Thursday, October 7, 2010
USE YOUR ILLUSION:BELLY DANCE, MOVIES AND MAGIC
I’m finding it hard to believe that it’s already October…not to mention the fact that I am actually writing this from my own house, because this year has been full of travel. I’ve hardly been home for more than a week since February. Last night I slept in my own bed for the first time in a month…but what a month it’s been! Belly dance festivals, magic and utter mayhem!
My recent escapades began in August, with Yaa Halla, Y’All in Texas and ended at The Redwood Coast Belly Dance Festival in Northern California. Backstage at Yaa Halla was so much fun and so full of laughter that the stage manager had to actually tell us- a group of seasoned professionals which included Aubre, Jayna, Frank Farinaro, and Aradia- to be quiet on more than one occasion! Since it was the tenth anniversary of the festival, there were a bunch of special events planned, including a joke act with Amaya and Mher Panossian of Hollywood Music Center, who was in character as "Mo Hummous". He spent the entire weekend in a fez, a fake mustache and a completely scary uni-brow. There was a recurring series of jokes revolving around the reality show “Jersey Shore”…and I will NEVER forget Carmine Guida throwing “Jersey Shore” gang-signs at me onstage, cracking me up in the middle of our drum solo! Another highlight was finally getting to meet and hang out with two dancers I’ve admired from afar, but never worked with: Bozenka and Virginia. Both are beautiful onstage and off. Virginia is much smaller in person than she seems to be in pictures or performing; Bozenka is gorgeous and CRAZY!
Shoshanna’s Redwood Coast Festival was also chock full of fun and laughter. I was treated like royalty, and hung out with some of my favorite pals, the gals from Wild Card Tribal and Marjhani. The event kicked off with a fabulous dinner reception thrown by L. Rose Designs, with champagne and home cooked quiche that was…well, almost better than her fabulous designs!
Seeing Shoshanna, Andalee and Emily Alrick dance was mind-bending, as was the open-floor dancing for budding belly beauties under the age of ten, including performances by Marjhani’s daughter Zoe and Shoshanna’s 3-year-old Amira. Those girls are going to be dangerous by the time they reach double-digits! There was also a terrific afterparty at Shoshanna's studio, and the chicks from Solstice Dance Studio in Santa Rosa hosted a crazy, impromptu hotel room after-after party, which included lots of blasting disco hits and attendees dancing on top of the beds and chairs! I'm surprised the police didn't come! The weekend ended with a visit to The Finnish Country spa, and lemme tell you, my sore joints needed that.
In between those two dance events, I went on location to shoot Steve Balderson’s new film “The Casserole Club”, a dark drama set in 1969. It was pretty crazy switching gears from my belly dance reality to suddenly becoming a swingin’ red-headed ‘60’s housewife. The ensemble cast was incredible, including some of my former death-block cellmates from last year’s “Stuck!” as well as Daniella Sea from “The L Word” and musician/actors Kevin Richardson and Jane Wiedlin. Considering that Kevin was in The Backstreet Boys and Jane was in The Go-Go’s, most of the cast and crew confessed at some point to having had teenage crushes on both of them! I learned so much from working with all the immensely talented actors, and of course our after-shooting bonding was pretty intense. “The Casserole Club will be released in 2011; for info on the film, you can visit the website: http://tinyurl.com/24vjnfj
Of course I’m saving the wackiest part of this post for last...
Just before the film shoot, with only a travel day in between, I’d been at Samira Tu’Ala’s beyond-fabulous Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive. The word “intense” certainly should be highlighted-the Intensive is a huge and extremely well-run festival, also with non-stop performances, two nights of gala shows in a beautiful theater and an incredible array of workshops…but when you add Las Vegas into the mix, it becomes beyond insane! The Intensive was held at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, so in addition to the belly dancing mania, there were the things Vegas is famous for: the non-stop clanging of slot machines and the whiz of Roulette wheels, scores of Ed Hardy-clad tourists, drunken bridesmaids wandering through the casino clutching their heels in their hands 3:00am, Donnie and Marie Osmond’s show in the Flamingo lobby and Cher across the street at Caesar’s Palace… it was pretty surreal! All this was in addition to teaching two workshops, and hanging with some of my favorite dancers like John Compton and Fahtiem, who was fresh from her tour of China. I got to meet my internet pen-pal Ozma of Japan, and was also one of the judges for this year’s contest, “So You Think You Can Belly Dance”.
I’d been looking forward to this event all year in general, but even more so due to the crazy, top secret, Vegas-style surprise I’d been planning for months, with my partner-in-crime, belly dancer Tanya Popovitch.
Last February at the Belly Dancer of The Universe Competition in Long Beach, Tanya and I hatched up a scheme: in the middle of my set at the Intensive, she would come onstage and saw me in half, in the style a vintage magic act…. then to prove that both halves of me “still worked”, I would pop out of the sawing box and do my drum solo.
This whole thing came about almost as a joke: we were standing in front of Dahlal’s costume booth, and for some reason, the subject of magic came up. When I blurted out that it had been my life-long dream to be a magician’s assistant and get sawed in half on stage, a strange look came over Tanya’s face.
“I could saw you in half!” she declared emphatically.
I must have looked kind of shocked, because she added that for years her “day job” has been being a professional magician’s assistant, and that had been wanting to “step out of the box” and do some magic herself.
Her “other half” so to speak, is Joaquin Ayala, a world-famous magician, who also does many of illusionist Criss Angel’s special effects. Tanya and I swore each other to secrecy and started planning. There were a lot of “if’s” involved: we didn’t know if Samira would allow such a folly at the Intensive, Tanya and Joaquin didn’t own the sawing box prop, so we’d have to find one to use; and since we lived in two different cities there would be a bare minimum of rehearsal time.
Somehow it all came together. When I approached Samira on the phone and enthusiastically detailed our plan to her, she didn’t say anything. The silence, in fact, went on so long that I was beginning to fear she was having second thoughts about having a lunatic like me as a headliner.
Finally, Samira said,
“ I think that’s the most “Vegas” thing I’ve ever heard- LET’S DO IT!”
As the date got closer, Tanya and I furiously finalized all the details. Tanya found a prop and we settled on music for the magic portion; the theme from the 1980’s television show “Vega$”. Immediately after I arrived in Las Vegas, Tanya whisked me off to Planet Hollywood for a champagne-soaked VIP party in honor of Criss Angel. I hung out with magicians, circus people and mentalists, and later it turned out I was one of the women doing padding through the casino barefoot, my high-heels in hand.
The next day, my Intensive workshops began, followed by an afternoon of magic rehearsals.
We rehearsed the act at Farrington Productions, which apparently is the nerve center for all the large productions and stage shows in town. It’s located in a huge, non-descript compound that, from the outside, looks like an ordinary warehouse- but inside, it was a glitter queen’s wet dream! There were giant pieces of scenery and props, floor-to-ceiling shelves of magnificent showgirl headdresses, racks and racks of sparkly stage costumes. It was so overwhelming, I was almost weeping!
We waded through sequined and fringed 1920’s flapper shifts, suits of armor, polka-dotted flamenco dresses, Victorian outfits with massive hoopskirts and bustles, over-sized Mardi-Gras style heads, neon clown shoes, boas, Sally Rand feather fans... even a green dress covered in glitter watermelon slices and a bunch of psychotic-looking vegetable costumes, and finally came to the large dance studio on the premises, where we met Joaquin and lovely dancer Sacha Biondi, who was going to be Tanya’s assistant. I “met” my prop for the first time and it seemed so tiny, I was having major apprehension over whether I would be able to fit inside of it, let alone remember everything I needed to with just two days of rehearsal.
Tanya suggested I watch them run through the act before participating it, and she and Sacha took their places as Joaquin cued the music. It was spectacular; they had every little movement choreographed. By the end of the number, I’d completely forgotten about the showgirl headresses I’d been coveting and actually really was weeping! I felt like I’d won the lottery, and couldn’t believe how incredible the whole act was, choreographed in minute precision, let alone how much thought and work Tanya, Sacha and Joaquin had put into the act. It was literally my dream come true and more. I wiped away my happy tears and we got down to work.
We rehearsed for hours each day, running the act over and over. Personally, I am a perfectionist; a total stickler for rehearsals and for getting things exactly right… but what they had already worked out for the act blew me away completely. In the back of my mind, I really felt the need to measure up to the amazing standard they set, especially since was just a green rookie with a crazy dream, and they were world-class professionals in the realm of stage illusions. We ran the number so many times and so continuously that even in the air-conditioned studio, I was dripping with sweat. At one point, my back and all my limbs were so wet, I skidded as I got into the box, which lead me to having what Tanya referred to as a “Magic Meltdown”- a mini-panic attack inside the prop. She assured me every assistant has one at some point. By the end of our intense rehearsals, I looked like a victim of domestic violence, because I was covered in “Magic Bruises”, from climbing in and out of the prop quickly to the beat of our fast-paced music. I was battered but unbowed: combined with my little claustrophobic episode, the bruises were the final proof that I had popped my Magic Cherry!
On the day of the show, in keeping with what we we were now referring to as The Top Secret Project, Samira and stage manager extraordinaire Sandi Curtis gave us a closed tech rehearsal and we ran the act on the stage. The word was out that i was doing something special, and they were both afraid that if anyone saw the rehearsal, the surprise would be ruined. That day and evening passed by in a blur, and regrettably, I didn’t even get to see the other dancers on the show- hot performers like Lotus Niraja, Samira Sharuk, Lee Ali and Steven Eggers... but I could tell they were amazing by the sound of the crowd.
Next thing I knew, I was living out my childhood dream of being sawed in half onstage. I guess by now, dear readers, with all my carrying on about this, you are dying to know how the magic act works.
Can you keep a secret? I thought so.
I can, too!
Photo by James Packard: Sacha, Princess & Tanya onstage at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive