REVIEW: The Secret Life of a Bellydancer

The cast of Secret Life of a Bellydancer (L-R) Marina Volkova (Delilah Delight), Tais Derbasova (Veruska), Gina Timberlake ( Jamila/Janice), Anjula Prakash (Tellus) and Denise Snoad (Sandra).

Shimmy into the Silly Season [by Sharu Delilkan]

The cast of Secret Life of a Bellydancer (L-R) Marina Volkova (Delilah Delight), Tais Derbasova (Veruska), Gina Timberlake ( Jamila/Janice), Anjula Prakash (Tellus) and Denise Snoad (Sandra).

The very title The Secret of a Bellydancer conjures up multiple images. And depending on how vivid your imagination is, it can be as raunchy as you like.

For that reason I decided to go with an open mind. And also having done bellydancing classes before, when I lived in Hong Kong in the late 1990s, I was curious to see what the show had on offer.

There is no doubt that bellydancing is one of those activities that intrigues and puts a smile on everyone’s face – whether you’re the dancer or just a member of the audience.

And that’s exactly what the general feeling was like in the foyer of The Musgrove, despite the fact that it was one of the dreariest wettest Auckland evenings.

People not only had traipsed across town to come to the show but there were members of the audience that came dressed in their bellydancing accessories.

The cardboard boxes scattered around the stage set the scene for the supermarket locality, where most of the action takes place.

The story about the central character Jamila/Janice (Gina Timberlake), who leaves her husband in Egypt to live with her parents is nothing new. However her obsession with bellydancing, which is revealed early in the piece to her fellow co-workers in the supermarket Save and Go, is a great tribute to the inner beauty of women. And a story where emancipation triumphs over strict religious beliefs always goes down well.

Writer and producer Geoff Allen’s sensitive treatment of the journey of four women finding their inner beauty should be commended not only for its insightful nature but for writing a play that provides such strong roles for women. This sentiment was heightened when I read his quote in the program “…seeing my first bellydance show and within one evening going from a mocker to a believer…”

Wardrobe mistress Nadia Borokova deserves special mention for creating suitably understated costumes during the first third of the play, only to reveal more and more flesh as the show progresses. And of course the colourful nature of the costumes are a sight to behold.

Although it was obvious that Allen was trying to set up the characters during the first half of the show, I must admit I found it dragging a bit. However the pace of the show definitely picked up when both Delilah Delight (Marina Volkova) and Tais Derbasova (Delilah’s prize student Veruska) tread the boards. Volkova’s comic timing and understated, deadpan delivery has the audience in stitches whenever she uttered her lines, while Derbasova’s hip and shoulder shimmies and gyrations went down a storm.

I found that the multiple blackouts, when the cast members entered and exited the stage, a bit distracting which seemed to inhibit the flow of the storyline. A suggestion would be to light separate portions of the stage intermittently to keep the narrative moving.

There were a number of memorable lines throughout but ones that stuck in my memory include “smokers no longer have a designated inside space, you can kill yourself outside”, “the figure 8 is good for your uterus” and “you can’t photocopy feelings”.

After the show I spoke to choreographer Derbasova, who’s a bellydancing teacher in real life. She admitted that none of the cast members had previous experience and that it has been a journey teaching them to bellydance – quite an achievement I must say considering the isolated movements that needed to be mastered.

So if you’re looking for something exotic and out of the ordinary to do during this festive season, I’d definitely recommend The Secret Life of a Bellydancer.

And who knows it may even inspire you to take up this glamorous art form in the New Year.

The Secret Life of a Bellydancer is presented by Galatea Theatre and plays at the Musgrove Studio until 17 December. For more information see Maidment Theatre.

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