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Interview with Belly dancers Beata and Horacio Cifuentes

by Salome

Beata and Horacio Cifuentes - 
Founders and Directors of Oriental Fantasy Productions. It seems that Beata and Horacio Cifuentes were destined to be the darling couple of the Oriental dance scene. Ballet training began for German dancer Beata at age 5 and for Colombian native Horacio at 6. Beata would continue through high school and go on to vocational training in theatrical dance. Horacio, after study in New York and Poland, would join the San Francisco ballet company.

For both it was the sweet strains of Arabic music that lured them away from ballet and into their current profession. During her theatrical training Beata came across a song by Um Kalthoum which sparked "the beginning of a passion." Horacio, taking a yoga course, heard music from a near by belly dance class and "became attracted to it".

Since 1984 Beata and Horacio have taught and performed throughout Europe, in Morocco, The U.A.E., Australia, Canada and extensively in the United States. They founded "Oriental Fantasy Productions" home to their dance school in Berlin, Germany and annual theater production.

Salome: You are both well versed in ballet and Oriental dance. Do you separate the two disciplines or consciously incorporate ballet into your choreography?

Beata: I do not have a professional ballet background, so I use my training in ballet, modern and jazz only to better my general dance technique which is of great help for the oriental. Some technique applies to all dance forms the same.

Horacio: I do think of classical ballet and oriental dance as two separate dance forms. The fact is that I danced ballet seriously before I knew anything about oriental dance. In my opinion some ballet training could be helpful for oriental dancers. The coordination, the posture, feeling for spins, awareness of space, ability to catch steps fast, strength in the feet. There are many factors that can be helpful. At the end of the day, just like Elizabeth Taylor never had an acting lesson in her life, some great oriental dancers have never had ballet training, but the future generations tend towards learning ballet, jazz, modern, etc. I think it is a good thing. I do like to incorporate some ballet elements in my choreographies, but above all I want oriental dance to remain oriental. I remember Bobbye Farrah telling me, "no matter how avant garde or contemporary the dance becomes, you must never lose its essence", and I think he was right. Some little touches here and there are fun but within reason.

Salome: Your annual theater production is created anew each year. How long of a process is it from conception to a finished product and what steps are involved to actualize your vision?

Beata: Our Oriental Fantasy Show preparation has been running on for 2 years. The expenses for the specially made music, backdrop and 20 costumes (we don't have a cheap taste, sigh) are too high and the whole thing has developed so much that we need time to recover the costs. Also the preparation takes too long. We started in October 2002 with the music and costumes. The opening night was in April 2004. So far we are booked with the new show "Enchanted Gardens" until November 2005.

Horacio: For the last production of Oriental Fantasy "Enchanted Gardens" which premiered in April 2004, we started preparations almost two years before. It has been a tremendous effort. I guess the concept is born little by little. To begin with we know that we will each do a Sharqi, Beata will do an Um Kalthoum, we want to always have a folkloric dance, something romantic, something funny, etc. We try to bring several moods and levels to the show. Then we start deciding which music will fit to which dance, then the colors of the costumes, then the shapes. This time I embroidered 8 out of 20 costumes myself and it took a year and a half to make them. I embroidered up to 10.000 crystal rhinestones in them!

Once we have decided what we will dance then we start thinking of private lessons, either in Cairo or wherever necessary. In this production I perform a Persian dance and we had to Fly Hossein Fayazpour from Karlsruher every three months for over a year to Berlin. He always stayed for a weekend and taught me the dance. It was a slow, hard and tedious learning process for me, but I was determined to honor the dance and do it as it should be done. The same happened with a Spanish/Arabic dance which I perform with castanets. I played the little beasts for an entire year every day for 30 minutes and at times I would go inside our car alone so that I would not drive Beata crazy. To be honest, when we were making our choices on the dances I was not aware of HOW MUCH work there was going to be involve and a few days before opening night I was almost in tears from pure exhaustion. But it has been worth it.

Salome: A male/female duo is rare in Oriental dance and rarer still is a husband and wife duo. How does the experience differ from collaboration with someone on a professional level only?

Beata: O yes!!!! It is wonderful to have a goal together, and it is really easy to act out the romantic duets when you feel it! Also nobody else but your spouse would accept or endure a work schedule like this where we work late at night to create new choreographies and travel so much for performances. Working together is great when your work is so all consuming. All bad things are only half as bad and all good things are twice as good when we experience them together.

Horacio: Well, I have danced with many women in ballet and many of them were my good friends. Interestingly enough I was hardly ever attracted to ballerinas in a romantic or sexual way. I guess they are just too ethereal looking, almost not human. So I never really had much of a personal relationship with my partners before.

Beata and I clicked from day one. It was an instant friendship which developed into romance and eventually marriage. We normally create our duets in a very easy manner. When I run out of ideas she always comes up with something and vice versa. When we travel and weird things happen we can always go back to the hotel room and laugh. When I danced with other partners in the past the relationship was strictly in the ballet room, so it was more limited. Now we share everything, it's great.

Salome: Your presentations show the high regard you hold Oriental dance in. What do you say to critics who judge Oriental dance not an art form but erotica?

Beata: I think people who have the wrong idea about oriental dance just don't have the accurate information or they have seen somebody who is more about sex than a dancer and they cannot imagine it to be different somewhere else. In general this is an old fashioned idea. Nowadays there are lots of well trained dancers who can show off the beauty of this dance well.

Horacio: They are ignorant. Before anyone can be a critic for any art form, or sport, they must be informed. If they see Oriental dance as erotica, they have not made the effort to research the dance properly.

Salome: What are your thoughts on creating a universal dance vocabulary, and certification system? And what body of people do you think should guide that process?

Beata: I don't think that an international dance vocabulary can be forced on people. Some names for movements can be borrowed from the dance language of ballet (which is equally used in modern, jazz, flamenco and others); some special movements will eventually get names that are used by most people.

To have a certification system on an international level is much too early. The dance is not being taught on a professional level everywhere! In some countries it is just starting. Also the egos and intention of some certifiers are doubtful. Let's talk about that again in about 50 years!

Horacio: About 500 years ago, as classical ballet was born at the court of Louis the XIV in France, the king's word was the law. He created a ballet vocabulary which is used at present day, in French, in all ballet schools and companies world wide.

Unfortunately we have no King. It seems like in different parts of the globe some dancers call steps this and some others call the same step that. It may be very difficult to create one standard vocabulary of steps which everyone in the world would be willing to embrace. I mean, we cannot even agree on what to call the dance, let alone the steps. There is bellydance, Middle Eastern dance, raks sharqi, Arabic dance, raks baladi, oriental dance and who knows what else. We have chosen to call ourselves oriental dancers. Not that I have anything against the actual word "bellydance", but I do have something against the reaction I get from non-dancers when they hear that word.

I will never forget what happened to me several years ago in Berlin just days after a performance. We had had great luck with the press and the performance was sold out to a crowd of 1700 people. It made some waves in town. A few days after that I was at a fruit and vegetable shop getting some grapes and bananas, etc. As I was waiting in line to pay, someone told me in a rather loud tone of voice, "wait a moment, aren't' you that guy, that bellydancer who was in the papers a few days ago?" The shop was rather full of customers waiting to pay just like me and they all turned around to look at me as if I was some exotic creature at the zoo. The expression on their faces said it all. I was completely embarrassed. My answer was, "I have never "bellydanced" a day in my life. I am a classical oriental dancer which is something very different". "What do you mean?" he said, "what is the difference" - "It is like the difference between fast food and haute cuisine, you may eat both of them but the taste is a world of difference". As far as the names of the steps is concerned, I do not think it is indispensable that we all share the same names for the steps, as long as we share awareness for high standards in the dance.