views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Belly Dancer
Etcetera Theatre
9th August 2013



Photography supplied by Darkstar

I spend a ridiculous amount of time in the theatre, both Fringe and West End, but very little of that time is spent watching pure dance shows. Dance just isn't where my passion lies, but I'm a firm believer that when the Camden Fringe offers you an opportunity to challenge yourself with something different, you should take it. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't. In the case of The Belly Dancer, I'm very pleased that it did.

The Belly Dancer opens with a touch of the mystical and theatrical - we witness the boldly named Darkstar - who ambitiously is lead dancer, producer and director - bearing a mortar and pestle, shrouded in a cloak. As she glances backwards at us, we wonder what exactly she's going to create. The answer for those of you who are impatient, or who weren't lucky enough to secure a ticket to one of the sold out performances - is an hour of visually stunning dance.

Despite the start, there isn't a structured narrative, but a collection of themes and emotions. More than a dozen short sequences are packed into The Belly Dancer, all showcasing the different performers and styles. Darkstar's own company, Team Darkstar - made up of Nilmini Francis, Renja Salonen, Sarah Norris and Sarah Stone - perform the group pieces, ranging from the more traditional to Darkstar's own take on tribal fusion, a form with roots in modern street dance.

Darkstar, Demelza Fox and Kathy Pearlson take the stage for the solo numbers. All three women have their own distinctive styles, there's no competing for top dog. Darkstar, for instance, has a edgier, more sultry feel to all her numbers - nowhere is this more evident than in Earthquake, a solo piece where she trades her glittering costumes for black harem hip hop pants and a hoodie, body popping on stage. As for Fox and Pearlson, they deliver their strongest performances respectively in Crystallize and Infinity, less frantic, more contemplative pieces.

There were a few issues with the sound quality in Blue Jeans and Video Games, the sound was unfortunately cranked up too high for the sound equipment, leading to crackling. However, these were but short blips towards the end of an accomplished show, and didn't seem to put off either the dancers or the audience. Matt Robinson's lighting was consistently strong, helping to change the mood from sensual to playful and then back again. As well chosen as the music was, this was a feast for the eyes, not ears.

Although the more traditional Middle Eastern style is evident in many of the moves, there are also clear influences of hip hop and flamenco, making for a modern, refreshing show. Without a clear story, you might expect the performance to feel repetitive, but there's actually enough variety for it to be engaging throughout - and I suspect Darkstar and her fellow dancers could carry our attention for longer than 60 minutes.

It's difficult to do these women justice, with my knowledge of their art form such as it is, but I can heartily recommend them to anyone with eyes.

The Belly Dancer opened on 9th August and runs until 11th August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts