‘Arabian Nights’ ambitious, but flawed

Originally published March 28th, 2013 in The Daily Princetonian.

Under the artistic direction of Lili Driggs ’14, Raks Odalisque’s “Arabian Nights” packs a lot of different pieces into a show with a run time well under two hours. Beyond the vibrant costumes and impressive sword and pot-balancing tricks, “Arabian Nights” offers more creative and conceptual pieces that help diversify the program. While some of these artistic endeavors are better executed than others, you can expect an entertaining show supported by comical fillers — all you bros out there, make sure to practice your body rolls and hip isolations before the show — and committed dancers.

The highlight of the first act was “Kulturklash,” an ambitious piece choreographed by president Briana Wilcox ’13 that features the men of Sympoh. You might think that a piece that incorporates a dizzying number of styles including belly dance, hip-hop, lyrical, Kathak, Debka, ballet and bboying would quickly devolve into a hot mess, but Wilcox highlights similarities between the various styles with ease. She takes hard-hitting hip-hop movements, adds elements of belly dancing and effortlessly unites the two through isolations, a class of movements present in both styles. Although nobody is going to mistake the Raks women for members of BAC, they make up for being out of their element with killer conviction as they don crop tops and sneakers. Wilcox has also managed to fully utilize the Sympoh men with creative formations that help elevate the energy of the piece.

Another refreshingly different piece was “The Dark Side,” one of four pieces choreographed by Driggs. “The Dark Side” opens the second act of the show with aggressive American tribal style choreography set to dramatic tracks like the instrumentals from “No Church in the Wild” by Kanye West and Jay-Z and “Sail” by AWOLNation. The five women command the stage with unwavering ferocity while executing a powerful flurry of isolations and popping movements. The musicality of the movements enhanced by the formations produce a stunning visual effect that takes the audience by surprise. Gone are the practiced seductive smiles as Driggs raises the bar to new heights that were not bested by later pieces in the program.

If the rest of the show were executed at the level of these two pieces by Wilcox and Driggs, “Arabian Nights” would earn a higher rating than what I have given below. While there are certainly other ambitious pieces, unfortunately they are not as polished as “Kulturklash” and “The Dark Side.” For example, “Hahbi ’Ru,” choreographed by Helen Greene ’15 and Temi Odimayo ’15, features some extraordinarily impressive balancing acts involving various level changes while the dancers balance pots on their heads. Minor slip ups aside, the dancers execute the movements at a very high level, but at the sacrifice of composure. This tradeoff between convincing facial expressions and concentration is further exaggerated in “Rites of Passage,” a female sword dance choreographed by Wilcox. The dancers are visibly nervous, with the exception of Wilcox, who steals the spotlight. Wilcox later bests herself in her solo performance, “Evolutions,” which not only includes sword balancing, but also double-sword techniques.

These more challenging pieces were impressive and memorable, but imperfect. Regardless, the pieces mentioned above outshine the rest on the program, especially the more traditional belly dancing pieces which struggle to be memorable, as they seem to blend together. All this being said, “Arabian Nights” is still a fun and entertaining show. The women of Raks Odalisque showcase their incredible technique and winning smiles, complimented by beautiful costumes that help produce the stunning visual effects that carry the performance.

3.25 out of 5 paws

Pros: Gorgeous costumes, innovative pieces, beautiful visual effects

Cons: Inconsistent execution, some repetitive pieces


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