Wednesday, July 22, 2009
THE BIG O
When I found out that Turkish male belly dance star Ozgen was coming to Los Angeles for a few days of vacation, I laid down the law: he simply had to do a workshop and a show.
Born in Istanbul and living in London, Ozgen is an international star who has been dancing since childhood. Trained in ballet, jazz, modern and ballroom styles, he’s been specializing in Turkish Romany ( Roman Havasi) and Oryantal dance for almost fifteen years. For years he was an instructor and choreographer at the Tolghan School in Turkey; he currently performs and teaches sold-out workshops all over Europe and the Far East.
I often joke that Ozgen was one of the best birthday presents I ever got: we met two years ago on my birthday in London, backstage at The Shimmy Shake Show at the venue Madame Jo-Jo’s in Soho, and have taught and performed together at Festival Fantasia, also in London. The night we met, we immediately got along like gangbusters, but after I saw him perform, like everyone else in the audience, I fell in love! He is ridiculously talented, technically amazing, and has incredible spinal and upper-body flexibility, allowing his movements to be both precisely sharp and almost bonelessly liquid at the same time. The pure love and passion he brings to his dancing is evident, and infectious to anyone who has the pleasure of watching him.
When I found out this gem was coming to LA, I knew I wanted to do an event with him- the only hitch was that I was leaving for Egypt to teach and perform at Ahlan Wa Sahlan the very next week, and he was coming mere days after I would return. Thankfully, Nasila and Melia from LA Raqs stepped in, and together we co-ordinated and promoted an Ozgen extravaganza, at Studio Iqaat. All I can say is, The Internet made it all possible- we emailed about everything, setting performers, deciding on curriculum and getting details together-and advertised- while I was at Ahlan Wa Sahlan in Cairo. In fact, both Aubre and Fahtiem, guest-stars at the show, were in Egypt at the same time I was, and so I roped them into performing while they were riddled with jet-lag!
Both the workshop and the show sold out. The workshop , where Ozgen contrasted the similar-yet-unique movements of both Turkish Oryantal and Romany dances, drew in avid students as well as local professionals like Rania, Lee Ali, Marguerite Kusuhara, and Celeste of IAMED. Ozgen’s teaching style is facile with clear breakdowns, and he made sure everybody learned about and understood the sociological and cultural inferences in the various gestures he demonstrated. His English skills are fantastic , and though the class moved a long at a good clip, his spot-on teaching is infused with humor and wit. He charmed everybody with his cute non-traditional names for footwork patterns and with his verbal expressions as well- at one point he referred to the flirtatious shoulder movements of Turkish Oryantal as “cuddly”!
Los Angeles has long been a hot-spot of Oriental dance, with many world-class performers living in the city, so the show had an all-star line-up. Audience members were literally astounded at the name performers participating. In addition to Ozgen, Aubre, Fahtiem, Nasila and myself, the evening also included Tamra-Henna, up-and-coming LA-based male dancer Richy Nedjat, and last-minute guest, Rania, who signed on as a surprise wild card at 11:30 pm the night before the event!
Noted Arabic percussionist and Studio Iqaat owner Donavon Lerman pulled together a small Arabic ensemble to kick the show off with live music; and a Turkish band featuring Vedat on saz and vocals, Jessica on clarinet, and Donavon himself on tabla. Rania kicked the evening off performing to “Mavi, Mahvi” on CD, followed by Nasila performing to “Leylet Hob” live, Richy interpreting “Eshta Ya Amar” , Tamra Henna doing “We Deret Al Ayam” in a stunning red Sahar Okasha, and Aubre doing a hot Saidi Assaya. Fahtiem and I both opted to perform to the live Turkish band, and it was amazing to watch Fahtiem performing Turkish, since she so rarely does. For my part, I loved dancing to Turkish music, and I got chills with Jessica’s gorgeous clarinet taxim during my show.
Ozgen performed twice: his first piece, a Romany dance ( a version of which I heartily encourage readers to view on YouTube!) had the entire audience screaming, it was so full of attitude and unbridled machismo. His second show was pure Oryantal, quick-paced, dynamic and thrilling. He even did snakey floor work-complete with backbends- while Jessica played him an extended taxim. He ended his piece with a mind-banding, spine-snapping Turkish drop…then got up quickly to lure the audience out for open-floor dancing, which continued on for quite a long time.
The very next morning, he left for the airport, and back home to London.
All I can say is…if you have the chance to see or study with this incredible dancer- don’t even think about it- JUST DO IT!
For more info on Ozgen, please visit www.ozgen.co.uk