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Jessica Abrams
Belly Dance
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Bellydance Evolution undulates in style through the looking glass

by Jessica Abrams
August 14, 2014
Ford Amphitheatre
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East
Los Angeles, CA 90068
323-461-3673
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for and about children. And while the anthropomorphic creatures and non-linear narrative resonate with creatively adaptable young minds, those elements also work together to bring forth a world – as much as a story – that has thrived in many forms and mediums for over a century. From movies to television and back several times, Alice in Wonderland, as it is now called, has become a tale known the world over, with no cultural bounds or bias.

It follows, then, that Mr. Carroll would continue to rest comfortably in his grave with his story being told through the lens of belly dance, as it was on Friday, August 1st at the Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. Bellydance Evolution, based out of North Hollywood, California and led by the dynamic and virtuosic Jillina Carlano, brought together a group of International dance talent to create an eye-popping the extravaganza "Alice in Wonderland," whose ingenuity and energy exploded the moment Alice tumbled down the rabbit hole and did not let up until she crawled out of it.

Bellydance Evolution's mission is to bring awareness to the rich cultural legacy and diversity of Middle Eastern dance by fusing it with movement forms more specific to the West. And from the moment the show begins, this mission becomes obvious. In the first ensemble section, "The Garden Party", Alice is joined by five dazzling maidens in brightly colored skirts and bodices, all with undulating torsos in the typical Middle Eastern style, but upon closer inspection another element has been added to the mix: a sharpness, a percussive quality. An off-beat punch of legs and arms. Could it be a hint of hip-hop? Absolutely.

Indeed, Brazilian-born Danielo Mendes, brilliantly dancing the role of the White Rabbit, is considered "un maestro du Hip-Hop" in his adopted country of France. Mendes, sporting silver pants and a white baseball cap, is breathtaking in the ease with which he leaps through the air, then plunges to the ground, spins and bounces right back. His technical skill is matched by his comedic timing; and as both daredevil virtuoso and comic relief, he shines.

Other dance forms are seamlessly woven through. In "The Caucus Race" dancers in yellow ruffle skirts pound their feet Flamenco-style and then proceed to kick their heels straight ahead and then with legs bent at right angles. Are we in wonderland? Madrid? Or the Folies Bergère in Paris at the turn of the century? The section entitled "The Flowers" features a large ensemble of dancers in long pink skirts, and while their individual movements are in the traditional belly dance vein, seen together they are reminiscent of the Waltz of the Flowers in "The Nutcracker". The White Rabbit performs a tango with the Queen of Hearts. A group of eight or so dancers perform a Charleston-inspired fan dance. Dancers tease and tempt the onstage drummers in a gypsy duel of talent and will. Watching the Can-Can merge with Flamenco, witnessing the Charleston merge with burlesque, and then for all of it to be added to an already flavorful cocktail of Middle Eastern dance makes for a visual panoply that breaks through cultures, art forms and, contrary to what the White Rabbit might have you think, time.

The production's ingenuity and cleverness keeps the audience on its toes. We meet the Cheshire Cat when a group of dancers hold umbrellas pointed out to the audience which, clustered together, form a cat face. In "Painting it Red" dresses magically change from white to red.

Every dancer – and there are about twenty-five in the company, some hailing from such far-away places as Germany and Venezuela – shines in both technical skill and sheer stage presence, but Carlano as the Queen of Hearts earns her place as the doyenne of Middle Eastern dance. While her upper body snakes and undulates, her lower body kicks and turns as she exudes feminine power and presence. She is lush, alluring, captivating. She IS the queen.

If bellydance had made its way into the garden where Lewis Carroll was entertaining the daughters of a friend, he might have seen fit to use it to give his story flavor. Or, as was the case at the Ford Theatre that night, it might have been the sole means for telling the story. Because once we get caught up in the swirl of movement and color that took over the stage, it becomes clear that one of the world's favorite stories is made for this spectacular retelling.
Bellydance Evolution in 'Alice in Wonderland'.

Bellydance Evolution in "Alice in Wonderland".

Photo © & courtesy of Bruno O'Hara


Bellydance Evolution in 'Alice in Wonderland'.

Bellydance Evolution in "Alice in Wonderland".

Photo © & courtesy of Bruno O'Hara


Sharon Kihara as 'The Caterpillar' in Bellydance Evolution's 'Alice in Wonderland'.

Sharon Kihara as "The Caterpillar" in Bellydance Evolution's "Alice in Wonderland".

Photo © & courtesy of Bruno O'Hara


Bellydance Evolution in 'Alice in Wonderland'.

Bellydance Evolution in "Alice in Wonderland".

Photo © & courtesy of Bruno O'Hara

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