Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Les Fleurs part Deux - the beginnings of Bellydance Fusion 1998

The "Flowers" often discussed our knowledge of other dance forms & kicked around the idea of fusing other dance genres with Middle Eastern. It was something that just hadn't been done, & especially for pros in the Arabic club world. Fueling the fire of this idea was the current popularity of Algerian Rai music, & the Arabic/Flamenco/Indian fusion trend raq-ing the Arab music market. If the musicians had license to spread their wings & expand their horizons, we felt compelled to follow in their footsteps. 
Veena and Neena were already doing Bollywood in our shows & it went over well with the Middle Eastern cliental. The first fusion piece was co choreographed by Laura,Veena, myself & a hip hop dancer named Indira. It was to Cheb Khaled's popular & often controversial DiDi. 
While these fusion fires were burning, we were discovering just how remarkable our new member Farhana was. With one step firmly in the punk rock LA world & a burgeoning journalistic career, our Pleasant Gehman was a force of nature, a renaissance woman extraordinare. She was organizing punk rock royalty charity events & getting us gigs in the seedy & historic rock & roll nightclubs of LA. To say I was in heaven was a total understatement. At my age, a suburban housewife/mom, chillin' in the green rooms of the Whiskey a Go Go, The Palace and the Roxy with the members of Talking Heads, Duran Duran & Red Hot Chili Peppers & the likes, I felt like I had finally come full circle - all the things I loved merged together. Entertaining first lady Hillary Clinton, rocking the vote, we were all over the place - spreading Bellydance into a new limelight, and bringing new ideas into the Arabic nightclub. We were a hit with both. 
Backstage at the Whisky a Go Go

My respect for Laura Crawford was growing in leaps & bounds. Devoid of pompous ego, talented, possession of a razor sharp mind, uncanny memory & an infectious enthusiasm made for the best dance company director I had known, or have known since. Laura welcomed our ideas with a resounding "YES!" & you could feel the creativity bubbling. 

A road trip to Leon, Mexico was a fun but often frustrating excursion for the Flowers & the Al Andalus orchestra. Here, years later I was dancing for the Arab diaspora in Mexico again, but this time with my friends around me, making it enjoyable, mixing touristy things with the work, & goofy antics on the tour bus. 

Our tour bus, in Leon, Mexico

Many professional dancers were knocking on the Flowers' door, wanting to get in on the action, but we were discerning & recruited two seminal members in Marci Johnson (Selena) & Angell Estrada. Marci came in with a ton of dance experience & Angell was a natural who had studied Flamenco & Latin dance extensively. Everything was in place to put something new & creative together, & we decided on another theater production, this time doing it our way, at the edgy Highways Theater in Santa Monica, CA. 

Named "Fusion & Fantasy 1998" so there would be no doubt of our intent, we got to work on an ambitious program. Marci's burlesque partner, the incomparable Kim Murphy was brought in, as well as a few guys to charge it all with a little testosterone. We had Bellydance/Bollywood fusion on pointe, a slightly naughty burlesque number to "Little Egypt", A hippie love-in extravaganza to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", authentic Indian Filmy & Ragistani, Khaleegy/Bandari fusion, Flamenco hip/hop fusion, A gothic Bellydance to a Lebanese remix of a Gregorian chant, a Goddess earthy piece, not to mention the obligatory sword, chamadon (candelabra), shaabi, oriental & drum solo pieces. We set out to turn the LA Bellydance world upside down, which we did, with 3 sold out shows. These shows were a scene - characters from all walks of life hanging out backstage - from movie stars to rock stars to bellydancers & counter culture, trendy LA types. Individual dancers had their own groupies, & dancers were calling me to say it was their dream in life to be a "Flower". You have to picture what it was like back then. There were few bellydance theater productions or events out there, no other professional troupes of the same calibre doing fusion. Very few Bellydance showcases or competitions. This made us the toast of the town. We were short, tall, zoftig, petite, old, young & it wasn't our intent to look like a Vegas chorus line or matching Barbies, but to look like a troupe of real women with our own distinct styles & personalities. I would say that it was a blast & artistically satiating.
We were also performing in concerts with the likes of Hakim, Alabina, Cheb Mami, Amr Diab & on & on, not to mention Bellydance jobs of a more conventional variety. Flowers' members were go-go dancing with the Go-Go's, & various other unconventional gigs, high on the groovy scale. The after parties were of a bacchanalian nature. I was not in attendance of many of them, as the mom of a young daughter, but the stories that were regaled would make the most liberal among you's toes curl & your eyes pop! 

We started on plans for a theater show the following year. The enthusiasm was infectious & we were all enjoying the collaboration & friendship, with the exception of a few tiffs between members from time to time (which I could, but won't go into). They were magical, heady times for me, because I had been at this business for so long, & by all accounts should have been hanging up the old coin bra. As we headed into our 4th year together some large changes occurred, but it was out with the old, & in with the new. Nothing was going to stop us - not yet anyway.