Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: ‘Dancing to Ancient Rhythms’

Dancing to Ancient Rhythms
The Apothecary at the Trading Post

Remaining Performances:
Saturday, July 25 @ 2:30 p.m.

They say: "Visually stunning vignettes of the sacred and profane, the transcendent and mundane. Theatrical dance inspired by the wisdom of the East in a captivating first Fringe Festival performance by the critically acclaimed Ancient Rhythms Dance Company."

Mike says: Before I rip into this show as a terrible, terrible fit for Fringe, let me just say that the costumes are exquisite, the performers are elegant and seductive, and the dancing is very, very good. Despite all that, this show is the worst Fringe has to offer.

Why? Because Dancing to Ancient Rhythms is an hour of belly dances performed by students of the Ancient Rhythms Dance Company, some of whom are still in high school. In other words, it's a dance recital. On top of that, it's located in the Apothecary, which is poorly insulated for temperature and sound—the latter so much so that last night's dance routines were frequently interrupted by what sounded like a much more interesting show next door.

The dances, though well executed on the individual level, didn't tell a story. (A narrator introduced each dance with a sentence or two about priestesses, the cosmos, purity, etc. This hardly counts as storytelling.) In fact, the only thing each number communicated is just how popular belly dancing is with suburban teenage girls. Ergo, the show falls flat even from a theatrical perspective.

See it if: You don't mind sitting on musty church pews in a stifling hot building while a line of young, mostly white women stand in a line and belly dance while making Xena noises.

Skip it if: You do mind the above, or have medium-to-high standards for interpretative dance performances.

  • Pingback: Correction: ‘Dancing to Ancient Rhythms’ - Fringe & Purge - Washington City Paper

  • http://www.najwah.com Karen Mclane

    To Mike Riggs,

    I would like to comment on your review of my dance company, Ancient Rhythms. First, had I known we were to be given a stifling, musty building with zero soundproofing (it was twice as hot in the unlit dressing area), I would never have ventured to participate in the Capital Fringe Festival. Truly, I nearly passed out under the weight and oppressiveness of that damn burqa. Would you take a moment please to read the program that you must have missed on the night of the performance. As stated in our show description, these were individual vignettes that did tell stories rather than one continuous storyline. I had hoped that the import of the influence of the vedic tradition woven throughout the program with poems and quotes of transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Joseph Campbell would lend itself well to the venue. The ladies performing were Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese rather than “mostly Caucasian”, and the company is most certainly not comprised of my students. Rather, they are performers with extensive professional performance backgrounds coming from ballet, modern, and Georgian dance companies, and we perform regularly for corporate, embassy, and special events. I am loath to categorize these women as students performing in a recital (ouch). Finally, the majority of the choreography is a far cry from “belly dance”, but rather a fuller fusion of many dance forms.

    Sincerely,
    Karen Mclane

  • kahsda

    "1.) a.) I didn’t opine about the style. I observed that the dancing is nice, but that it doesn’t tell a story, and resembles that which it is–a dance recital for a company that offers belly dance lessons. I see no error in these observations."

    * It doesn't tell a story because the *dance style* is non-narrative. Whether or not it appears recital-like is your opinion and, as I have not seen the show, for all I know you are correct. Any show featuring multiple performances from a single group can be discussed in that manner from any child's school performance to the Royal Ballet.

    * I am quite aware of what racism and orientalism mean as I have been studying and publishing on these issues for over 25 years. You show insufficient understanding of cultural tourism. If these women have studied the culture and are doing the performing art justice, then they are no different than any other raqs sharqi performer regardless of their ethnicity or racial background. As you have already stated that the dancing was proficient, this implies that your only real issues with the performance were that they were a) white women and b) non-narrative. It is only "thoughtless cultural tourism" if the dancers are unaware and unstudied - your article is a prime representation of what happens when an audience member watches a performance of a non-Western art with Western expectations.

    "I have no interest in seeing white people in Kimonos “sharing” Japanese culture; nor in white Americans in clogs “sharing” Dutch culture; I don’t want to go to a Thai restaurant where all the cooks are 12th generation South Dakotans."

    * This is a type of racism/ethnocentricity known as essentialism. You have just stated that only Japanese people may wear kimonos and be scholars of Japanese culture, only Dutch people can wear clogs and be scholars of Dutch culture, and that only Thai people can cook Thai food. This limits those ethnicities to the stereotypes you hold of them while also limiting the ability of any person of other origins from studying or becoming expert in those areas.

    It is not the job of anyone but yourself to become educated on these matters. If you choose not to, that is your right and privilege. If you would like resources on Middle Eastern dance forms or racial/ethnic essentialism and the appropriation of orientalist images in the area of interpreting Middle Eastern arts, I would be happy to provide an academic reading list.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com Mike Riggs

    Ancient Rhythms Dance Company didn't disclose it was a belly dance troupe in its description. Then again, very few of the Fringe shows I saw had coherent or meaningful descriptions. In fact, it seems some of the groups put more effort into writing obfuscating descriptions than they did into their actual performances. But I digress.

    Please allow me to address each of your concerns point by point:

    1.) "You are opining from a place of ignorance on the style and a place of racism and orientalism by pointing out that the performers were white women."

    1.) a.) I didn't opine about the style. I observed that the dancing is nice, but that it doesn't tell a story, and resembles that which it is--a dance recital for a company that offers belly dance lessons. I see no error in these observations.

    1.) b.) It's not racist to observe that the participants in a Middle Eastern/Central Asian/North African contemporary dance performance are mostly white women. In fact, it's no more racist to make that observation than it is sexist to observe when a theater company stages a Shakespeare play with a single-sex cast. It's not orientalist either, but then I suspect you have no idea what that term means.

    2.) If you had seen a ballet performance by an all-African company, would you have felt the same dissonance? Dance and music appreciation are not bounded by race or ethnicity.

    2.) a.) A ballet performed by black dancers would not have given me a sense of dissonance. Dancing to Ancient Rhythms didn't give me a sense of dissonance, either. It irritated me. It irritated me because it was an excellent example of thoughtless cultural tourism. I have no interest in seeing white people in Kimonos "sharing" Japanese culture; nor in white Americans in clogs "sharing" Dutch culture; I don't want to go to a Thai restaurant where all the cooks are 12th generation South Dakotans.

    2.) b.) I agree that appreciation is not bound by race. As a white man, I can enjoy all kinds of music and dance, even if it was not made by white men explicitly for other white men. I suspect, though I haven't verified it with a poll, that black/white men/women can enjoy things made by people who do not look like them as well.

  • kahsda

    Had to bothered to educate yourself at all, you would understand that belly dance or raqs sharqi is not a dance with a narrative structure. It is built on a folk dance background that has been adapted for stage. As you have already stated that the dancing was proficient, you are opining from a place of ignorance on the style and a place of racism and orientalism by pointing out that the performers were white women. If you had seen a ballet performance by an all-African company, would you have felt the same dissonance? Dance and music appreciation are not bounded by race or ethnicity. Learn to be open-minded and judge each art and artist on their own merits.

...