il Troubadore Asia tour 2008
next September

We've got preliminary dates for the Taiwan Asian Tribal Belly Dance festival and possibly the Kuta Karnival in Bali.  We're hoping to hit Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, mainland China, and possibly Singapore.  I'll probably arrange it so that Thailand is the last show of the tour so I can just stay there for a bit afterwards and visit with my mother and family.

Why belly dancers, anyway? (part 2) "...from high art to folk art to martial art"

here's part 2 (continued from part one here: part 1 link )
photo above: il Troubadore with the Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre ( ) by Loudermilk Studios (August 4, 2006) inside Precious Mettles ( ) after an impromptu street performance.

So my personal interest in working with belly dancers, as I said in the previous post, began in 1999. But going back to the third section of that post--I won't go into any great detail of some of my experiences since I can't even count the number of recitals and full scale productions I've either been to or participated in (the latter being something more appropriate for my CV--which is woefully incomplete: ). But here are some highlights (with spare details since I'm still in the process of archiving some of these experiences):

* "Giselle" (January 1995) French Ballet by Adolphe Adam. This was the first full scale ballet production I got to see. It was during an off day in London while I was on tour in the UK. Basically I was walking the streets and someone offered his tickets to me for a dress rehearsal of the production at Covent Gardens. Who was I to turn down free tickets to a professional Ballet, eh? It was a spectacular experience, to say the least.

* "African Dance" workshop and performance (ca. 1995). So yeah, this was probably my first public dance performance. Prince Julius Adeniyi ( ), the artistic director of "Drums of West Africa" came to DePauw fairly regularly to do performances and workshops. This year I decided to do the African dance workshop. After the workshop was a performance with the "Drums of West Africa"--and I am eternally grateful that there is no video of this (well, I hope there isn't, anyway). :P

* "Performance Art, Culture, and Pedagogy" Symposium ( ) at Penn State (November 1996) Workshops. This was a four day Symposium I attended in '96. Four days of lectures, presentations, performances, and workshops--it was quite intense. Ironically, despite having taken both Jeff McMahon ( ) and Tim Miller's ( ) workshops--both of whom are dancers--it was in the workshops with Rachel Rosenthal ( ) that I got to do anything closely relating to dance (I also attended the William Pope L and Robbie McCauley workshops). This was probably my first real formal introduction to modern and experimental dance in any form from a performer's standpoint.

* "Einstein at the Hub" (ca. 1997) a production with music composed by my friend, Jeff Radcliffe ( ); and "lyrics" by Jeff and Colin Leary. Basically a parody of Philip Glass' multi-media staged production "Einstein on the Beach" that I had the pleasure of performing in for the DePauw student playwright's festival. Eric Lamb, a classically trained dancer, was the "hub fairy" for the first two performances of the production until an "accident" left him unable to finish the last two. I cannot, for the life of me, remember the name of the young lady that filled in for him for the last two shows. I was one of the three "speakers" in the piece. The speakers read from a text that was just a collection of quotes recorded at the Hub--the campus food court--and "prices" (e.g. "$3.49", "$1.20", etc.).

* "Future Imperfect" (March 1999) This was a multi-media production that I had a hand in organizing while I was the Performance-Artist-in-Residence at the (now defunct) "Art Loft" in Indianapolis. My friend, Lynda Arnold ( ), was the featured dancer (and also the gallery director/owner of the Art Loft) and did interpretive dance to the live music of Brian Paulson while I was otherwise engaged in "activities" that didn't include stepping on fortune cookies and eating the fortunes like the premiere production we did at the opening of the gallery. It's a looong story for another time, so I'll leave you with that imagery for now.

* "Performative Sites: Intersecting Art, Technology and the Body" Symposium (October 2000) at Penn State ( ) Workshops and impromptu performances. This was the second of what was going to be a continual series of Symposiums at Penn State, but it ended up being the last. I participated in the workshops by Sarah East Johnson of the acrobatic/dance/theatre group LAVA ( ) and by Goat Island ( ). I also participated in a couple of performances with Tomas Mulready (the director of the now defunct Cleveland Performance Art Festival) and with performance artists Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Roberto Sifuentes, Juan Ybarra during their "Aztechnology" ( ) performance (check out some of the photos I took from that show here: especially the after performance photo of us: ). Other than hanging out with Guillermo, Roberto, and Juan for those four days I think the biggest highlight was seeing Osseus Labyrint's ( ) performance. Osseus Labyrint is an experimental movement based duo (and Hannah and Mark are probably two of the nicest and least pretentious people I know) that took their queue from Japanese Butoh when it was the rage on the West Coast back in the 80's. They do things with their bodies that are even more inhuman than anything Rachel Brice does... ;)

* "Capoeira Workshop" (ca. spring 2001) I cannot, for the life of me, even remember the name of the group that did this workshop--or if this is even the correct year (it was probably much earlier), but after this I knew I was hooked. It was a workshop in Capoeira Angola, which is incredibly difficult to do as it requires tons of leg endurance--this isn't the fast flashy stuff most people associate with the Brazilian martial arts form--but the very slow, almost meditative for that spends alot of time low to the ground style. The warm up alone took nearly 45 minutes and wore me out. I still occasionally practice when I feel motivated--and more than anything I want to play the instruments (especially the berimbau) and learn more songs--and not just because that means il Troubadore will be performing any--really not... :P!! Once I get settled in N'Albany--I will be looking for a Roda to "play" in...

This is hardly exhaustive--and I may never completely remember all my dance related experiences/performances. For example, during the period between '96-'98 I likely did well over a hundred performance art type performances in various settings. A number of them included either pieces that I wrote and choreographed (some of which may forever be lost) and some of which I performed from others' "scores" (the Fluxus art "movement", for example, produced hundreds of "event scores" which were sets of directions of actions an artist is to perform).

There are also some odd experiences that il Troubadore has had, like the time a very tipsy modern dancer came up to Robert while we were performing "Abraham" at Deano's Vino to ask him if she could dance. We were afraid that she was going to fall on her ass several times as she did half-cartwheels and other odd movement choreography that's sometimes typical of modern dance.

I guess I've now outlined enough of the "pre-belly dance period" for you all, and can get on with the "now" part, eh?

Well, you'll just have to wait for "part 3"! ;)

Why belly dancers, anyway? (part 1)

This is a question we get asked on occasion--and it seems to have popped up more recently than it had before.

Rather than give the same "origin" story of how we hooked up with Zweena bint Asya and Troupe Taleeba ( ) back in December of 2004, I'll give y'all some of my background, which may (I hope) show that this history of collaboration isn't just something that happened out of the blue.

As some of you know, I (this is Jon the cellist, btw) was born in Thailand and am a Thai citizen (I still haven't bothered with getting US citizenship) and came to the states with my mum when I was a wee little lad. I grew up here in the states and spent the first several years of my life in a relatively bi-lingual environment. The first songs I learned how to sing were Thai songs--alot of the first music I heard (discounting the music I heard in Thailand) was Thai pop and folk music (I've since come to the realization of how much Indian filmi music, especially from Bollywood music, has influenced Thai pop music from the 60s and 70s).

But I'm talking about dance, not music, right? Well, my mae ("mae" is a transliteration--terrible one since Thai is also a tonal language--of "mom") would also show me what traditional Thai folk dances, especially Lakhon, looked like. Of course, Thais, just as Arabs and Arab-Americans have their own style of dancing to their indigenous music (I'm sure many of you have been to Arabic music concerts and seen this). So I grew up seeing this, too.

Here's a youtube clip of traditional Thai dance style:
**note the prominent usage of hand gestures (called "jeeb" in Thai) that shows traditional Thai dance's roots in traditional Indian dance hand gestures (called "hastamudra" or simply "mudra"). Thai Khon (a classical court dance for men) shows the Indian influence even more. Oh--the song is in "maw lam" style (not that the person who posted it noted that) which is a folk song/music style of the Isan region in Northeast Thailand and Laos (where I was born--this is the first music my ears ever heard). The photo above is Kristi Renee dancing with Thai fingernails used in the traditional Thai dance, Fawn Lob, and me singing in Thai Classical Chant style to lyrics that my mae wrote called "Ter Jaak Pai" (January 13, 2007 at Kira's Oasis).

As most of you know, or have guessed, I am a classically trained musician. I started playing violin at the age of six, and then cello at seven.

Again, this isn't about music, but about dance. Having the classical music background means that as is usually the case (especially at and after the secondary education level) you get some knowledge of classical dance (otherwise known as "Ballet"). While I never got the chance (in high school, at least) to work with ballet dancers, after my father remarried, I spent my junior high and high school years getting to know ballet relatively well as both my step-sisters and step-mom were all classically trained ballet dancers (my youngest step-sister eventually went on to intern with the Louisville ballet, and presumably--though I haven't been in touch with her lately--is dancing professionally now). Of course, part of the classical music repertoire includes concert suite arrangements of ballet pieces (probably a good third of most classical music that is normally heard in live performance is ballet suites--even without the dancers).

**Interestingly, and probably ironically, Kjell Skyllstad has proposed a hypothesis ( ) tracing French ballet (note that all ballet terms are in French, where the dance solidified as an art form) to South East Asia (especially Thailand) since Monsieur de La Loubère recounts his trip (in 1687) to Thailand (known then as Siam) with the young André Destouches (15 at the time) who was later to introduce Opera-Ballet to the French stage. It's not really all that strange a thesis, really--recall also that the French martial art, Savate (also known as "French Kickboxing" or "French Footfighting"), purportedly has its history in French sailor foot games--the French have had a long history of colonialism in South East Asia (hence French Indochina) and who better to experience the native South East Asian martial arts--which coincidentally is sometimes called "kickboxing" (because of the prominence of attacks involving the legs and knees)--than French sailors who have tons of leisure time when not actually sailing.

By the time I was studying music at the university, I had the chance to formally work with dancers of many types in either performance or in workshop settings. Well, I suppose that I had that opportunity as early as junior high school, since I've played in a number of musicals (pit orchestras) where many of the musical numbers were for choreographed dance, but that wasn't as intensely focused an experience as it was by the time I was in college.

So I've played for, or worked with, ballet dancers, modern dancers, show-tune dancers; I've taken workshops in traditional African Dance, Brazilian Capoeira, Modern and experimental dance. I've even danced in live performances (yeah--me), especially in mid to late 90's. more about some of this in "part 2," however. You'll just have to be patient-- :P

I first saw a "real" belly dance performance (albeit, on DVD) in 1999 (outside of most of the cheesy, and often inaccurate depictions in the cinema, of course). It was a dual release (CD and DVD) by cellist, Erik Friedlander ( ), and his world jazz quartet, Topaz--a release titled "Skin" ( ) on (ironically, another South East Asian reference) the now defunct label SIAM records.

The dual release included an instrumental jazz cover of Iranian pop diva, Googoosh's, "Sahel Va Darya" (Incorrectly titled "Sahel Va Danya" on both the CD and DVD release). On the DVD belly dancer, Amira Mor, performs. So, back in 1999, I knew it was my destiny to work with belly dancers. And yes, il Troubadore will eventually be covering that Googoosh song. It will be neat to have a tune in Farsi, to add to our other two dozen langauges, after all, eh? :D

more to follow in "part 2"...

Chinese belly dance fusion


I dig Kiki's work, and after having finally played for a Tai Chi instructor (one of our Chinese songs) I am really stoked to do more related stuffs...

Watch these vids of a couple of Kiki's performances in Taiwan:

Kiki's profile:

Kiki's "Tribal belly dance in Taiwan" tribe:

Kor Ərəbin Mahnısı
So I finally found the lyrics to the Azeri song, "Kor Arab" (The Blind Arab):

Nə eşq olaydı, nə aşiq, nə nazlı afət olaydı,
Nə xəlq olaydı, nə xaliq, nə əşki-həsrət olaydı.
Nə dərd olaydı, nə dərman, nə sur olaydı, nə matəm,
Nə aşiyaneyi-vüslət, nə bari-firqət olaydı.
Könüldə nuri-məhəbbət, gözümdə pərdeyi-zülmət...
Nə nur olaydı, nə zülmət, nə böylə xilqət olaydı.
Nədir bu xilqəti-bimərhəmət, bu pərdəli hikmət?
Bu zülmə qarşı nolur bir də bir ədalət olaydı.
Tükəndi taqətü səbrim, ədalət! Ah, ədalət!
Nə öncə öylə səadət, nə böylə zillət olaydı.

As well as another audio version at Fikret Amirov's website (click on the Əsərləri link and under the "Mahni" category to the right, click on the "Kor Ərəbin Mahnısı" mp3).

I don't know if we will have this ready for this Friday's World Music and Dance Night--well, I could have it ready, so may do a solo version (maybe).  It wouldn't be completely out of style, since mugham songs are traditionally sung by a singer who accompanies himself with daf (I would probably have to borrow one from Dale).  We'll see, I suppose.

This past weekend was more hectic than usual. 

I had to leave work early on Friday to play reception at the Oak Hill Mansion in Carmel, Indiana for the Online Users Group. Then Mel and I had dinner at Carrie's in Indy. She's a DePauw alumna and is studying belly dance with local legend, Judy Hanna (who, I'm still tickled knowing, is a cousin of Belly Dance Superstar drummer, Issam Houshan).

Saturday morning found me playing for the mini-marathon in Indy.  From 7 to 9 am we played for hundreds of runners/walkers who only got to hear, at most, 30 seconds of any particular tune.  Mel then went to Fort Wayne to meet with friends to organize the service for our wedding while I went home to nap.  Then we met on 74 to head to northern Kentucky where I played at NKU (Northern Kentucky University's Greaves Hall) for the "Dancing the Tarot" show.  It was a three hour long production with dancers' interpretation of Tarot o benefit Highland Heights in northern Kentucky.  I saw lots of friends, both old and new, and had many congrats about the nuptuals (word seems to travel fast in the belly dance community--kinda scary--5555).  It had been years since I was anywhere near the Cincy/northern Kentucky area (I played a show in Newport at the Southgate House back in 2003), and even longer since I was at Northern Kentucky University.  It had changed somewhat.

We stayed at a hotel in Florence Kentucky with Mel's sister and husband and son since Mel and her sister were walking the half marathon in Cincy on Sunday.  Brunch at Bob Evans (sorry folks, no photos!  :P) and then back home...a tiring weekend...

il Troubadore No. 1 World Music Band in Indianapolis

according to the NUVO:

             Nightlife Guide: Top 5 World Music bands
             by Nora Spitznogle Apr 18, 2007

Best live venue for world music

Festivals and fairs
1. il Troubadore
Indy’s 16th century rock band plays music from over 20 countries and sings in 13 languages. It has a strong Middle Eastern influence and is often accompanied by belly dancers.

(no subject)
The finished dinner with a tiny side of nam prik (right side of the photo):

Home cooked Thai Cuisine
Had this earlier "tonight" (here at home):

Gang nua (beef curry):
Gang Nua (Beef curry)

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Traditional Lebanese
also from last Saturday at Zorba's:

Traditional Lebanese dinner

Lamb Shishkebob
I had this this past Friday (April 20, 2007):

Zorba's Greek and Middle Eastern Restaurant's (Zionsville, IN)
Mediterranean Pizza
Zorba's Greek and Middle Eastern Restaurant's Lamb Shishkebob!!

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