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REVIEWS

   

Shoma Review 1

   

Shoma Review 2

   

Caravan Review

   

Jewels Review

   

Leylet al-Tarab Review

 

   
  "..a bonanza of imaginatively presented, sensual dance and music."
  Pioneer Press, Minneapolis, MN

Reconciliation at the end of Sawwah, 2007 Southern Theater
Sawwah 2007

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Jawaahir Reviews and Articles

   
 

 

 
 
"SHOMA"
intriguing evening of cheery fun
 
  By Mike Steele
Star Tribune
 
     
 

"Shoma", the intriguing and ambitious dance drama performed by Middle Eastern dancer Cassandra and her Jawaahir Dance Company at the Southern Theatre in Minneapolis, must be the most relentlessly cheerful dance show since "The Nutcracker."

 
 
 
 
 
The Bride Unveiled
 
  By Mike Steele
Star Tribune
 
     
 

Two non-Arab women fascinated by Arab culture, including Cassandra of the
Jawaahir Dance Company, are staging a new piece that reveals the very private, raucous ritual of a Saudi women's wedding party.

 
 
 
 
 
Troupe offers Middle Eastern dance sampler
 
  By Mike Steele
Star Tribune
 
     
 
"Travels Through Time and Tradition," features a range of dances from Egyptian to Persian. It also includes a contemporary work blending Arabic and Latin dance with jazzy undertones. As a main course, it combines Arabic dance by Cassandra with African dancing and drumming
 
 
 
 
 
Jawaahir shimmies, shivers and shakes
 
  By Mike Steele
Star Tribune
 
     
 
Middle Eastern dance combines the sensual with the joyous in a more outgoing way than almost any dance I can think of. It celebrates the body's expressive powers, its contours, its mysteries, its ability to shimmy, shiver, shake and seduce.
 
 
 
 
   
 
 

Leylet al-Tarab

Colored by culture, Jawaahir is indeed a jewel of many facets

By Matt Peiken
Pioneer Press
Friday, July 18, 2003

Jawaahir Dance Company shatters expectations before it hits the floor. Read the entire review.

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"Shoma" intriguing evening of cheery fun
Choreography overrides any shortcomings

By Mike Steele
Star Tribune Staff Writer
Saturday, July 11, 1998

"Shoma", the intriguing and ambitious dance drama performed by Middle Eastern dancer Cassandra and her Jawaahir Dance Company at the Southern Theatre in Minneapolis, must be the most relentlessly cheerful dance show since "The Nutcracker."

Written by Boston-based Arabist Kay Hardy Campbell, the work centers around Shoma, the actual Bedouin storyteller whose father fought alongside Lawrence of Arabia. What makes it interesting is that the story she tells unfolds within the context of a Saudi women's wedding party, very private events in which women, hidden from male gazes, dance just for each other. These are dances of sensuously rolling shoulders, snaking arms, undulating hips and sinuously swaying and turning bodies where the flowing fabrics of the women's dresses and even their long, flowing hair are choreographed into beautiful curves.

Like the Tales of Arabian Nights, "Shoma" creates stories within stories. The wedding party is the framework out of which Shoma's main tale spins, an account of a shepherdess who gets lost in a sandstorm, is saved by a young prince and eventually marries him. Her wedding party is celebrated within the wedding party during which the shepherdess' story is being told.

The narrative isn't the strength of "Shoma," however. Director Carolyn Goelzer gives it all some focus but since the show begins with Shoma on stage saying "Once upon a time …" the context of the women's party doesn't become clear until the story is underway. Similar to "The Nutcracker," once the prince saves the shepherdess, the two sit on pillows and watch a long series of national dances, without advancing the narrative one jot.

The dances, extravagant and fascinating divertissements, include a female duet to an Iraqi tune in which the two become palm trees, arms shimmering in the wind, trunks rolling and undulating; a Moroccan dance, and a saucy trio for three servants carrying large trays. The sandstorm that got the shepherd girl there in the first place is a terrifically theatrical dance - like most of the dances choreographed by Cassandra - in which round skirts worn by women spinning like dervishes conjure up notions of wildly whirling winds.

There's probably a predicable story like this in most cultures. Normally you'd have dramatic conflict leading to a cheerful finale. Here you have a sweet shepherdess and dear prince exuding happiness from beginning to inevitably cheery end. It's a little too much cheeriness, in truth. But it's all so openly upbeat, and the performers so obviously revelling in its happiness, that the charms of the work win out.

Besides, the story is mainly an excuse for strong dancing. Cassandra, a striking and charismatic presence, manages to find considerable emotional depth through her muscle isolations and pelvic undulations. And the music, directed by Campbell - who also plays the lutelike oud and sings lead vocals - is played sharply by a five-woman orchestra for the more intimate scenes; the larger more bombastic passages are done to tape accompaniment. The costumes are sumptuous, and Jeff Bartlett's lighting makes their colors radiant. Like Arab women's parties, "Shoma" is an evening of lighthearted cheeriness, and men are invited.

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Shoma

The Bride Unveiled

By Mike Steele
Star Tribune Staff Writer
Sunday, July 5, 1998

Two non-Arab women fascinated by Arab culture, including Cassandra of the
Jawaahir Dance Company, are staging a new piece that reveals the very private, raucous ritual of a Saudi women's wedding party.

Images of Saudi Arabian women flashed to us here in the West are monochromatically similar: dour women swathed from head to toe in black, veiled, austere, isolated, subservient. This is not a fun image.

It's also not a full image, according to Cassandra, choreographer and artistic director of Jawaahir Dance Company. The Minneapolis-bred Middle Eastern dance specialist has teamed up with Kay Hardy Campbell, an Edina-bred Arabist, writer and musician, to present another, very private, sometimes surprising side of Arabian women.

"Shoma," the most ambitious work yet for the nine-year-old dance troupe, takes us behind the closed doors of a Saudi Arabian women's wedding party in which the sometimes raucous women's dances predominate. Music is by an all-woman orchestra. And there goes the image.

"Beyond the male gaze, these dances can be unbelievably rowdy," said Cassandra. "Without men present - and men are absolutely not allowed - women can do anything they want. It's freedom from any social pressure to be polite or conform. And the dresses! They're huge, unbelievably gorgeous and theatrical and colorful. You think of black? Wait until you see these hot green, pink and orange stripes. Totally wild."

Cassandra (full name: Cassandra Shore) has been performing Middle Eastern dance for 24 years, ever since she took a middle Eastern dance class at the University of Minnesota. Campbell, now a resident of Boston, grew up in Edina and was living an ordinary life until age 15, when she saw the movie "Lawrence of Arabia." She saw it 20 times and "decided I wanted to be an Arabist, whatever that was."

She studied Arabic and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Minnesota and at Harvard, married an Arabist from Golden Valley and lived for six years in Saudi Arabia, where she first was allowed into Saudi wedding parties. She's now writing a novel called "Shoma" about an actual female storyteller, a Bedouin woman whose father fought alongside T.E. Lawrence, the real Lawrence of Arabia. She has written the text for the stage "Shoma," which is based on her unfinished book. She also will lead the women's orchestra and play the oud, the long-necked, unfretted Arabian lute.

"In Saudi Arabia," said Campbell, "it's almost a duty to celebrate weddings. It's a huge event, the bringing together of two families, and it can go on for days. Some of them have a couple of hundred women in attendance. The men celebrate separately, so the women are uninhibited, doing the latest dances they've learned on trips to Cairo. And mind you, these celebrations have no alcohol. The high comes from the dance and music."

Stories within stories

In Jawaahir's "Shoma," the emphasis will be on Arabian women's dances. These are defined by, but not limited to, muscular isolationism, especially in the shoulders but going all the way up to the hair - which is also used expressively. The framing device is the wedding party and Shoma herself arrives at the party to tell stories. Cassandra calls it " the nest device, stories within stories, like the Arabian Nights. Shoma's narrative brings to life characters from folk tales."

The key is of Munira, a Bedouin shepherdess, and Badr, the mysterious stranger who may or may not be a prince. It allows Cassandra to bring in dances you wouldn't see at a Saudi party - a Moroccan street dance and Kuwaiti Bedouin dances that are more in the belly dance style to which Jawaahir fans are accustomed - as well as an elaborate fantasy scene which Cassandra calls "highly theatrical, a combination of folk, classical and Western dance." It also allows her to use a male dancer, Morris Johnson, in the fantasy sequences.

The show will have a great deal of text. Campbell calls is a play with dance, "an Arabian 'Wizard of Oz' colliding with the 'The Nutcracker.' " Well-known Twin Cities actress Carolyn Goelzer is directing the show.

The question arises: What are two fortysomething non-Arab women from Minnesota, who grew up in a culture as distant from the sex-separated Saudi culture as St. Paul is from Saturn, doing presenting these most private of dances?

The answer, simply, is that Arab women can't do them publicly," said Campbell. "Yet they're beautiful dances, and we can show them to a far broader public. My Arabian women friends love the idea. For me, it's a way to say thank you to them for teaching me the dances and allowing me into their private world."

"These are an important part of their culture," said Cassandra, "presented in women's quarters and out of sight. I feel it's valuable for people to see them, if only because it changes the image of Arabian women. From that image of isolation, deprivation and being downtrodden, you suddenly see they have a power, a rich life filled with joy and a strong relationship with other women. Their lives aren't as austere as we've been led to believe."

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Caravan

Troupe offers Middle Eastern dance sampler

By Mike Steele
Star Tribune Staff Writer
December 10, 1994

If your visions of Middle Eastern dance begin and end with the sensuality of belly dance or, worse, movie versions of belly dance, then head right down to the Southern Theatre this weekend to get straightened out.

Jawaahir's Caravan is an astonishing company for these parts: an ethnic troupe headed by Cassandra (whose offstage name is Cassandra Shore). It consists of mainly non-Arabic dancers who have studied Middle Eastern dance with great devotion and who present it with authenticity and flair.

Its show "Travels Through Time and Tradition," features a range of dances from Egyptian to Persian. It also includes a contemporary work blending Arabic and Latin dance with jazzy undertones. As a main course, it combines Arabic dance by Cassandra with African dancing and drumming choreographed by Morris Johnson, who teaches African dance at the University of Minnesota.

There really isn't a homogenous Middle Eastern style. Traditional movements include shimmying hips, undulating shoulders, sinuous and snakelike movements along the arms, shivering pelvises and strong reactions to the steady beat of the music. Turkish gypsy movement, as in the fast-paced "Hoplada," is filled with hops and turns and sensual curves.

Things can turn dramatic, as in a solo for Cassandra, which is a bit slow to show its riches. It deals with a woman cleaning house and reading Arabic movie magazines while drifting off into a fantasy journey that gets increasingly fast-paced and spicy. Once she gets cranked up, the dance is terrific. The dynamic, charismatic Cassandra wears a gold-spangled dress that flashes lights like a Holidazzle float, a bit strange for a housewife, but pretty wonderful.

The performance includes a first-rate orchestra: violins, ouds, bouzoukis and plenty of percussion (at least half the musicians) plus vocalists. Solo instruments weave in and out above the distinct rhythm, often with great virtuosity. The dancers usually go with the beat rather than the complex melody lines, and the effect is fascinating.

The finale, "Who Lied?," is based on a charming African folk tale that tells why the crow is black, the dove has pink feet and the partridge has black rings around its eyes.

What's most interesting, even if it's only tentatively explored, is the mix of Arabic and African movement. African is oriented far more toward footwork, with its glides and lunges and springy bounce. (Here, you see the seeds of break-dancing.) Shoulders tend to be hunched forward. It's far less ethereal than Arabic dance, yet it, too, is rhythm-dominated.

The two styles mesh well, the interweavings counterpointing each other in interesting ways that deserve further exploration. African drummer Joel Arpin adds a rhythmic buoyancy to the Middle Eastern ensemble on this number.

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Jewels

Jawaahir shimmies, shivers and shakes

By Mike Steele,
Star Tribune Staff Writer
Saturday, July 24, 1999

Middle Eastern dance combines the sensual with the joyous in a more outgoing way than almost any dance I can think of. It celebrates the body's expressive powers, its contours, its mysteries, its ability to shimmy, shiver, shake and seduce.

In the Twin Cities, Middle Eastern dance has meant Cassandra and her Jawaahir Dance Company. Cassandra (offstage name Cassandra Shore) has been performing and teaching dances of the Middle East for 20 years and, with concerts this week and next at the Southern Theater, is celebrating Jawaahir's 10th anniversary.

The concert, "Jewels," is a splendid one, alternating dance with music performed by guest artist Georges Lammam, a Lebanese-born violinist, and his crack eight-person orchestra of Middle Eastern specialists who put great vibrancy and spirit, and often wit, into this buoyant music.

It's a rich and varied program that shows the expressive range of Middle Eastern dance - a range that goes beyond the Hollywood harem cliches and surpasses in depth what we know as belly dancing. Still, it isn't afraid to include the essences of either harem or belly dancing, with their rolling hips, gyrating abdomen and shimmying upper body in which hair, eyes, breasts and shoulders all are integral parts.

At the heart of Middle Eastern dance is the kinetic interpretation of music, and the heart of Jawaahir's concert were two sections in which Cassandra, a charismatic and knowing dancer, improvised with the orchestra, trading riff for riff playfully, vigorously, with fluidity and panache.

Cassandra also has a dramatic bent. Some of her best work, while not literal, has a sense of theater about it. A piece called "Traces" for the entire company opens in darkness. A flashlight is turned on, skimming over images of dancers frozen in space and time, like some archaeological dig uncovered. When the dancers come to life they're swathed in earth colors evoking the primal, their shoulders slowly moving, the impulse carrying down their bodies until they're rising from the earth, mysterious and alluring.

A strong duet for Cassandra and guest dancer Margo Abdo O'Dell shows two women slyly competing until they begin moving together and discover the power of pairing. The two are evenly matched in size and skills and they truly seem to push each other in the evening's most muscular, driving dance.

The most openly seductive dance of the evening is performed by guest dancer Sahra Sa'eeda, who danced for years with her own company in Cairo and now teaches in California. She's another magnetic dancer, her "Danse Orientale" more openly embracing the show-business side of Middle Eastern dance but also showing us something about getting into the music. It's another take on a dance form that spins, shakes and shimmies in a wider variety of directions than we might have imagined.

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