Billed as part of a Lincoln Center Out of Doors “Playday” (informal workshops taught by subway musicians around Josie Robertson Plaza), Scott Wilson’s music troupe Effendi and Serena Dance Theater put on a Near Eastern show in full regalia on August 4. For decades, Serena Wilson—Scott’s mom—has been an influential force in the American belly-dance scene. At 67, she still shimmies better than your sister Kate. Her dancers, working those rhumba, chiftetelli, and kashlimar rhythms, showed classic Serena training—elegant carriage, willowy arms, and hips that make tiny flicks like a clock’s second hand. Highlights included Sahar’s gold wings rippling à la Loie Fuller, a duo undulating with swords balanced on wrists or hips, and a third dancer toting a plate of blazing candles on her sliding head.
A few nights later, I caught the first of two “Romancing the Middle East” shows at LCOOD. The Near Eastern Music Ensemble, led by oud player Najib Shaheen, waited out the Robertson Plaza’s oppressive heat before sound checking their delicate instruments. Then they coolly demonstrated why they’re the royalty of their field. Guest singer Reema K’chech’s supple voice threaded through the driving percussion and melodies, a river in a rich riverbed. Ranya, a statuesque Nicole Kidman look-alike in a gold-spangled beledi dress, offered a dance notable for quick, dramatic changes of direction and the classy, poetic fluidity of her gestures and isolations. She also did a cane dance, twirling a skinny, candy-striped stick while stepping high and dipping low. She played zils (finger cymbals), and the musicians grinned helplessly: Her nonstop shimmying really did resemble—dare I say it?—a bowl of Jello!