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I work from the knowledge that the attention span of the average person is three minutes at best, so we move things along to keep the audience enthralled—transforming costumes between pieces, well chosen music changing at the right time, a variety of front dancer soloists,” explains Miles Copeland, founder of dance troupe Bellydance Superstars, on why he thinks his show, “Bombay Bellywood” will outsell any other dance show in history. The 70-minute presentation incorporates bhangra, odissi, Bollywood, ballet, dervish, modern dance, and of course bellydance; specifically, variations of “cabaret” and “tribal” styles.
The idea for the dance troupe Bellydance Superstars came from Copeland’s observation that while women of all ages and ethnicities were interested in and were learning bellydance, there was not a single national, touring banner that pulled off mainstream or big commercial successes.
Copeland had the world of entertainment as his backyard, having managed the popular pop British band the Police, and later vocalist Sting’s solo career. In bellydance, he found a unique combination of available talent and a ready market that he nurtured, using the fact that these were not ethnic dancers as the main attraction. By 2009, the company had performed concerts in 20 countries to well over a million people in over 600 shows including the biggest shows ever in the history of bellydance anywhere. The intent of “Bombay Bellywood” was specifically to appeal to the mainstream general arts audience—people who typically go to the ballet, Stomp, Riverdance, or Cirque de Soleil.
Meera Varma, who is Indian, was brought in as a guest choreographer for the production. Varma is a prolific dancer, and has had training in bhangra and Rajasthani folk, along with classical Indian dance forms of kathak, bharatanatyam, and odissi. Her interest in bellydancing was kindled when her mother, a classical dancer, began learning belly dance while the the family was located in Egypt.
On the strength of her talent and popularity stemming from performing for dignitaries, royalty, and worldwide audiences, Varma was recently chosen as the artist to represent India in the Commonwealth Games Bid for 2010. A meeting with Copeland a few years back at a bellydance event in Texas led to the current association. Besides touring for “Bombay Bellywood” and her own presentations, Varma creates dance and fitness DVDs. Among Varma’s creations for Bellywood are a “Bombay Medley,” which is a romantic Bollywood duet, a classical odissi piece, a Rajasthani piece, and several bellydance pieces.
Copeland’s belief is that art is about jolting the norm, to create a fresh look for commercial success. At the same time, he takes artforms seriously, and ensures that the dancers train rigorously in the pure dance form before choreographing a piece for the production. Moria Chappell, a tribal bellydance star who’s been with the company for over five years, studied yoga and odissi among other dance styles in India last year. Kami Liddle, a modern fusion dancer, has been incorporating bhangra into her choreography for some time. April Rose studied with top Indian teachers in bharatanatyam, kathak, and odissi. This interweaving of several ethnic arts with the formal training in jazz or ballet that each of the dancers in the company has received results in an exotic, credible, super-watchable blend. The dancers come from all over America—Chicago, New York, Birmingham, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle.
Bombay Bellywood will be touring 65 cities throughout the U.S. Instead of elaborate sets and staging, Copeland has incorporated onstage projection to create an aesthetic that sets off the sensory luster created by the dancers. The costumes are lush with colors and the sheer yards of fabric used in some pieces is mesmerizing.
Copeland says, “We do not pretend to deliver what an Indian dance company does. We heighten the potential for arts that do not get the attention they deserve from the mainstream. That is the essence of the Bellydance Superstars.”
Jan. 14, Thousand Oaks; Jan. 15, Irvine; and Jan. 16, San Luis Obispo.
Jan. 18, Fresno; Jan. 19, Modesto; and Jan. 16, Walnut Creek; Jan. 21, San Jose; Jan. 22, Napa; Jan. 22 San Jose; Jan. 23, Sacramento; Jan. 25, Redding.