The Bellydance Superstars will be at The Birchmere this month for two shows – October 27 and 28 – with a new production called Bombay Bellywood. I last saw BDSS perform at the Lisner in March 2009, and it was an infectiously fun performance that had the audience shimmying in their seats. For those of us studying dance, it’s always fascinating to watch and learn from professional touring companies. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve come up with this time around, in a production that’s mixing Bollywood and Bhangra into the usual line-up of Egyptian Cabaret and Tribal Fusion styles.
One of the highlights for me last year was the whirling veil work of Petite Jamilla, and I was thrilled to get a chance to talk with her about the new production and what DC area audiences can expect later this month.
“We are really leaving our hearts on the stage,” she said.
Luckily when I spoke with her, it was the morning after opening night for the tour, and it was a great success! She was extremely excited and enthusiastic about the show, which is itself very challenging for many of the dancers who don’t have a background in Indian dance and had to learn a whole new style. Those elements are choreographed by Indian dancer Meera, whose background in both folkloric and classical styles like Bharatanatyam strongly informs the production. Petite Jamilla said that though it was a real challenge doing the crossover – “it’s killing me already, out of my comfort zone” – the dancers are very proud of the work they’ve done. “Part of the adventure is being flexible,” she noted, “I can’t help but laugh and smile.”
Preparations for the tour start with brainstorming sessions in the spring, transitioning to summer rehearsals and then when all the pieces are in place, about two weeks to get the show “clean and tight.” I asked Petite Jamilla how she handles the pressures of touring. “The first month is all about getting over my mistakes,” she said, “the second month is when things are really clean, but that’s when you really have to watch out for injuries and keep your warm-ups regular.”
Life on tour for the dancers doesn’t sound very glamorous, as they tend to drive all day on the bus to the next location (sometimes they drive at night after a show as well). There are bunks on the bus and television so they can watch the previous night’s performance to help keep things sharp. “We eat dinner at ‘geriatric’ times, really early,” she laughed, “we arrive at a new city, do tech, eat afterwards.” As they may have to drive again after the show, often they don’t get to experience the city they’ve visited, so she is looking forward to the two-day stay in our area to see more of DC and especially “super cute Old Town.”
“The crowd at The Birchmere is always amazing,” she said, “it’s the audience reactions that really keep us going.”