Friday, October 14, 2016

Chapter 3; Learning from The Fringe. A bellydancer's take on learningfrom other performers.

Today's 'better late than never' Edinburgh Fringe review by Lorna, talks about two of the shows I saw in the fringe this year that were very different from each other, yet had in common one thing. You didn't see the actors face on stage at all..... Masks v sock puppets! 

Theatre dilusio- a non verbal play set back stage at a theatre. 

I wanted to see this show because, as someone who has spent many dancing years on stage myself, I loved the idea they used which was that the front of the stage is actually back stage! So when we are looking at the stage we see back stage, and when the actors go back stage they are actually going onto their stage. Confused yet? That concept in itself was interesting for me as a performer. To think about our on and off stage characters and where they coincide and where they differ, and how we change from one to the other. If we do. The show also touched on how people view us as people off stage when they have previously seen us on stage. 

This was a comedic play without a single word uttered, yet everyone knew instantly what was going on and the feelings the actors were trying to portray. Well acted you say, yes indeed, however the actors wore masks, so the feelings came to us not through facial expressions, but instead all of it was body language. 

This is a really important thing to keep in mind while dancing. I have seen dancers 'over act' happy, sad, etc on stage when they think that's what the song calls for, pulling huge grins, or long faces to depict what is being said in the lyrics. Sadly though, this often looks forced and fake. It is important to respond to the entirety of an emotion, not just to pull a face. We underestimate the impact even an outbreath can make to those trying to gauge how we feel, a tilt of the head, a lifting of the ribcage. Tiny movements can make a huge difference to the audience, completely altering the emotion we are portraying. Emotions should be danced through your entire body, not just your face!  

Scottish falsetto sock puppets- a hilarious one man (two socks) puppet show. 

I have never laughed throughout Shakespeare before! Loved this performance. As far as you could get really from a Bellydance performance, yet.... What was interesting here, from a dance perception is that each of the two socks speaking to each other, within their 'Punch and Judy' style booth, had very different personalities. They became two people. To the point where it was hard to accept that there was only one person 'backstage'. No body language. No facial expressions, yet huge personality. This was hard to understand. How can you show emotion without any facial expressions or even body language? It was of course largely in the script, but what struck me was how influential other elements were too. In particular, the pauses, the timing, the emotion put into the voices and the dedication to acting out each part. 

It is easy as a dancer to think that dance is about the steps. But it seldom is. It is often about the 'way' you do those steps, the timing, the pauses, the interaction with other dancers on the stage or with the audience. Commit to 'who you are' in any given moment and don't hold back. If you are dancing 'sexy' ... Then go for it. Don't 'mime' sexy. Feel sexy. Be sexy! The audience will sense any hesitation, or the doubt you have so you must trust that what you are doing is the right thing for you rather than what you 'think' you are 'supposed' to be doing to that part of the music. Commit fully, and remember that there should always be pauses. Moments for you, and your audience, to catch your breath, or to exhale if you've been holding your breath! 

Like I said, two shows, completely different but a similar message. You don't need to see a person's facial expression to know their emotion. It helps (unless it's over done) but it's not essential. Timing, commitment and body language all play an even greater role!
Oh, and check out the Falsetto socks on YouTube..... I promise you'll love it! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chapter 2; Learning from The Fringe. A bellydancer's take on learning from other performers.

Welcome back to Part 2 of my Edinburgh Fringe Review where I have reinterpretted what I saw in each show into Bellydance terms!

Triple entendre- Female Trio performing original songs and sketches. 

When I saw these these three young women walk onto stage I have to admit, I had initial doubts about the quality of the show to come. No offense intended, but they just looked like students. Young, pretty, but nothing like the bling or stage 'costumes' that a bellydancer is used to seeing. 
By the end of the first song, their massive personalities, material and amazing talent swiped all that superficial stuff from my mind rapidly. They were totally amazing, funny, captivating and are up there in my top 3 shows of the fringe (which I drunkenly admitted to them one night when I spotted them in a chippie, and had to go over, fan girl style, and tell them that they were fffabuloush!). 

This transformation from expectation to realism got me thinking; so much of our Bellydance performance is linked to how we initially present ourselves. If the costumes and 'look' isn't going to grab people interest from the get go, then the skills MUST! Making sure the 'look' is as professional as you can makes it a bit easier to get your audience on side and is an 'easy win' for a beginner bellydancer. Looking the part will carry you somewhat, but never completely! The opposite is also true,  I certainly know that when I look at dancers and their skirt if slipping, or the bra doesn't fit right, or they don't have enough make up on etc, then I am distracted by these things and not ready to appreciate the dance itself in quite the same way no matter how good the dance is. That said , accidents happen to us all, so if you do have a costume malfunction mid show, make it part of your act! So the costume isn't everything.... But it helps. 

Also- the other key word here from this wonderful show is 'original'. They weren't trying to copy anyone, they had written their own songs and jokes. With the beautiful voices they had they could have played it safe and done a string of 'standards' and they would have had a good show. By pushing their own ideas forward however, they produced a great show. One that is still memorable while I write this two months on. This is a good message for us as dancers. We often feel there is a right and wrong way of doing certain things, a 'way to dance baladi', a costume style that only fits to shaabi etc. I took from Triple that I need to be more adventurous in what I do, and not apologize for it. Be strong and confident and stand out. A powerful message indeed. 

Well done ladies... You wowed and inspired me! Go see them if you ever get the chance! 

On the flip side ( in case you thought all my reviews were going to be glowing recommendations)....

Elsie diamond- Cabaret and variety show. 

I was excited by the concept of this show. She is a dresser to opera singers in real life and this show was inspired by that. After years in Cairo having my own dresser there and hearing the stories she would tell me, never mind dancing back stage with her, I was very interested to see this one. I was disappointed sadly. 
She just attempted to do way too much. This performer could sing, tell jokes, dance burlesque and tell a story. The problem is that she was trying so hard to fit everything in, with lots of costumes changes, that any power in the performance and story, was lost. I was especially hit by the irony that the one thing that would have drastically improved the entire show was her having a dresser to assist with all those changes! It felt like, "I know all these tricks, so I must show the audience everything I can do", rather than focusing on one or two elements and really doing them well. 
When we perform Bellydance there is a temptation to do the same. To try to fit in all of our skills into one performances. Especially when that is just one song at a hafla! I felt if Elsie had done a lot less, it would have been so much more of a show. This is worth keeping in mind on stage, in particular when we don't feel so confident and try too hard to impress our audience. Less IS more. 
This woman had the bling, but didn't keep it on for long enough! (Also something we aim to avoid doing mid Bellydance performance!!!!) 

That's all for today's, more fringe show reviews and thoughts tomorrow....
remember and leave a comment to let me know your thoughts on any of my blog posts.... I 'vet' all comments just so inappropriate ones don't end up there... But they do post, eventually! 

Learning from The Fringe; a bellydancer's take on learning from other performers. Chapter 1

One of the most fabulous things about living in Edinburgh once again, is the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. It is huge. Officially the largest festival in the world. 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in one city within one month. 

Music, drama, dance, comedy, you name it. It's all there. Some shows are huge and pricy, some are completely free. There is something for everyone. 

I decided long before August came around that I was going to dedicate the month to seeing shows rather than performing them. Being entertained instead of doing the entertaining. Before I lived in Cairo, I had performed my own shows in the fringe many times, 9 shows in 9 consecutive years. Everything from African dance in my days with 'Afridonia', to 'Latino Arabesque' (combining Latin dance with Bellydance), to pure solo Bellydance shows (usually with some narrative to educate as well as entertain!)

This August , I wanted to see EVERYTHING. Which of course, is actually physically impossible. 
I did however manage to see 35 shows in 3 weeks. Admittedly, I do now have fringe fatigue. Understandable, I think!

I purposefully also chose mostly shows which were not dance related. Just for a change, and also because, as artists, there is many things we bellydancers can learn from appreciating other performers work. 

For my own development, and because I thought it might be of interest to other fringe attendees (and especially to bellydancers) I wanted to write up my findings from these shows. I hope you find it interesting and useful too! It has been amazing to me, how many things I could find from non Bellydance related shows that could make me rethink some of the ways I perform Bellydance!  Even if some of those things learnt were what 'not to do'! 

Since I went to so many different shows... I will be writing this up over a series of blog posts ... Otherwise you'll be here all day! 

The Tap pack- This was an all singing all dancing (Tap), all male show. 

A five star show from beginning to end. What got to me especially was the part just prior to the beginning! 
Before the show was due to start, one of the dancers came out and sat on front of the stage while the room was filling up. He got people clapping along and brought someone from the crowd up on stage with this too. There was laughter and music and skill, all mashed together.  It instantly changed the atmosphere in the room. He spent maybe 10 minutes building that rapport with audience right at the start of the show, before the curtains had officially opened, showing he was personable,friendly and fun, as well as talented. 
I could see how this approach relaxed the audience and got them on side before the show had even started. 
I've often told people in workshops that if you make a good impression in the first 3 seconds then your audience will be rooting for you during the whole performance. The Tap Pack took this idea and ran with it. 
It also made me think of the difference I feel performing at a hafla after I have taught workshops versus before I've taught.  When my audience have already been taught by me, they are always more relaxed with me than an audience who hasn't 'met' me yet. They laugh more (I always try to add humour into my shows) and they interact more, and they respond more which, of course, makes the show much more enjoyable for everyone there, myself included. 
The Tap pack's show opening prompted me to think about ways to achieve this connection with an audience right from the get go.

Another thing they did, which I loved, was they announced that it was not permitted to record or photograph the performance, but, that the next 1 minute only would be dedicated to selfies! They pulled lots of poses and everyone clicked away, got their momento for Facebook or Instagram or whatever, and then when that was over everyone could relax and actually just watch the show! What a fabulous idea, I'd love to be performing for a sea of faces, rather than an assault of cameras and phones, maybe this is a good one for Hafla organizers to pick up on?! 

If you hear of The Tap Pack performing near you, I highly recommend it!!! 

That's all for now.... More shows and the thoughts they inspired in the next blog... 
Please do leave comments for me.... Let me know what you think and if these musings of mine are of any use/interest to you!