Why go to WAMED?
Would you travel across the country or indeed across the world to attend the Western Australian Middle Eastern Dance Festival? Here’s why I did and what I found there.
Never one to conform to stereotypes this is part festival review (the first part) and part travel blog (scroll down). Workshop reviews still to come.
Let’s start off with a review of the evening’s entertainment:-
The Rendezvous – Friday night performance
Here is my little diary entry for the Friday night performances.
“Wow what a great variety of costumes and dancers and a high level of skill. I was impressed. I hope it doesn’t set my expectations too high for the gala!”.
I needn’t have been worried about what was to come but I did thoroughly enjoy ‘The Rendezvous’. I only watched the second half because I was performing in the first half and must confess to taking advantage of the great performer’s facilities. The green room facilities were excellent. These ladies knew how to run things smoothly. Several line ups printed and posted around, toilets nearby, mirrors and bench space and even a great selection of food out the back for dancers that would likely miss dinner! I have not experienced this before but certainly appreciated it. Sandwiches, gourmet pizza and a big tray of tiny sushi were on offer. The small size was perfect as you could eat it and not mess up your lippy too much! A thousand blessings on whoever thought of that touch. Music should have been much louder but otherwise a fine event that was well run. Hmm, what can I remember of the second half – there was tribal dancing, Paivi did an angry woman’s meleya, Soreya did a tribal fusion piece to modern Maori music and well, lots of other cool stuff. For anyone thinking of performing at the Morely sport and rec centre – it is a massive stage, great for large groups but if you solo you may want to do a piece that involves a lot of travelling as there is no spot light available.
Alchemy Gala – Saturday night
What a great night. There were some excellent acts and excellent variety, while I love Egyptian dancing it was great to see Afghani and Tajik dancing too. I feel sheepish to mention it as a Middle Eastern dancer but it was two of the least traditional that stole the show. First was SynnAmun’s ‘Masquerade’. Their backwards head thing worked a treat and then they turned into vampires. Not a huge vampire dance persona fan but they did it very, very well. Not a very Middle Eastern dance piece but excellent costumes and execution. It was very eye catching on stage and the bloke sitting next to me who was dragged along to watch with his girlfriend was loving that piece too.
Then of course we have to mention Ranya she opened with a lovely but quite long Andalusian piece. Such a straight piece partly choreographed by Mahmoud Reda set up her next act well – and I have not seen anything like it.
She came out in the most hideous oriental costume, with badly placed feathers and a horrible thick cord though the middle –it wasn’t flattering on her and I really starting to think that this woman that I had travelled the country to see was going to be a bit of a let down in real life. After a bit of reasonable but uninspiring dancing she suffers a MAJOR costume malfunction. As this exact thing happened to my friend Nadine recently while performing, I was totally sucked in but it was just a prelude to the funniest comic routine I have seen at a belly dance show. Actually, It was pretty damn funny no matter who you put it up against. I won’t say more because I dare say she will do this act elsewhere and I don’t want to ruin it for you. This is where I want to say ‘buy the DVD it is well worth it’ but alas WAMED do not sell copies of their concerts. Be sure to go to any concerts Ranya is in, she is a true entertainer. Ranya did a third piece later of her New York Style, Arabic Oriental which was both lovely and enjoyable.
The Debke was another highlight, Alma Sarhan and Mohamed El Chami tore up the stage with the best debke I have seen to date – great energy and costumes. Laziza (lisa) was a joy to watch and flashy as always with double wings – teaching the choreography I learnt earlier that day. And I could go on and on. I truly loved the whole night and pretty much every act – hands down best belly dance show I have seen and that includes DVD’s!!. It is also the only belly dance show I have been to where the partners and family members that are dragged along all seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves and not bonding over what great friends they are to be enduring it all. I think belly dance in Australia has this lovely – ‘include everyone’ attitude that is wonderful for the dancers but the overly long events can be a marathon to those not used to Arabic music. This was not at all the case with Alchemy and if you are in Perth during WAMED you would be made to miss the gala performance.
Raqs Cafe –Sunday night
Nice, intimate performance space, with a cheery princess Fi as MC. Bit of a problem with food, in that anyone not a friend of the free spirit dance Facebook page didn’t find out that you had to order food in advance. Luckily, I was able to tag along with the lovely Kiri who was also out of the loop and get Thai take out – and damn it was good Thai. (Thai orchid, Mt Lawley I salute you). I do think that the message should have been circulated much earlier with bookings and added to the website but just in case this doesn’t happen next year – best just to like the free spirit page just in case you might attend a future WAMED. The food situation was somewhat redeemed as a selection of desserts that were available for all. They were very delectable and included pavlova! Gluten- free Heaven!
The evening included a sit down chat and interview with the special guests. I really enjoyed hearing about their experiences but I think even more profound for me was hearing from the organisers Ange, Jilyan and Renate. It gave me a sense of community and made me feel like the festival was a real synergetic experience between all those participating. It was a personal touch that put a human face to proceedings.
There were also more performances including the incredibly dedicated Rachel Bond who danced and then ran out the door in costume, grabbed a cab and headed to the airport to fly home!
I went with the hope of buying dance sandals and instead bought a whole heap of second hand DVDs, a couple of CDs, a sharif wear singlet and a simple but perfectly fitting baladi dress (thanks again to Kiri for scoping it out and then offering it to me). They were all bargains and I can’t resist a sale. Actually I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of what was on offer. The stage was graced by all and sundry, stars, students, troupes. I took a few photos here of random performances. I kind of felt I should as I hadn’t really taken many during the whole festival. I liked that it was still supported by all levels and I marvelled that the organisers managed everything plus market stands, plus performing! Such inspiration!
After the Bazaar, Liz took me under her wing and we headed off with the Shisha Queens to Little Lebanon for a post-festival unwind. The perfect way to end the festival.
This was supposed to be a critical analyses to help you decide if WAMED is worth it (I will post again soon with a review of the workshops I attended). But what can you say when it really was excellent. Totally worth a visit if you are an East coast Aussie, particularly if you have been to a few major events. So often it’s the same teachers every time and while they are by and large very talented. It is advantageous to get a breath of fresh air with a different flavour and the combination of an international star and the WA girls can offer that. If you are from overseas, then it is very pricey for a weekend when you take air fare into consideration. Still, if you are a dancer and planning a big trip down under then it would be worth checking out.
Maybe I am a bit bias – I was doubly lucky to attend the festival. Firstly I won a scholarship from WAMED (thank you sponsors) and then I won a grant from regional arts NSW to help me get there. Even with all that support though, I still could have been unimpressed as I have been at other events. I just wasn’t at this one!
– travel blog bit
Perth may as well be a different country when it comes to those from the East Coast of Australia – probably because it is actually cheaper to fly to another country than visit the other side! It can even take longer to get there than New Zealand and if you are not an Aussie than you may well be thinking – “Perth? Never heard of it.”
Perth is the largest city in the vast state of Western Australia and was famous a while back for having the most millionaires per capita. While it’s also known for beautiful wild flowers and interesting animals like quokkas and whale sharks, it’s mining that springs into the minds of most Aussies when you think of WA.
For winter, it was much warmer than anticipated and much less humid. It made my frizzy hair go much straighter and forced me run to a chemist to try and get some product to make me feel like me again!
What I found is an extremely clean city with a lot of construction going on. The locals seemed a bit mixed on some of the recent additions – the bell tower seemed to be particularly unpopular. Its architecture was striking but I had no desire to go in when I heard how much it was – the local said it was $60, but it turns out it is actually $14/ adult. Still time was limited so I moved on. Although construction was annoying and unsightly in places it seems to me that plenty of money is being invested in Perth to upgrade its facilities and the city will benefit long term. In regional NSW money is so tight there that it seems you have to wait til the pot holes are so big that there is more hole than road before they get fixed.
I went with my friend Rae, up to King’s Park, I had heard of it and assumed it would be much like Hyde Park in Sydney. Boy was I wrong. King’s park is massive, big enough we had trouble finding our way out …… in a car!!! It has great views of the city, its explanatory information boards told you very little of interest though. I wish I had had a guide book in hand so I knew what I was looking at. Eg – 2 rivers meet here – me: really?? Which one is which? I guess the Swan must be one but what is the other???
I loved the boab trees because I had never seen any in real life and was very lucky that Rae was very knowledgeable about bush tucker and showed the native WA plants and their uses. I also loved the mega fauna statues in the kids play area. You could spend a whole day here easily but we wanted to go to Fremantle for lunch.
Freemantle or Freeo as locals seemed to call it was great. It had interesting shops and a wide selection of food – even for someone like me that has to ask that ever annoying question “Is it gluten-free?”. I bought a cardigan that was a more money than I could afford but I love it, so that makes it ok doesn’t it?? I had Pho for lunch in a weird parallel to a trip to Newtown, Sydney with my sister a few years ago – only I bought shoes there.
The next day after I checked into my hotel I caught a free bus to the museum of WA. There are free buses that run regularly throughout the cbd which is handy. The museum is in a cultural precinct which was also handy so while I was there I also checked out the contemporary art gallery – both were free. I meant to go to the regular art gallery too but was getting tired and the price seemed high, so I walked back to the criterion.
(Rae is a mobile Lomi Lomi masseuse based near Margaret river WA (I will update when i remember the town name!) – I highly recommend Raediance massage if you are in that area ph: 0439969922 )
Mining is the first thing you notice when you arrive, as the mining industry has big advertisements in Perth airport and there are lines of miners boarding planes. I think it is a result of this that quite a bit of the airport is automated. I didn’t notice on the way in but flying out, you not only can check in but you also weigh in and check your own bags. This is something I had not come across before – while all the season flyers of WA briskly went about their business, I felt a little lost at first sorting it all out. Also the food options for someone on a gluten –free diet at the Perth airport were dismal. I had some awful, barely edible and expensive sushi while I waited ($2 dearer than Sydney airport and that is not known for its bargain prices).
Because of the amount of miners catching planes, there can be lengthy delays in getting through check in, etc so it is probably wise to arrive with plenty of time. I had no problems of this kind but other travellers told me they had nearly missed flights because of it.
I stayed at the Criterion hotel, a ‘modest’ place to stay as one taxi driver put it. Finding accommodation in Perth near to the dance festival was difficult and in the end I just booked into the only place that anyone had mentioned on the WAMED facebook page. I had hoped to run into other dancers there but no such luck. Not a bad place to stay as far as seeing Perth was concerned. Other things that are promising for it was the Chemist across road, small supermarket next door and the 2 Asian restaurants serving gluten free meals til late that were only a few doors down. I ate at the Corner cafe restaurant particularly because it was convenient, cheap and quick. The criterion is not as easy to catch a bus to venues as I would have liked, there was a fair bit of walking and advanced planning needed. Taxis were about $25 to Morley and $18 to Mt Lawley from the city. I managed to get lifts back each day but taxis were a bigger expense than anticipated. If you do stay there don’t rush down the Hay Street Mall looking for food in the morning – go down a block to Murray St.
If you read all the way to here – wow you have endurance, it took a lot more time to get my thoughts down than anticipated! Thank you for your time– please comment below. PS also a big thank you to Claire – she didn’t know me from a bar of soap and put me up for 2 nights!!