Friday, October 21, 2011

Alchemy comes to Belconnen

Performed by Suraya Hilal
and Hilal artists
Belconnen Arts Centre
Until October 16
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

"Build it and they will come” as they say. You might not think that Canberra would provide a big enough audience to support multiple performances of a specific style of Egyptian dance, let alone have its own training ground. But, due in part perhaps to more, smaller but diverse performance spaces, such as the almost complete Belconnen Arts Centre, the final show of “Alchemy” was just about sold out.

Suraya Hilal has trained and taught all over Europe and started her own style of dance, Hilal dance, rooted in the Egyptian/Arab tradition.

Supported by local and interstate dancers trained in Hilal dance, the performance was divided into three segments, depicting custom and ritual, evolution and evoking the elements of the land in the rural people’s dance.

Sarah Hamilton, one of the Australian co-choreographers, led the first movements, with grace and control, to the sounds of the Mizmar – a traditional Arab woodwind instrument, its incessant sound conjuring up snake charmers and market stalls in Egypt or India.

Between the pieces, percussionist Marianthe Loucataris played traditional handheld drums, manipulating the sound within the performance space by slow movements of the drum, and manipulating the audience with her eyes.

Suraya joined the troupe later in the program for “Alchemy” and the pace picked up somewhat and the music, from the album “Majaz” by Le Trio Joubran was beautiful, almost meditative.

The pieces may have gone for five minutes, or twenty-five, it didn't really matter. The feeling of being lulled into the dance, drawn in by anticipation of the repetition of rhythm and movements made the length of the piece inconsequential.

The women wear costumes covering their entire bodies, including various forms of headcoverings. Everything is plain, simple, non-ornate, no jewellery to decorate any part of the body. This was a complete contrast to other forms of middle eastern dance, such as belly dancing, where the aim is seduction and entertainment. Hilal had an aura of female strength yet dignified femininity - like an internalization of emotion that felt as if it was created by women and for women, but within strict religious and cultural boundaries of dress.

With the small-scale movements and significant coverings of the dress, it was important that each movement was sharp and precise or filled the whole beat or bar of music. Even facial expression was fairly unchanging, so connection must come through the eyes.
Hilal dance incorporates graceful and small, sharp movements – the undulation of a shoulder, a hip, the rise and fall as the small troupe move across the stage as one entity, in perfect unison, moving towards a crescendo as the tempo increases.

With only a handful of dancers, every single difference is noticeable, but as Suraya was the only “native” dancer, the differences between her movement and the other dancers was apparent, although not necessarily a detraction or negative observation. It whets the appetite for seeing other “native” dancers in this style of dance.
Suraya’s balance faltered slightly at the end of some movements just detracting from a solid finish.

“Alchemy” was part of an exhibition at the BAC, “Creative Alchemy”, including artworks and displays by local artists. The exhibition runs until October 23rd.