In ‘Mystique,’ the women of Raks shimmy to exotic new territories

The lights go up on stage in the Frist Film/Performance Theatre on the dancers of Raks Odalisque, finger cymbals clinking and hips swaying in perfect time. In the last year, Princeton’s belly dancing company has improved in both technique and choreographic prowess, and it’s the dancers’ amazing synchrony that displays this improvement best.

The show features a wide range of styles, offering the audience a broader selection than in previous years, from hip-hop fusion — including a dance to Enrique Iglesias’s “Tonight” — to an ancient ritual dance called “Zar,” in which women gather to placate the spirits that live inside of us.

The solo work is very special as well: Watch for Julia Xu ’11, whose sharp, poignant and intense gaze will lock you into the rhythm of her dancing. Xu also choreographed “Desert Storm,” a dance centered on the art of balancing swords on the head and hips, about which all I can say is, “Wow.”

There were only two dances I didn’t enjoy as much. One was “Zeina,” because the choreography was a little boring and unvaried. The other was the segue into Sympoh’s guest appearance. The break dancing was great, and but the segue, while cute, was a bit gimmicky. After the beautiful dancing that precedes it, this plot about the “Raks Restaurant” seemed forced and a little jarring.

Highlights include choreography by PJ Das ’12, Jacquie Nesbit ’12, Ceymi Doenyas ’12 and Sari Sanchez ’11.

“I know you want it but you’re never gonna get it,” by Das was a Bollywood and belly dance fusion. What was incredible about this piece was that the transitions between the two styles of dancing were so fluid. The choreography and the Indian pop music (“Snake Charmer” by Panjabi MC) had great energy. The theme of femininity served to keep the focus through the piece’s distinct sections. A few lucky guys ran in from the audience to join the dance towards the end. Props to them for their confidence, but it’s really the girls you’ll want to watch in this one.

“Break Me” by Nesbit will have you mesmerized with its dark mood and striking technique. The title echoes the aesthetic of the choreographic style, “American Tribal Fusion”: the broken lines of the arms and the sharp, broken movements of the torso. It’s dark, hypnotic and a little eerie, but the incredible things these dancers can do with their stomachs will bring you back to earth pretty quickly.

“Harem” by Doenyas and a flamenco fusion piece by Sanchez are also noteworthy; “Harem” because it’s just so seductive and Sanchez’s flamenco because it’s yet another example of incredibly creative fusion between belly dance and other dance traditions. Sanchez’s choreography maintains the sharp, rhythmic feel of flamenco dancing without departing from the realm of belly dance, and the combination is very successful. 

The show ends with the entire company on stage dancing a piece that was originally performed by the Belly Dance Superstars in New York City. While I wasn’t a fan of the first set of costumes in the piece — the metallic spandex underneath the coins was a bit too reminiscent of dance competitions — it was great to see the strong technique of the company members and the sheer number of dancers in the troupe.

This is a remarkably strong company with a bright future in the Princeton dance scene, especially if it continues to challenge itself choreographically by exploring all realms and styles of belly dance technique, both traditional and contemporary.

Pros: The technique and choreography are amazing, and the whole troupe has mastered a whole variety of styles.

Cons: Two pieces were less interesting, and some of the costumes weren’t quite up to par with the others.

4 1/2 Paws 

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