Follow Your Heart may be advertised as a “multidisciplinary production” with “multimedia spectacles,” but at best, the show is a themed and coordinated dance recital, and it probably should have been publicized as such. Don’t get me wrong, the dancing itself was beyond phenomenal, but we’ll get to that later.
The play follows Almaza’s (Teria Morada) reconciliation with tradition and love for dancing. After moving away from a war-torn country in the Middle East, Almaza continues the taboo tradition of belly-dancing in public – an act which when performed by her mother, previously, resulted in her mother’s death. Nevertheless, Almaza meets Jivan (Muhammad Haiek), and they fall in love; until, of course, Jivan’s traditional mother (Nada Humsi) screams “haram!” and rejects Almaza because of her fidelity to dance. Almaza thus journeys back to her home country, where she ultimately decides to stand up for what she loves, no matter what the consequences. Honestly, this story was not bad. The execution, on the other hand, was terrible.
I think Artistic Director, Creator and Executive Producer Armineh Keshishian’s mistake was choosing to develop this production using multimedia elements. In addition to dance, Keshishian incorporated acting and filmed scenes projected onto a drop-down screen. However, in order to put together a multimedia production, you can’t forget that the quality of said elements is just as important as their presence. The acting, both on stage and on film, was terrible. To be fair, the cast is comprised solely of dancers. Needless to say, I can imagine the difficulty in finding individuals who can do crazy flips, turns and muscle concentrations, while simultaneously pulling off a powerful theatrical performance.
The point I’m trying to make here, is that if Keshishian cut out all the acting and film scenes and left in the raw dancing, the show would have been so much more powerful. Hell, one professional actor to narrate and help “provoke dialogue on social, spiritual, and humanistic themes” would capture the same intentions but achieve significantly better results. For example, the “Black Butterflies” scene truly captured Almaza’s inner turmoil while deciding between following tradition and following her heart. Surrounded by sounds of the Bedouin Spirit, black butterflies (dancers) flock around Almaza, engulfing her in darkness. Almost completely submerged, Almaza reaches out and connects with shining, white butterflies who disperse and “battle” the black butterfly flock. The battle concludes with the white butterflies supporting Almaza from behind, almost as if transforming their bodies into her wings. This scene alone contained more power and message than all of the dialogue combined.
As I mentioned though, I cannot say anything negative about the dancing. As a dance academy, Evolution Dance Theatre definitely produces the finest, most elegant performers. Among the most impressive performances included Pierre Khoury’s demonstration of non-traditional belly-dancing. In his “Shaabi” scene, Khoury entertained a shisha-bar crowd with his playful antics and dance moves. Another interesting subject EDT introduced was Aimee Leblanc, a pregnant belly-dancer, who made the audience roar in amazement.
Another feature that offset my otherwise displeasure with the production was the meticulously detailed costumes that portrayed both Middle Eastern and Torontonian culture. I cannot imagine how long it took Keshishian and the costume design team to not only come up with the patterns, but also how much effort went into creating each individual set of costumes for the plethora of scenes. The music, set and lighting also complimented each dance scene, and a large sculpted screen near the backstage area displayed correlated images that helped the audience associate where they were.
Follow Your Heart plays until Sept. 25 at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. For more information, visit http://www.evolutiondancetheatre.com/.