originality & creativity (she was creative but creatively wrong); and 3.5/10 for rhythm & musicality (wrong music, mate!). Overall, a 4.95/10 was the fairest score I could give her.

The next dancer was Nyssa, whom I had seen perform at the same hotel lounge act as Shayna and Layla. She, too, performed the same dance as her regular gig there. I have to shamefacedly admit I cannot even remember the song except that it was one of those common Arabic pop songs used by way too many dancers.

Tall, doe-eyed and lissome, Nyssa looked lovely in her green bedleh but I felt she should have worked more on her technique. Although slightly improved from her hotel lounge performance, she was obviously not up to contest level. Her chest accents, shoulder shimmies and hip drops needed work. Being a bit of a taksim fan, I winced at her poor taksim, musicality and timing. Her constant use of the dreaded “come-hither” arms increased the pain level. She also deployed rather basic techniques with minimal layering … just not something I would expect from an international contest hopeful.

I admit my scores for her were more stringent than for Shireen only because I know Nyssa is credited as a professional dancer at her school while Shireen is obviously a rank beginner. As such, I gave her 6.25/10 for presentation & framing; 3.75/10 for fluidity of technique; 4.75/10 for expression; 3.75/10 for originality & creativity; and 3.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. Unfortunately, her overall score was 4.45/10, her perpetually wide smile notwithstanding.

Finally, we saw some form of competition. The next contestant, Lay Khoon, was from Alhambra, one of the only three not from the organiser’s school. She was unmistakably a total beginner but had sought to participate in the contest because she wanted to learn from the exposure and also because she knew Alhambra needed a minimum of three contestants to participate. Such moxie is highly commendable.

A truly beautiful girl, she reminded me of a Bond girl (not the posturing fiddlers! The Pussy Galore variety!) with her bronzed skin, beehive do and flowing locks, white bedleh and heavy cats-eyes makeup. I half expected her to drag out a dagger from her hip belt and walk out from a shimmering sea of reflective water.

Unfortunately, Lay Khoon’s will and spirit were stronger than her ability. Her beginner’s status was obvious from her weak snake arms, timing, hip drops, hip circles, shoulder shimmies, wrist control and stage craft. Her inexperience shone through as she did not know how to exude a stage presence, which I thought was a tremendous pity as she was gorgeous.

At least with this choreography I knew it was definitely created by her teacher, Nur Shiblie, who has always eschewed other’s choreographic style to focus on her own demands on authenticity and traditionalism. While the choreography to another one of Hossam’s songs was a little too challenging for Lay Khoon, I could enjoy it without niggling doubts of its provenance or the sense of outrage for other dancers.

There was no disguising that Lay Khoon was a true beginner but I liked her spirit, loyalty and commitment. I gave her a 6.5/10 for presentation & framing just for her sheer beauty; 3.5/10 for fluidity of technique; 4/10 for expression; 5.5/10 for originality & creativity; and 4/10 for rhythm & musicality. All in all, Lay Khoon garnered a 4.7/10.

A return to the majority came with the entrance of Sha Sha, another tall, willowy beauty from the organiser’s coterie. Looking delicately lavender under her sheer veil despite her towering height of 1.75m (we know this because the short and stubby MC insisted on questioning them about their height), Sha Sha produced a slightly uneven performance to Issam Houshan’s Tabel Ya Issam. Her hip accents lacked power and definition and there was a strange combination of fast reverse camels and stomach pops to drum accents that I thought might either have been a case of poor execution or choreography but it was hard to tell as it was all just so vague.

Her drum accent shimmies were quite strong though, as were her shimmy undulations. I think Sha Sha can be quite a lovely dancer but she had the tendency of twirling her wrists too much - extremely distracting. Her timing was also a little off and she, like the rest of her sisters, kept performing the truly horrible “come-hither” arms. By this point, I was ready to stab myself if I had to see those arms again.

Overall, her performance and stage presence was quite pleasant but she lacked that star quality I saw in Maia. I gave Sha Sha 6.75/10 for presentation & framing; 6.25/10 for fluidity of technique; 5.5/10 for expression; 5/10 for originality & creativity; and 5.5/10 for rhythm & musicality. Her average score was 5.8/10, which I thought was rather well-deserved.

The next dancer was Jenna, also a principal dancer at the organiser’s school – aye, they were out in fore. She performed to the ever popular Cairo Caravan’s Early Morning.

In her bright blue, gold and silver bedleh, Jenna glowed but started the traditional segment in a floorwork starting position. Not quite traditional and definitely more modern cabaret style but oh well … The full flowing detachable sleeves of her costume highlighted Jenna’s rather odd wrist movements which consisted of flapping or floppy accents. Her shimmies, stomach pops and hip drops were below par and she showed a weak understanding and therefore, interpretation, of drums.

But the worse movement Jenna committed was to execute a full frontal leg lift in front of the audience which she actually held for a few counts before relinquishing us from this visual horror. What … in …. God’s … green … earth … was … THAT???!!! ARRGGHHHH, My Eyes!!!

Words failed me as I noticed everyone who was a dancer in my aisle rocking with laughter or just plain covering their eyes in horror. I shall say no more as the Chinese believe that to see such “flashes” exposes you to extreme bad luck prohibiting you from winning the lottery. Not that I ever won anything but you never know … I can only feel sorry for the judges who can now play the racially and politically-incorrect game of –

Pinching the other judge’s hip scarf hard & saying, “What colour?! What colour?!”

Egads. I gave Jenna a 5.75/10 for presentation & framing (demerit points for flashing us); 5.25/10 for fluidity of technique; 3.75/10 for expression (more demerit points for blinding us); 4/10 for originality & creativity (can I give minus points for this cruel and unusual way of ensuring I am a pauper for life?); and 4/10 for rhythm and musicality. I would give her more points if she promises never to scar my eyes thus again. The overall score was 4.55/10. Moving along …

The next dancer was Chinese-born Jamila whom we know as Vivian or Haiqing based on the information that 3A had furnished us. A truly gorgeous specimen of womanhood, this toweringly (at 1.73m) lithe beauty would have won the competition just on beauty alone. In her bright fushia bedleh interspersed with hints of peach, Jamila performed to a drum solo. I found her routine familiar and was trying to figure out why when 3A whispered in my ear that it was Amera’s drum solo from way back in 2001 or so.

Worse, it was the choreography commonly performed and taught by the organiser’s former teacher who also had her Shik Shak Shok choreography lifted. As usual, there had been no attribution to her or even the acknowledgement that this was not an original choreography. Again I ask, how could we give marks for originality & creativity if these were not choreographed by the dancers or their teachers? As far as I know, Jamila has never been a student of this teacher. It was highly distressing and I truly felt for Ghram.

Focusing on Jamila’s performance, I did like her shimmies and she had a strong chest accents control but poor hip accents and 4-points shimmy pops. Her strong single undulations were well executed but I noticed that she lost her timing if more was layered on and she seemed uncomfortable with certain hip circle movements.

Still, you cannot fault Jamila on mesmerising the audience into almost dismissing all her technical shortcomings with her luminosity. Her stage presence was immense and thankfully she did not employ the same forced, overwrought facial expressions of her schoolmates. Rather, she had a quieter grace and stage charisma that could come across as a little dull and insipid if not for her glaringly stunning looks.

Many a male heart was broken when it was revealed that the lovely Jamila was married with a daughter. Even I was going slightly googie-eyed in the relentless onslaught of such radiance so I blithely gave her a 7.5/10 for presentation & framing (would have given her more but I had to be fair to the not-as-beauteous); 5/10 for fluidity of technique; 5.5/10 for expression; 2/10 for originality & creativity (I was tempted to give her even lower scores especially as the original choreographer showed up later and saw her encore performance - her hurt and sense of violation was obvious despite her classy biting of lips and tongue); and 5/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, Jamilla received 5/10 for her performance.

Ah, we come to my absolute favourite of this segment – Rani. The principal dancer from the Alhambra school, this petite beauty has always been one of my favourites since I first saw her dance at the 2003 Hossam Ramzy concert. Then, despite an unfortunate hairdo that made her look decades older than she was, she showed incredible promise and a charismatic stage presence that was paradoxically understated yet captivating.

I knew Rani could dance but I had not seen her perform for a couple of years now. I also knew she would show us the real deal in terms of traditional dancing so I settled in to watch this lovely performer.

Her stunning looks were enhanced by her eye-catching orange bedleh with the flowing detachable sleeves. The only one who performed a saidi cane dance thus far, Rani made her mark immediately from get-go. Her timing was impeccable, her footwork sound, her technique polished without being ostentatious and her control of her cane absolute. Years ago, Rani was still fairly shy but she has really blossomed into the star that she is today. She exuded a confidence without overbearing smugness or forced coquetry that was a wonderful and refreshing change. Her stage presence was welcoming, warm, assured, yet modest and elegant.

That she felt the music and responded to it like a lover entwined in each chord and phrase was apparent. This is what musicality is about. Dance to the music. Not a choreography that you have to count to. Alhambra’s focus on “staying authentic and true” showed, despite what naysayers may opine.

Rani shone and showed us all who was mistress of traditional dance. I did not spot any mis-steps despite the horrific crime committed by the asinine sound man who flubbed up her music again and again, causing Rani to have to re-start about 3 times. But like the consummate professional and performer that she was, she did not let this faze her in any way and handled it with a grace and dignity that is rare.

I have no other words to describe what a joy it was to watch Rani dance but will just let my scores speak for themselves. 8/10 for presentation & framing; 8/10 for fluidity of technique; 8/10 for expression; 8/10 for originality & creativity; and 9/10 for rhythm & musicality. Rani undeniably won this round hands down with a score of 8.2/10.

And it is not just my opinion as everyone we spoke with during the break declared that Rani won this. I even went to Nur Shiblie’s seat to give her my premature congratulations. Which makes what was to follow even more of a travesty.

It seems almost an anticlimax after Rani and I felt for poor Wei Ling, the final contestant and member of the Alhambra contingent. In her sexy and flashy golden bedleh, this dancer demonstrated an equally flamboyant stage presence and confidence. Also performing a saidi cane number, Wei Ling suffered in comparison to her fellow schoolmate, Rani. Her control of the cane was poor and her timing was suspect. I admit I disliked the poor disposal of the cane and her chest accents, camels and ending split were not as well executed as they should have been. Poor 3A finally succumbed to a raging migraine at this point - a strange coincidence as she developed one at around the same point in the second half too.

Still, it was a valiant effort from the underdogs and I could tell she was a fairly inexperienced dancer despite her seemingly confidence. I gave Wei Ling a 6/10 for presentation & framing (I liked how she smiled without frightening me); 4.5/10 for fluidity of technique; 5.25/10 for expression; 5/10 for originality & creativity; and 4.5/10 for rhythm & musicality, bring her to a 5.05/10.

That’s all for the Traditional segment of the Solo Competition. Before I end this segment, I would like to offer a slight observation. Notice that all of the organiser’s contestants had middle eastern names although none, except one, possess any middle eastern blood? Notice that Nur Shiblie’s girls do not have a single stage name among them, choosing to keep their Chinese and Indian true names? Even though Nur Shiblie is middle eastern?

All I can say is Mahmoud Reda and the Kibbeh incident. So long, happy dancing and I will work on the next update on the Fusion segment of the Solo Competition.

To all my foodblogger friends, my apologies but until I fulfill my obligation to my community and complete the round-up, I am afraid there will be no food posts. I beg your patience and indulgence.


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