When you hear the term "danse Orientale," you are inclined to equate it with belly dancing; and shimmying and shaking certainly figure prominently in this art.
But danse orientale on Saturday night took on a lot more style and authenticity than that, in a sometimes outstandingly beautiful program of Middle Eastern dance that never took itself too seriously. The acts of 14 varied soloists in some cases bordered on club acts or kitsch, but never were they boring, as dancers fitted action to the accents of drums and music, in an atmosphere that invited the audience to enjoy a little good-humored fun.Bare flesh was in surprisingly short supply, with midriffs usually showing through filmy scarfs or overblouses. Elaborate costumes featured black, white or pastel lace, satin or chiffon, adorned with sequins and filmy scarfs, as bare feet peeked demurely from under ruffled skirts.
These women seemed the epitome of femininity, with their bumping hips, shimmying chests and derrieres, and energy rippling through all the muscles of torso and graceful, undulating limbs. But the effect was usually quite modest, almost never with a sense of vulgar display.
The show built up to the guest appearance of Horacio Cifuentes, a strongly-built, tall man who totally controls every muscle. Cifuentes introduced himself in a striking tableau. Standing in a bath of red light, swathed in scarfs, he looked as powerful and mysterious as an ancient Eastern emperor as he manipulated the stageful of scarfs.
Cifuentes next made an amazing display of energy impulses that chased themselves around his torso, up and down, in circles, waving from front to back and back to front. His arms moved snakelike in powerful waves, and he could shimmy his hips, clad in fringed trousers, as triumphantly as anyone.
In short, he can do everything the women can, sometimes with superior strength and control, and with decidedly masculine orientation. But belly dance is an art that doesn't sit too well on a man. Its nuances are essentially feminine, and it is better complemented by the strong folk-like masculinity such as Jason Roque danced with Yasamina, in a spirited duet that pulled the audience into an uninhibited, even raucous celebration.
Among soloists was Alexandria, beautiful in white chiffon and sequins, with spare, pointed movement that included Middle Eastern whirling. Not content with one sword, she balanced two on her motionless head, as she repeated all her sinuous movement from the neck down.
Sulisha, a great communicator, flashed through a brilliant routine, finger cymbals clanging, incorporating both the Spanish and Gypsy elements frequently traceable in other dances. Zahirah was memorable for slow, very strong, pointed movement; Sharrah, dancing to modernized music, also incorporated coquettish Hispanic feeling, as she balanced a sword first on her head, then on her moving hip.
Who could resist the animal charm of blond Phaedra, who sprang on stage, glittering in gold and blue mylar, and proceeded to gloriously shimmy every muscle in her body, all the while laughing with the audience?