Over the past decade or so, bellydancing has attained wild popularity around the country, and North Carolina is no exception (see www.ncbellydance.org). There are dancers who stick to pure styles (Egyptian, Turkish, Romany, etc.), but much of the form's current sizzle comes from a wave of fusion impulses — the basic moves and values of bellydancing informed and augmented by all sorts of contemporary and historical cultural phenomena, from tribal style and Renaissance Faire magick to steampunk and Lady Gaga. The dancing is unabashedly sensual, and often very sexy, celebratory of the power and the mystery of the undulating female form. At its best, it is spiritual as well. An extraordinary number of individual performers have developed, and small troupes, most of which dance in a limited local area for intimate audiences of passionate fans, or tour in a small way.
Then there are The Bellydance Superstars. This large troupe tours the world with big glitzy shows — no intimate cabaret here. They brought their current production, Bombay Bellywood, to the Carolina Theatre of Durham, and the stage was barely big enough for the large showy numbers. The fusion here is between classical Egyptian bellydancing and Bollywood production numbers (informed by Indian classical techniques such as Kathak and Odissi — and hip-hop), and the result makes a fine entertainment.
It is, as The Times of London said, a lot like Riverdance. The dancers have very particular skills and incredible stamina. They make you happy watching them, but they are not pushing any artistic boundaries. There was no challenging choreography, no physically risky feats (no backbends with swords balanced on heads, for instance), no particular finesse. The women — and one man — of the Bellydance Superstars (oddly, for stars, all unnamed in the program) are all perfectly fine, but only half a dozen or so really have the fire. Their costumes, however, are splendid, quite inventive and carefully chosen for the different body types, and there are many, many costume changes to keep the eyes happy.
The lighting was bright and didn't vary much; the music was recorded, and overloud, but it is was pepped up with live drumming by master Issam Houshan, joined occasionally by two of the dancers. Sadly, there was not much change of pace — the whole concert was fast and faster. With the rapidly changing video montage in the background, the overall effect was rather frenetic. The house was full of fans who'd clearly seen them before, but once was probably enough for this viewer.
The most interesting thing about the show to me was — it clearly demonstrates that there's now a place in the world for young women who want to wear sparkly bits of clothing and lots of jiggly decorations and dance dance dance with grace, athleticism and glamour. No longer confined to the fringes of society, they can shake their fringe on the big stage for real salaries and R-E-S-P-E-C-T, instead of tips and leers. That, I give 5 stars.