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October 15th 2010 proved to be a very interesting night in Victoria. Nath Keo and his dancers from Sacred Center Dance Co have been working for quite a while to bring his vision to fruition. The spring MEDA Bazaar was one of the venues Nath had previewed a little snippet of choreography for the show he was crafting. I recall when I watched them in the spring, thinking that it was a pretty choreography, but my tribally-oriented mind was already moving past the stage and onto the next bit of something to add to the costuming I was working on at the time.
I was in for such a pleasant surprise...
The show on Friday opened with Lava and the Sister’s of Alchemy, showcasing many of Lava’s choreographies that would be familiar to the Vancouver dance scene, and a couple of new pieces. Lava and SoA made up the entire first half of the show. I especially enjoyed a piece I had not previously seen Lava perform, a flamenco inspired piece to the Doors’ Spanish Caravan. She used some beautiful skirt work and as always, Lava displayed her fluid and graceful arms and hands.
I was so exhausted from my morning of travel chaos and the trip itself that by the time intermission rolled in I was seriously thinking of popping back to the place I was staying to get some sleep in preparation for the weekend of workshops with Ava Fleming. After stepping out to let the fresh air revive me, my curiosity won out. After all, it was a sold out show...
So here is a little bit of background about the production. Nath Keo, as many of us know already, is a renowned dancer, teacher and choreographer with two instructional DVDs on the market. “Emerald Oasis” is the third production from Nath as Artistic Director and Choreographer, following “Tribute to Nadia Gamal” in 2007 and “Shaabi Shake 2000” in 2008. Rehearsal for the “Emerald Oasis” production began in October 2009, making it a full year in production before it premiered. The costumes were designed by Turquoise Pearl and are based on both Middle Eastern and Asian styling. I found the costuming was very effective and enhanced the feeling of the music.
The production itself was entirely fusion choreography. Our journey through the show follows the five Asian elements of Earth, Fire, Water, Wind and Metal; each element having its own set in the show.
Nath provided me with some insight to the theme and inspiration for the show:
“The creation of the "Emerald Oasis" is a result of a tug of war battle between "the destroyer" (black) and "the protector" (gold). The show opens with a gathering and celebration in the Oasis in which there is a cosmic balance of male/female energy in this world.
"Earth set" reveals how the world was before the "destruction"
"Fire set" reveals the world in turmoil and what women must commit in order to overcome the demons. The destroyer is brought down and only in his last breathe is the path of light revealed to him, in which he must overcome his own inner demons (drum solo) in order to pass into a lighter world.
"Wind Set" reveals the world in repair and regrowth after the destruction and the summoning of the gold protector.
"Water Set" reveals the state of the new world, in continual flow and change.”
So the lights go down after intermission, the music and stage lights come on and I found myself transitioning from yawning and barely keeping my eyes open, to being drawn to the edge of my seat; eyes glued to the stage. By the third song, I was pulling scrap paper and pen out of my purse to madly scribble notes on my thoughts without taking my eyes off the stage, hoping I would not forget anything vital, as I was already planning a review in my head.
The costuming was fantastic. The first set was “Metal” and the costumes were a lush purple velvet with flowing green chiffon that just popped out under the stage lights. I was so impressed with the smooth transitions and the way the choreographies flowed seamlessly throughout the whole set and into the next. Even though the costumes were very different throughout the show, they served well to enhance the mood and emotional feel of the production.
Through the entire show, Nath and his fabulous dancers took the audience on an incredible journey. The choreography not only used the stage to maximum effect, they were complex, involving many layers and transitions, moving from juxtaposition into synchronicity with a skill level that surprised and captivated. Nath was able to fuse elements of Asian and Middle Eastern dance in a way that gave the entire show a very modern and clean feeling that was reminiscent of Suhaila’s Scheherazade.
I went into this show with little background, expecting the usual community fare of semi/professional dancers with some student troupe choreographies thrown in, so imagine what a pleasant surprise it was when faced with a full, well-rehearsed stage show to rival any show I have seen before.
Does Victoria even know what is hiding in its artistic community? This show can well stand on its own, without even an opening act. Besides the fact that Nath is a very sweet, gracious and welcoming person, he is an incredible choreographer and an amazing performer.
This was a great way to kick off what turned out to be an amazing weekend, and if you get the opportunity to take in this show... DO IT!!! This is a show that is not to be missed.
How was Emerald Oasis different than previous costume work you've done?
Emerald Oasis was different than most of my previous work in several ways, the biggest was that I was not only designing and making the costumes, but I was also dancing in them. Usually I design and make costumes for troupes and never have a chance to wear them myself. Having the opportunity to dance in a design or even in the prototype simplified my job and helped me understand how the costumes would look and feel during the actual show without having to rely on another person's description.
Another big difference about Emerald Oasis is that I was given much longer lead time for designing the costumes than normal. Often, directors do no give much thought to the costumes until late into the production process. Nath brought me on board about 5 months before our show date which gave me plenty of time to work with him and the rest of the dancers to iron out all the quirks well before showtime.
What were some of the technical challenges?
Probably the largest technical problem we ran into with the costuming for Emerald Oasis was the sequins. Nath did all the beading and sequin work for the show himself and unfortunately the company we ordered the sequins through shorted us on the order, then informed us later that the colour we ordered was discontinued. We were able to get a different colour of sequins in the same size, but unfortunately Nath had already finished two of the skirts and was forced to undo all the bead work on those skirts and re-do it with the sequins of the new colour. Because we started so early, this did not end up being a huge problem: it was more a disappointment for him due to the work he had already put in, going to waste.
Describe the process in designing the look for the show.
Nath already had a good idea of the overall look for the show before I was brought on board. He already had colours in mind and the basic effect he hoped to create with the costumes for each stage of the show. Because of this, we were able to sit down and sketch out all three of the main costumes for Emerald Oasis at once. Then I did up full sketches and prototypes. Because Nath already had an idea for colour, choosing fabrics was fairly simple. I showed him samples of things I thought would be suitable and he chose the ones that fitted his vision for the show the best.
I think that the fusion aspect of the show really comes through with the costumes. And we were able to use the colours and fabrics that depicted the Asian influence throughout the show.
From the original sketches we only changed one thing and that was the drapes on the copper gowns. Nath's original vision was to pair the copper gowns with red however when we were draping colours we accidently paired up the copper with a shimmery green and that was it! We just knew that had to be the colour used in the show.
I feel that when a show starts to lead its own aesthetic to a designer's work you truly have something to be proud of, and that definitely happened to me with Emerald Oasis.
What would you have done differently in hindsight?
I would have ordered more fabric than I thought I needed. Not because we ran out for the show, but because so many people loved the fabric that I ended up having to order more to make other things.
Getting to wear the costumes on stage there are a few minor points I would change, but on the whole, Im pretty happy with how the show went. It was very smooth from beginning to end.
Emerald Oasis turned out to be a completely sold out show! What do you think contributed to this?
Tons and tons of hard work and planning. Nath started the promotion of this performance quite early and because I was able to start the costumes quite early as well, we were able to preview numbers from the show at other events throughout the summer. I think that this gave people an idea of what the show would be like and once they got a taste, they didnt want to miss it.
So, what's next?
Nath and I are in the planning stages for his next production called Raqstar. This will be a very different show in both the costuming and dance style from Emerald Oasis. Raqstar is all about the soft feminine lines , flowing skirts and silver sparkle. We already know that this show is going to need lots of chiffon, rhinestones and sequins and I'm very excited to see where these elements takes us. No matter what, it is going to be challenging, beautiful, and tons of fun!