REVIEW To Touch The Water

"A glorious flood flows before me:
with all my senses I see only
that sweet surging sea...
I will leap, as I am, into the stream;
oh that its waters might blissfully swallow me,
and my longing be lost in the flood!
...Divine peace floods my being;
purest light blazes in the glow:
...do you not fear...
this wild, passionate woman?"

In the third and final production in the Alf Lela Wa Lela series, which opened in November 2004, Michaella and her Bellydance Company brought the trinity to a triumphant conclusion. This time the unifying theme was 'water', in the sense of fluidity - of movement, of energy between dancers, between performers and audience and within the dancers themselves. Click on programme right for more details.

With three successful productions at Chats Palace, Michaella can now take her exploration of bellydance on to a new plane.

We felt a heady anticipation as the evening opened with the quivering tones of Avivit, a leading London-based Middle Eastern singer; drawing on Egyptian, Israeli and Yemeni traditions, she sang soulfully and movingly to the improvised beat of Tim Garside, a regular tabla performer at Michaella's productions.

Next, Michaella emerged in white and gold, red hip scarf and swirling white robe - later discarded - held with a golden braid about her head, bedouin-style, performing to Inta Omri ('You Are My Love'), a haunting Egyptian song. Michaella's charismatic, graceful and feminine dance filled the stage with an inspired light.

There were 'the young, the very young and the unbelievably young'. Ella, just five years old, danced magically with Michaella, both in shimmering white. Lillie, Michaella's long time collaborator and friend, followed with eight-year-old Sivan, both in cerulean blue robes, moving in near faultless harmony to a modern Moroccan melody. Between each little girl and her experienced partner there was an obvious and deep affection.

The Ritual, performed to 'Su' (Turkish for water), began with Lillie and Michaella, each in headrobes and dazzling purple, golden, crimson and azure. With their duet, of perfect poise, the two close friends created a visible energy between them. Students from Michaella's belly dancing programme appeared, to play their sacramental roles with confidence, proficiency and real feeling.

Then came Daniel Vais, sinuously winding his compact figure towards centre stage, to the enigmatic voice of the nay, or Egyptian flute. In an orange-gold velvet polo-neck, vermilion hip scarf and crisp white paper skirt, this flowing performance from the young choreographer combined elements of raqs sharqi, ballet and contemporary dance as, out of darkness, he made light.

Lillie brings the violent passion of flamenco to her belly dance, especially so in her Sufi Flamenco. In deep ochre with orange-gold hip scarf, she danced with controlled abandon, ending her life-affirming performance with a rapturous and spellbinding finale - a triumph of the human spirit!

Michaella and the tabla - especially in the hands of Tim Garside - is a marriage made in paradise. In Persian blue and swirling robe, Michaella rocked, shimmied, floated and flowed as she rode the waves of the drum's insistent beat. Tim and Michaella, each inspiring the other in an impassioned exchange, evoke a painful yearning, a fierce anxiety such that we might almost drown in sensuous intensity.

Though surely exhausted by the demands of the tabla, Michaella reappeared, this time iridescent purple, a silk tasselled hip scarf accentuating her shimmies as she danced to Sezen Aksu's 'Don't Believe In My Fame'. Now, with nothing to lose, her dance took on a joyful, liberated air; the evening drew to an exhilarating conclusion, her scintillating smiles seeming to flood the stage with an infinite light.

Stephen Barber October 2005