Rockin’ the Casbah Notes: habibity

In Tuesday’s posting I talked about finding the music for Baba Mama on a cd that I purchased at a workshop. What joy! And more joy – the music for Habibity was on the same CD. Again, the artist was not listed. When I heard this music I was instantly transported away into movement. Sometimes you hear a song and you just know, in that instant, that you are going to create something around it. This was one of those. The music is very different from anything I have used before. I don’t know how to describe it…very modern. World music with a definate Middle Eastern feeling. A little jazzy. Kind of sexy. I was very excited to create to this piece.

Without too much thought, I picked up a veil and locked myself away for a couple of afternoons. It didn’t take much before voila! The dance was born! I remember the first time I presented the piece to the troupe. The looks on their faces! Priceless! Their faces were split with smiles – they loved it! It was completely different and fun. Initially, the piece was a bit more complicated than my dancers could handle as a group, so the challenge was then to simplify it and keep the spirit and “coolness” of the piece. There are a lot of intricate accents, and parts where different dancers are doing different things. But we worked it out. This is going to be a piece we will want to keep for a long time, but also a piece that is going to require consistent review in order to keep in the ready folder.

There is a lot of movement inside the dance, so I wanted the costume and the veils to also mirror that movement and action – a real feast for the eyes. Lots of colours, lots of shimmer, lots of movement to accompany that funky music.


Pictures do not do this piece justice. Photos by Alistair Maitland

Rockin’ the Casbah Notes: women’s gulf dance

In some ways this dance came together very easily and in other ways it was very difficult. The basic bones of the dance came out early on and made a consistent solid spine to build the dance on. Fleshing it out took a little more effort. Sometimes I have a choreography finished and then only have to set it on the dancers…teach them the dance and sort out the staging. With this dance, I brought the skeleton to rehearsal, and then built in the gaps and fleshed it out through trial and error with the dancers themselves. “Try this” and “let me see that” were common phrases they heard me say. I spent a lot of time with a stand-in dancer in my place on the floor (thanks, Nat!) while I moved around the dance, looking at it from the sides and the back. I would give the dancers a direction only to change my mind when I wasn’t satisfied with the result. I think this must be very frustrating for the dancers. But in a case like this, they are part of the process of creation, so frustration aside, they end up with more ownership in the end result. And maybe it is interesting to be involved in the process this way. Like living pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

photo by Alistair Maitland The music was Sheloha Sheilah by the Miami Band. I love khaleegi women's dance. I love the aspect of it that is gentle and elegant and graceful and smooth. I also love the aspect of it that is wild abandon. For this piece I really wanted to capture the aspect of freedom and joy of movement in women's arabian gulf Alistair Maitland

In the 2nd half of the 2nd act, I needed to hide the band and was initially going to use the scrim. The decision was eventually made to lower the traveller curtain instead of the scrim…this played hugely to the advantage of this dance. The black velvet background of the curtain enhanced the richness of the colours of the thobes and lent a more intimate atmosphere than the scrim could have done.
These women’s dances of the Arabian Gulf region are jewels. I always feel as though I am dancing for these women who are not allowed to dance in public in their own countries. In a way, we are speaking for them – representing their voices to the world. I had a dilema in how to transition into this dance – I was already present on the stage… how would I get into the thobe? The idea of this dance being precious wouldn’t leave me, and so I just went with the flow of that thought. I put my thobe into a treasure chest which our MC placed center stage. I then came out and “found” it. Opened it. Discovered the thobe. This allowed the dancers to enter the stage as though coming to a party, dress me up and invite me into their dance. It felt very complete and full-circle to me.

photo: alistair maitland

One section of the dance in particular went through several incarnations. This was the “wall of thobes, cascade & pinwheel” Basically the middle section of the dance. The end result was stunning and worth the time & effort of discovery and practice.

photo: alistair maitland

Rockin’ the Casbah Notes: Baba Mama

I thought it would be fun to write about some of the pieces that you saw in Rockin the Casbah last week. I haven’t been able to say much about them for fear of spoiling the surprise. But now I have lots of material for lots of posts! yay!

Every choreography has a story. Here is the story for Baba Mama.

Way back in 2000 I went to a workshop in New Brunswick and saw a little dance troupe from Main perform in the show. They were a crowd of young women and their teacher. They were having a blast doing a choreography to a really cute piece of music. It is funny how some things will stick in your mind for years. But I remember they did a really cute little series of chest drops while pulling the fingers down. I even remembered the music that the movement went with. But nothing else. I never knew the title of the music, nor did I remember anything else they did, nor the name of the group – just this little chest & hand bit and a sketch of the melody that went with it. I loved it so much that I incorporated it into a piece the troupe did years ago called “Casino Opera”.

Last fall I went to Calgary for a workshop with Mohamed El Hosseny and I bought the workshop CD of music. I didn’t listen to it until I got home, and then – Oh my! There was that song! I finally learned the name of it: “Baba Mama”! A goofy sort of name for a goofy sort of song.  And there was that bit of melody that I remembered! This is a really cute and fast older piece of Egyptian pop music. I still have no idea who the artist is. Unfortunately, the CD label just had the name “Baba Mama”.

But , LaLaLa! Here we go!

So in honour of that memory and of those little student dancers from Main, I put that chest & hand pull movement into the dance. Then I just had a blast choreographing the rest of it. And I think the dancers had just as much fun performing it! This is a piece of Egyptian Sharqi that will be a crowd pleaser for a long time. It’s a keeper and I’m sure you’ll be seeing lots of this dance in future performances!

photo: Alistair Maitland

Photo: Alistair Maitland