Review: Best of Arabesque (Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra)

Last night, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the black tie gala and show Best of Arabesque at the Fleck Dance Theatre in the Harbourfront Centre. The show was held in celebration of two milestones: the 15th anniversary of the founding of Arabesque Dance Company and Orchestra, and the 30th anniversary of the dance career of the company’s founder, Yasmina Ramzy.

Yasmina Ramzy’s career began in 1981 and she has taught and performed over 10,000 shows in over 60 cities within Europe, North America and the Middle East, including performances for royalty and heads of state. She is the founder and director of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada and created the world renowned Arabesque Academy.

The name of the show gives away the premise – it was a show highlighting some of the best of what the company has to offer, and it turns out that is quite a spectacular show. I am somewhat of an amateur belly dancer myself (again, VERY amateur), so I do know a little bit about the form, and I was quite impressed with the show.

I was not a huge fan of the opening number, Darwish, as I found it quite dizzying (the performers spun in one direction for the entire piece) but the show improved greatly from there. There were unique and unexpected pieces, like Taqsim (an exploration of the Zaar Exorcism ritual) and Coffee Shop (which had a playful attitude) as well as more traditional pieces, such as the Muwashshahaat Musical Montage and the Noor Oriental finale.

Many traditional bellydancing props were used throughout the show, giving the “Best of” a wide range, including zills (finger symbols), raks assaya (weighted canes) and a fun take on the candelabra head-balancing prop – a hookah.

The orchestra performed highlights of the Arabesque repertoire. The audience seemed particularly enthused by the musical improvisation segments of the show, the first performed by special guest violinist Fathi Aljarrah and the second a dumbek improvisation by Suleiman Warwar. The orchestra is incredibly talented and the music was phenomenal.

The evening included not only a show but a reception, silent auction and a question and answer period after the show with the performers. My guest, Jenna, and I agreed that the show was fantastic, but the one complaint that we both shared  was that we would have liked to see more bellydancing – the show seemed a bit short, and I felt that presenting another piece would have been excellent. I was also vaguely disappointed that Yasmina Ramzy herself only performed once – during an event celebrating her career, I would have liked to see her perform more. But hey – if the only real complaint was that we wanted to see more, that’s not really a bad thing.

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