Review: 20th Anniversary Gala at the Haft Auditorium

It had been months since I had seen Morocco’ last show, the smaller venue back on that fateful night in January. That evening a seed had been planted in my head, I had to see Morocco’s 20th Anniversary Gala.  So I anxiously awaited for Apil and the promised event. The evening of the Gala was windy and chilly. The ticket line stretched out the door and down the stairs. It was wonderful to see the huge community turn out for the Gala. I had no idea there were sooooo many of us! As we shuffled to our seats in the huge auditorium, we wondered what surprises the evening held for us.

The Master of Ceremonies that evening was the delightfully funny, Sabah Nissan, who introduced both halves of the evening, giving interesting background for each number and introducing the dancers. The first half of the evening was inspiring folkloric dances.

Starting off with the “Tunisian Women’s Dance” performed by the Casbah Dance Experience, which consisted of four dancers: Zanna, Ajeeba, Varvara, and Anuja. They were wearing a costume called a milaya, which had an airy quality that accentuated the beautiful flow of the dance. I was a lively and joyful dance.

Next was something of a surprise. Ayshe presented a dance called “Warrior Woman-Khatun”. It balanced the grace and sensuality of the veil with the sharp masculine lines of the sword, both of whlch Ayshe  used in provocatlve ways. The beauty of the performance came form the power of a warrior female, who still maintained her femininity and sensuality in this masculine style dance.

In sharp contrast, Nesrin, whose quiet, gentle style spoke volumes, danced an “Orientale Solo”.

Then the stage went dark, an otherworldly figure appeared, a gigantic bird, it seemed, with huge shimmering coppery wings that fluttered open, revealing  the dancer Shakira. The dance appropriately called “Wings”, creating a hauntingly memorable moment

Then the lovely Rayhana performed “Ghalbi Mala (What Happened to my Heart)”. This spirited and feisty dancer adorned in pink, moved smoothly and effortlessly across the floor filling up the space with her veil. Her dance forms were elegant, her lines graceful. Next, Tarik abdel Malik (now known as Tarik Sultan) performed a Moroccan tray dance, which brought oh’s, aah’s and zaghareets from the audience as he balanced a tray full of lit candles! Some of his more amazing feats of dexterity during this performance including shifting the tray from his head to his knees and back again! What moves! What flexibility!

A delightful treat folllowe next as Laurel Victoria Gray, in lavish blue and gold, performed an Uzbek dance. Her exquisite hand movements and gestures told a story and directed the dance.

Then Morocco performed the traditional “Raks El Chemodan”, an Egyptian wedding dance. Singing along and playing her zils magnificently, she showed her mastery of the dance while wearing a three tiered chemodan. She was the embodiment of fire and light with her beautiful fluid movements and graceful style. That performance in itself could have been the show stopper, but there was much more to follow.

Artemis Mourat’s incredible “Rom a la Turca” was a fantastic overview of Turkish style dancing. She is an amazing dancer full of energy and life. The powerhouse performance energized the audience, who showed their enthusiasm.

Before we could catch our collective breath, the Casbah Dance Experience (Rayhana, Ananta, Ajeeba and Varvara) closed out the first half of the show with “Raks Al Nasha’al: A Saudi Women’s Dance”. Each was elegantly adorned in a thobe al nasha’al. It was an extremely lively performance.

During a brief intermission, a touching, heart-felt award ceremony was conducted, at which point, Morocco honored three important women in her life: Marie Artesi, Nancy Osserman and her Mom.

Then the lull in the Gala was over and the second half of the evening called “Raks Sharqi Salad” started with the masterful artistry of Gamila El Masri. Known for her fantastic folkloric work, Gamila is a shaker extraordinaire with a wonderful sense of humor . In a dazzling pink and silver costume and a tiara(!), she filled the space with such wonderful energy and flare!

Quickly following was the crowd-pleaser Tarik abdel Malik (Tarik Sultan), who danced “Ayla Taylha” and “Dakht II Mizmar”. With his beautifully shaking, controlled internals, and incredible footwork, he presented an amazing performance. The crowd roared its approval!

The air crackled with energy when Morocco exploded onto the stage for “Basboussa” and “Al  Ain Moulayetein”. Adorned in gold, her costume swished and swirled, filling the air about her with an aura golden beads. Her unbelievable control allowed us the opportunity to watch a ripple and shake travel throughout her body. Awe-inspiring!

In “Oryantal Dansi a la Turca”. Raks Sharqi Turkish style, Artemis Mourat took the stage like a fireball. The rise and fall of her veil was both delicate and strong, making the huge stage seem unbelievable small. She is always a pleasure to behold.

When one thinks “Gypsy”, its all about drama. That’s exactly what Laurel Victoria Gray delivered in her rousing performance “Russian Gypsy” It was all attitude and fire, amazingly presented and the audience ate it up and cheered for more.

The finale was a duet by Morocco and Tarik. To watch these two dance together is always a feast for the eyes. The beauty is seeing the male and female components of the dance in action together, comparing and contrasting each other.

There were some absolutely brilliant performances that night. It was incredibly important to have such a Gala presented on stage, the way an art form shoud be displayed. And while many of the dancers where able to bridge the distance between the stage and the audience, I did miss the intimacy of Morocco’s smaller shows: being drawn into the dance and sharing the moment with the dancers. But when the evening was over, I was still left feeling rejuvenated, inspired and proud to be a part of this art form.