Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Gala Show with Dina! Backstage stories!

There are twenty minutes to go until curtain up. The audience is in the auditorium, the house lights are up and backstage all is slightly frenzied final preparations.

Dina’s hairdresser (Hipsinc’s very own Chantel) has just left, Orit has lost the friend who is meant to be helping her dress, Aziza is in her dressing room cutting a thigh-high slit into the skirt she just bought that afternoon to wear in her second set and I have only just started my makeup. Which usually takes around an hour to get right.

We get the final call. Five minutes to go until curtain up. Aziza and I reach the wings at the same time: “OMG Charlotte, do you have any hairspray?” I don’t. The closest dressing room is the boys’ – we’re not likely to find anything there. The next one is Dina. I start to run to Dina’s dressing room to see if she has any hairspray Aziza can borrow. But Khaled has overheard our conversation. “Don’t worry Aziza, Kazafy has hairspray!”

You heard it here first. Aziza was wearing Kazafy’s hairspray on stage at Shimmy in the City.

The show started and the audience went crazy! Watching a great show from the audience is wonderful. The performers are focusing all their attention on you and of course you see the dance from the direction you are meant to. But the audience may or may not be aware that off in the wings are all the other performers, having the time of their lives. Clapping and zhagareeting and cheering their co-performers on.

At one point in the second half, Dina turned to me and said: “I’m having a wonderful time! I’ve never done this in my life before – stood backstage with everyone and watched from the wings. It’s fantastic!”

And I have to tell you all, Dina had the time of her life in London this year. She loved the teaching but she absolutely adored performing for such an appreciative audience. She rarely travels to international festivals (I think I’m right in saying Shimmy in the City was only the third festival she had done outside Egypt) and it was amazing for her to dance for an audience that was so genuinely (and loudly) excited to see her.

All performers are in need of appreciation. We all fear we are not quite good enough. And the pure joy and pleasure on Dina’s face when she came off stage was a beautiful sight to behold.

So would you like a few more insider memories of backstage at Shimmy in the City?

Well, there was the fact that the haze machine broke down during the first half. The technical team managed to fix it during Prince Kayammer’s set, but there was a massive cloud of smoke for no obvious reason during his drum solo. I panicked when I saw all that haze because I knew it was meant for my own solo which followed.  It was as I feared. Prince’s bright, perky drum solo, loads of haze. My moody start, no haze. Such is life as a performer… 

I think you also need to know that only a minute before that moody start I was frantically ironing my veil. As I mentioned in my previous blog, when you are organising a show you never have enough time for your own preparation. During Prince Kayammer's drum solo I was in the room known as 'wardrobe' listening to every beat of it through the backstage loudspeakers and trying to work out if it sounded like the music was coming to an end. If it did, and the applause started, I would have to dash to the wings and go on stage with a half ironed veil. I made it with about 30 seconds to spare!

And I'm dying to tell you about the remarkable sprint that Dina did at the end of every set. She would gesture to the sound technician to start her next piece of music and then literally run through the wings and into her dressing room, where Elena Eleftheriou was all set to help her out of one costume and into the next. Just over a minute later she would reappear back in the wings and do a crazy cartoon preparation, winding herself up for the next run on to stage, laughing all the way!

There was also the mad run with Khaled through the main foyer and bar of the Fairfield Halls at about 9.30pm. Me wearing a galabaya, him wearing a very tight, brief two-piece costume and a large quantity of glitter and makeup. He needed to get from backstage to the back of the auditorium for his second entrance and that was the only way to go. We got some very funny looks I can tell you!

Then there was the moment we lost Orit on the TV screen backstage and didn’t know what to do. The backstage screen only shows the stage and about half of the auditorium and Orit had gone into the audience to dance. Towards the end of her set she went high up into the auditorium and we lost her. Then her music finished. And she didn’t reappear.

Where had she gone? Was she still in the audience or had she decided to go out of one of the doors in the auditorium to get backstage? We left it a couple of minutes to see if she would reappear, but nothing. No music, but still no Orit. What to do? Should we bring the house lights back down and start the next performance?

Thankfully, after what seemed like an age to us (but was probably only half a minute) she reappeared and we were able to wait for her to come back onto the stage. And we avoided the embarrassment of bringing the lights down on one of the world’s top stars!

One of the best times for me was the wonderful four minutes I spent watching my Project Lift Off girls perform. I had decided to choreograph a crazy country sha’abi piece for the group, which consisted of 19 dancers who had been regularly attending my courses for the past few months. It included several fast, complex step patterns, some great jokes, and a lot of characterization and theatricality.

I had frightened the life out of them in the first rehearsal, six weeks earlier, when I told them that we had to make sure the performance was really good, because not only would there be around 400 experienced international bellydancers in the audience, there would also be my Hollywood studio executive and the film writer. Oh and Dina, Aziza, Orit and Kazafy would probably be watching from the wings!

I’m not sure they totally believed the bit about Dina watching from the wings, and as one of the dancers posted on my Facebook page after the event, she almost passed out when she looked out into the wings and there was Dina watching!! There was also Khaled laughing his head off at their antics and me, bursting with pride at the quality and enthusiasm of their performance.

But possibly the memory I’ll cherish forever is of Khaled and I standing in the wings watching Dina perform. I was standing behind Khaled, my arms around him. He was clutching my hand. And with tears in our eyes we whispered to each other that this was the dream we had both held for years, but never quite imagined would really happen. And here it was. And it was perfect.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Shimmy in the City workshops and show preparation!

Gosh it's been a crazy, full-on weekend! Non-stop work, an amazing show, and all topped off by the craziest party night I've ever experienced!

Saturday began with dancers congregating from every corner of the world to take workshops with some of the very biggest names in bellydance. Aziza and Kazafy kicked off in the morning and then the big moment came at 12.30 when the doors opened for Dina's technique workshop - the hottest ticket in town!

I was hidden in the theatre, preparing the show for the whole day, but I peeked in at one point to see everyone on the floor, gazing in rapt attention as Dina explained some fine point of technique to them. The feedback afterwards was just amazing. People were knocked out by her generosity of spirit, her superb teaching skills and her incredible technique. Any fears about the ability of such an enormous star to teach disappeared in an instant.

My day continued non-stop. I had allocated time slots for each star to come and rehearse and talk to the technical crew about their lighting and sound requirements, so there was a steady stream of performers coming through. Then there were dressing rooms to organise, programmes to fold, water and snacks to be organised and music to be checked. And I also had to try and remember to get my own rehearsal and lighting tech in!

With me throughout the day (and also on Friday) was Gwyn, the film writer. This weekend was the start of her research for the script she is writing for the Hollywood studio and it was an amazing opportunity to see behind the scenes at a big event. Gwyn's a keen bellydancer herself so I lost her several times in the souk, but she managed to control herself to an extent!

One of the drawbacks of organising a show is that you never get enough time to prepare for your own performance. Each year I tell myself I'll shut myself in my dressing room at least an hour before the show and get my makeup and hair done properly. I never manage it! There's always some last minute crisis. This time I had exactly twenty minutes to get changed and made up.

The truth must be told! I went on stage with my toenail paint smudged, the roughest face paint I've ever done, no glitter and no false eyelashes!! Well, as long as the dance was OK hopefully no-one noticed!

And now it's checkout time at the hotel. Dina has just left and Aziza and I have to pack up and leave. Aziza is staying with me for a few days so we can both chill and recover from the weekend. I'll try to write more later (it'll be tomorrow at the latest) because I know you're dying to know what it was like backstage. I can tell you now - it was fabulous!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Shimmy in the City Day One!

Well, it's not often I admit defeat, but blogging throughout the day was way too ambitious given that I'm also running a pretty large international bellydance festival AND hosting the biggest star in the bellydance firmament! And I've got so many stories to tell you from today! Where to start?

Do I tell you about the wonderful atmosphere as dancers from Portugal, Russia, Japan, Singapore, Belgium, France and of course the UK, started to gather in the big ballroom of the Fairfield Halls? To compete, to perform, to support their friends, or just to watch and marvel.

Or should I try to describe the incredible colours of the souk? The fabulous costumes from the very best importers and costumiers the UK can boast.

Do I tell you about the moment that Dina, tiny, delicate and utterly beautiful, walked through the doors of the arrivals hall, wearing the biggest smile I've ever seen?

Or about the ripple that grew into a roar as she arrived at the hafla? And everyone got to their feet and clapped and cheered and zhagareeted until they could clap no more. Whilst Dina looked completely abashed and shy and adorable as she acknowledged our love and thanks for everything she has given our dance.

I could tell you about trying to cram four people (Khaled, me, Eman Zaki and Gwyn the film writer) into my small car along with eight enormous suitcases.

Or the surprise to see Dina's chauffeur appear in the hafla, in the guise of the leader of the band!

But it's late and I need to sleep. So I'll just leave you with a few pictures, including my favourite of the day - Eman and Khaled squashed together in the back of that car just after we had miraculously managed to fit everything in.

And here's the big moment we had been waiting for - Dina arriving at the airport.

 And finally, Aziza, Orit and I dancing at the hafla, just before Dina's arrival.

I'll try to write more tomorrow. I'll be spending the day in the theatre, preparing the show. And then at 7.30 the curtains will open on the biggest, most exciting bellydance show the UK has ever seen! See you all there!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Thursday - pickup day

Well, it's 5.30am and the adrenaline has kicked in! For the organisers, Thursday is really day one of the festival - it's the day we start picking up the stars from the airports and we all begin congregating at the hotel.

Last night Aziza tweeted me a photo of her plane with the message 'I'm on my way!' I've just checked Aziza's flight and it's due in early - 6.50. So I'll drink my tea, jump in the shower and off I go! I warned her I'd take a photo of her coming through arrivals - she's the only person I know who can come off an overnight transatlantic flight looking adorable and I think the world needs to see the cruel truth!
So what did I tell you? Eight hours on a plane overnight from Canada, no sleep at all, and she looks great! Laughing too! We're now back at my place, drinking coffees, stroking my cats and catching up after what seems like years but in fact is just 18 months. So much to share - our time together never seems long enough.

And now it's 12.30 and Orit is due to land at Heathrow any minute, where the taxi I booked yesterday will be picking her up. Kazafy and Prince Kayammer are already here, so that just leaves Dina. Dina's big performance night in Cairo is Thursday so she'll be flying in on Friday. We'll be picking her up at around 2pm and bringing her to the hotel for a rest before joining us all for the Friday night hafla - which is surely going to be the classiest bop ever seen in bellydance circles!

I'll be updating my blog throughout the day for the next four days, so check back regularly or keep an eye on my Facebook updates for all the latest news!

8pm and the question on my mind is 'why does something I think will take an hour always take three?' And why do all the tiniest last minute jobs take an absolute age? Or do I just have to recognise that when you've got a dear friend with you that you only see once a year, you really do need to factor in a year's worth of catch up.

Anyway. We just arrived at the hotel and guess what? The hotel reception staff are Arabic and they're unbearably excited because they've learned that Dina is coming to stay! How cool is that?

And the hotel is chock full of gorgeous looking girls from every corner of the world that just have that bellydancer look about them - you know, long hair, great figure and an unmistakeable hint of last night's glitter and eyelash glue about them.

So, now I'm off to the bar and a chance to see who's up for a chat and a glass of wine. See you all tomorrow at the hafla!!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Countdown Wednesday!

It's Wednesday, it's 7.30 in the evening and I'm shattered! But I thought it would be fun to give you an insight into a typical day in the run up to a big festival like Shimmy in the City. I'm nothing if not public spirited!

My day started, as has every day this week, with a head-to-head with the big whiteboard in my home office upstairs in my home in rural Kent. This morning it was covered with tasks. Now there is just one left. But after I've finished this blog entry it will be covered with jobs for tomorrow!

So what exactly did my list look like today? OK here goes...
  • Write, design and print out 500 programmes for the show.
  • Print out the running orders to go up on dressing room doors and backstage.
  • Type up and print out certificates for everyone entering the competitions.
  • Write and oversee the design of flyers advertising next year's festival (yes, we work that far in advance, and unfortunately I only received photos of the stars yesterday morning!)
  • Book a cab for Orit (she's coming on a different flight from that expected and I won't be able to pick her up).
  • Liaise with the technical team at the theatre on lighting and sound requirements.
  • Edit and publish to You Tube a rehearsal video for my Project Lift Off performers.
  • Book an extra show ticket for a guest of the studio executive for my Hollywood film
  • Organise a hire car because my own car suddenly sprung a tyre leak and the garage can't repair it until tomorrow. (I'm picking up Aziza from the airport at 7.30am and I need a car!)
  • Put in an application for a performance and teaching slot at MOVE IT show in March - I know I should have done it last week but, things always get left until the last minute at times like this!! 
  • In addition I had to shop for my husband for the weekend - he's just had a hip replacement so can't drive to the supermarket! Bad timing or what?
But enough of my mad work schedule! What you want is the insider griff from the festival. OK, just for you, I'll let you know a bit about the show programme...

Well, I can tell you that the show will be opened by the fabulous Aziza. I truly cannot think of a more exciting opening! There will be three sets, with Orit closing the first set with an entrance piece, followed by a heartfelt Tarab - the emotional style of musical interpretation she will be teaching in her Sunday workshop. A request has been sent to the lighting team for lots of smoke haze!

In between Kazafy will dance two duets plus a saidi stick solo. Khaled will be showcasing the most incredible costume I have ever seen, which he made himself (you will not believe this one - it's genius!) Prince Kayammer will dance an oriental solo, I'll be doing a seriously emotional number, (cue more smoke haze) and there will be lots of going into the audience and generally warming you up for the moment you've all been waiting for...

... a full set from Dina! Yes, 30-45 minutes of the queen of bellydance! On stage. In Croydon. Right in front of your very eyes!!

I can't imagine how amazing the atmosphere in the auditorium is going to be, but I reckon it's going to be noisy and it's going to be electric!

Now I'm off for my dinner, cooked by my titanium hipped husband. Then it's an early night in readiness for a 7am drive to Heathrow and Aziza!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Behind the scenes at Shimmy in the City!!

Well, I've just sent out the last Shimmy in the City newsletter and now the fun really starts!! From tomorrow onwards I'll be blogging and tweeting my way through one of the most exciting weekends British bellydancing has ever seen!!

Khaled has just picked up Kazafy from Heathrow, I'll be giving you the show running order tomorrow, Aziza, Orit and Prince Kayammer arrive on Thursday and on Friday we go to pick up Dina and the festival swings into action!!

So bookmark this link and check back every day to get the latest gossip, fun and insider info from Shimmy in the City!