Morgiana Celeste Varricchio, Producing Artistic Director and Founder of Mosaic Dance Theater Company, performs a Lebanese dance. (Photo by Gary Heller.)
From my days as a beginning reader, I have loved the Tales from The Arabian Nights, and my favorite story, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The illustrated editions always pictured the heroine, Morgiana (yes, my name sake) executing her famous dagger dance. I would daydream with the story playing over and over in my head, casting myself in the role of Morgiana, of course. (Little did I know I would play Morgiana and all the other characters in the story when Lincoln Center commissioned my solo performance of that same story.) Pure kismet sent me a catalog from the old YWCA of NYC at 53rd & Lexington. Middle Eastern dance was listed. I signed up for my first class decades ago, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Not knowing what to expect from the dance, there wasn’t any one thing that I remember as being as particularly surprising, since everything was new and surprising. However, the more I studied, the more I realized that making the dance look effortless required years of studying not only the technique, but also the music and its nuances. How else can a dancer truly interpret the music she dances to?
Of the many folklore styles of Middle Eastern dance, and also those that are represented in Mosaic’s repertory, my favorite is the joyful sai’idi style of Upper Egypt. The steady, heavy percussion of the rhythm pulls us into the music and all that hip technique comes front and center. An added pleasure is the use of finger cymbals and cane.
Aside from some obvious challenges of scheduling gridlock "when gigs collide," not having enough time to do everything, and making sure any aches, pains, and injuries are addressed immediately, a big challenge I face, more as producer than as performing artist, is figuring out where to store all those costumes and props!
The experience of Mosaic has brought me enrichment and satisfaction on many different levels, but what has meant the most is the opportunity to work with the many wonderful artists that have been associated with the Company in the 14 years since it came into being.