Thursday, November 16, 2017

Spotlight on Samara

 Samara, MDTC's Artistic Director of Dance and Choreographer,  is pictured in "Red Desert," a signature piece in the Company's repertory, and one of the many exquisite choreographies she has created since the Company's beginnings. (Photo by Gary Heller.)

I can still remember the swirling hips and beautiful hand movements of my older cousins -- such joy they expressed through the music they loved. They were one generation closer to our Greek and Turkish heritage. I always keep that vision close to me. They were captivating women who made their dance look so fluid and so natural. The beauty of being female never looked so good!
   Dance to me is part of nature, something extraordinary. I remember going to City Center to see Martha Graham in my early teens and being totally floored by the depths of her darkness in one of her pieces -- it was riveting, authentic, and so real. It inspired me to study at the Martha Graham School which lead me to become a dance major. At the same time I was studying Middle Eastern dance in Long Island with a student of the famous master Ibrahim Farrah. Her name was Allegra.  She was a beautiful dancer! She brought me to see his dance group at Lincoln Center and I fell in love with the company and the diversity of their work. I started studying at the Ibrahim Farrah Near East Dance School and eventually became a member of the company which really changed my life. I learned so much about the folklore in different regions of the Middle East. Working in the theater gave me the discipline and inspiration I needed to grow as an artist. I had the best of both worlds--working in some of the most popular nightclubs in the U.S with professional orchestras, and simultaneously performing in some of the most prestigious theaters. Middle Eastern Dance was at the top of its game here in New York City in the 1980s. It was the place where people became accustomed to seeing really good talent -- singers and dancers accompanied by superb Middle Eastern orchestras. After the first Gulf war some of the nightclubs closed down. It was then I started spending longer periods of time out of the country. I danced in Jordan, the Ivory Coast West Africa, Mexico City, Cairo, Athens, Istanbul,and Japan to name a few. This was an interesting time in my life, and I really enjoyed the experience of performing in different cultures!
   I find one of my biggest challenges in this performing art form is making people understand what it is. I have gotten to the point where I say I am a dancer who choreographs, performs, and teaches world dance. If they ask for more specifics I explain in more detail but I try not to use the word "belly dance" because to me it does not describe what I do. This is a challenge because most of the time the question I get is, "Do you do belly dance too?"
   The Mosaic Dance Theater has really brought me full circle. It is an honor and a joy to share with the company all that I have learned from my mentors and from all my experience. It is so important to present our dance form in the most disciplined and professional level. This has been passed down to me from others whose vision and dedication I share and cherish, it is my hope that their voices forever live on.


Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! Mosaic in Miniature

Mosaic in Miniature

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the fabric remnants garnered from the construction of MDTC's many costumes?  Probably not, but their disposal can create a dilemma -- too large to discard; too small to make a costume. Casa delle Sarte (a.k.a Morgiana Celeste) found a solution by creating miniature Mosaic costumes for 18" dolls, often with the same fabric used in the full-size stage version.  Each of these limited-edition, one-of-a-kind dolls (only 8 of them were created) comes with two additional outfits -- her "street" clothes (worn by these Target's Our Generation dolls) and her "rehearsal" clothes (leotard, tights, warm-up wrap top, and dance skirt). A wonderful gift for that special little dancer. The dolls are for sale, at $125.00 (plus shipping cost, which varies depending upon distance).  Please contact us at "" for more information.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Here's Heather

Heather Panikkar is returning as Guest Artist with MDTC for her third season.  She is pictured in last season's The Ebony Horse, from our production of Tales from The Arabian Nights. (Photo by Gary Heller.)

I always loved dancing and creating as a child.  I loved watching the ballets that came on T.V. in my hometown and trying to mimic their movements. I was accepted into Oklahoma City University’s Dance Performance program and have been in the business ever since!  My dance career challenges me to keep pushing forward to the next exciting adventure while still managing the daily activities of everyday life responsibilities.
   My training is ballet, modern, musical theater.  Middle Eastern dance, and folk dance in general, is very different from what I usually perform. I wanted to branch out and learn more about different cultures and their styles of dance. Middle Eastern dance has been fun to learn!  Even though a lot of the movements look soft and circular, it is a very grounded dance form. The way the body executes the technique is completely opposite from what the eyes see. It has been interesting to see the dance in one way, but feel it internally in another.  I have had a lot of fun learning the different folk dances of the Mediterranean region and their histories, and have really enjoyed learning about the different tales and stories that Mosaic has in their repertoire.  My favorites are the stories of the Tales of the Arabian Nights -- I love being part of the stories!

And now...Nina!

Nina Brewton has been dancing with MDTC since our first production in 2003.  Here she performs a Turkish Rom dance. (Photo by Gary Heller.)

As far as I can remember as a young child I was very drawn to old movie musicals of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. I would watch TV with the volume very low so my parents wouldn't know I was up past my bedtime. I don't remember going to elementary school or doing my homework, but I do remember doing a school talent show, tap dancing to "There's No Business Like Show Business" in my sequined costume, with feathers in my hair like a Ziegfeld Follies show girl. (I also sang “Silent Night” in Spanish!) My mother used to say (jokingly), "I'll bet you she'll be in show business when she grow up!" She was right! Right after my two-year full time dance scholarship studying ballet, jazz, modern, and African, I performed professionally in music videos and an Actors' Equity production of the King and I.  I also performed with several Polynesian dance companies touring the east coast from Maine to South Carolina, performing Hawaiian, Tahitian, Maori, and Samoan dances.
  One day Adriana Rosa asked me if I would like to see her Middle Eastern dance instructor perform. I went and I enjoyed the show.  When a beautiful dancer performed a solo, I turned to Adriana and said, “I want to dance just like her.” Adriana replied, “That's Samara, my teacher!” And so began my involvement with Middle Eastern dance.
  What surprised me about studying and performing Middle Eastern dance was being able to use my previous dance training. I was able to use Ballet for my posture and keeping centered through my core; Jazz for isolation, and even Hawaiian for hip figure-eights and hand ripples.
  It's hard for me to say what folklore of Middle East I'm most drawn to -- they each have a different feel and personality. I like Khaleegi for its relaxed sultriness, Saidi for its fun and playfulness, and Gypsy for its fire and sassiness.
  For me, the challenge of being a performing artist at this point is getting enough sleep. Besides my job and personal life, it is hard rehearsing until late night and waking up early the next morning to go do a show. It's easy to get injured when you're tired.
   Mosaic has enhanced my experience as a dancer through the stories in our repertory. I love being able to use my expression and emotions to portray different characters.
  On a final note, I also loved watching and play-acting scenes from old classic black and white movies. I don't know why, but when I think of old movies, Bette Davis comes to my mind: "Peetah, where is the lettah!"

About Adriana

Adriana Rosa was MDTC's Dance Captain until 2008. While she no longer performs with the Company, she remains involved as Education and Outreach Coordinator.  Adriana performs a Tunisian scarf dance. (Photo by Lina Jang)

  I’ve loved dancing ever since I can remember, fascinated by watching amazing classical ballerinas like Maria Tallchief.  When I was about three years old, my mom would play music and I would perform dances around the house, and when we had visitors, I would dance for her friends.  From school days through adulthood, I participated in dance classes and programs at every opportunity. 
   I saw my first live performance of Middle Eastern dance in Aruba at one of the tourist hotels, and knew then that I wanted to study this art form.  Back in New York, my search for a beginner Middle Eastern dance class brought me to the YWCA, with Lettie Castilow (Mish Mish B’int Amira) as the instructor, who just happened to be a performer with the Ibrahim Farrah Near East Dance Group, a world-renowned Middle Eastern dance company.
   Since I was looking to challenge myself, I was really surprised and pleased to discover how complex this art form is and how difficult it is to do well.  Every part of the body comes into play including hair, head, fingers, chest, hips, and torso.  The movements can be strong, dramatic, fluid, at times masculine, and graceful all at once.  To master this dance with proficiency, it is critical to isolate one’s movements.
   The folkloric dance traditions of the Middle East have always been my favorites.  I love the layers of colorful costumes with the hip sashes and sparkling, draping adornments that show off the body’s movements in a lively, captivating manner.  If I had to pick one particular folkloric style as my favorite, it would be Egyptian sai’idi because of the hypnotic rhythms of the music that touch me in the core of my being.
   The challenges that I face as a performing artist are what keep it exciting. One must be mindful of so many things at once: remembering choreography (obviously!); knowing how to be graceful and composed when the inevitable mistakes happen; relating to the audience and to other dancers; conveying the appropriate emotions and expressions that fit the choreography and the music.  These challenges I keep in mind are important in keeping the audience engaged.
   Mosaic has given me the enjoyable opportunity to perform on stage, especially in complex group choreographies where each performer is relating to and in sync with the other dancers.

Meet Morgiana

Morgiana Celeste Varricchio, Producing Artistic Director and Founder of Mosaic Dance Theater Company, performs a Lebanese dance. (Photo by  Gary Heller.)

   I have always wanted to dance. Whether it was dancing the latest top-40 invention or performing in the high school variety show, my inspiration came from watching those glorious movie musicals. They put stars in my eyes, and gave me my goal to become an actor. Stage movement classes, necessary for my collegiate theater major, lead to classes in tap and theater dance outside my regular studies.  Middle Eastern dance, however, is another story.
   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.

Hello, Kendra!

Kendra Dushac-McCarthy has been with MDTC since 2010, shown here in a performance of khaleegi dance.  (Photo by Gary Heller.)

  I began dancing at the age of 3 so I don’t remember very much about what inspired me to dance. However, I would imagine it was my mother and my grandmother.   My mom was very musical, and also taught aerobics classes when I was very little.  Some of my earliest memories were dancing right next to her at the front of the class while she was teaching.  My grandmother was an excellent polka dancer, and was always dancing around the room.
   I’ve always had an interest in World Dance, so Middle Eastern Dance complements my
personal aesthetic. I love percussive instruments! I studied many different cultural dance forms from Salsa to Southern Classical Indian Dance, West African etc. As a modern dancer, I took technique classes very seriously. I would attend Samara’s Middle Eastern class on Friday nights just to have fun and let loose! I never imagined where it would lead me.
   The more I became involved with Middle Eastern dance, the more I was surprised by all of the varied styles, techniques and elaborate costumes.  Prior to studying this dance form I never really gave much thought to how different each culture's fashion styles can be.  And, I discovered I am most drawn to the khaleegi dance of the Gulf. It is so beautiful, feminine, liberating and spiritual.  I always look forward to performing this style.
   Being a performer has its challenges -- balancing work, rehearsal, training, being a wife, and making time to walk my dog.  No matter how talented or skilled a performer may be, if they cannot manage the juggling act of the intense lifestyle then they won’t be very successful.
   Mosaic has taken my dancing to another level by exploring new ways my body can move.  I am most passionate about our mission to represent the vibrant cultures of the Mediterranean.  Our fulfilling work is important, educational, intellectually stimulating and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do what I love.

Meet the Mosaic Dancers

Over the past several months, we have featured each of the Mosaic Dance Theater Company dancers (in order of appearance) Kendra, Morgiana, Adriana, Nina, Heather, Samara.  Each of these women  shared their answers to a series of questions posed to all of them:

 ·      What inspired you to be a dancer?

 ·      What drew you to Middle Eastern Dance?

 ·      What surprised you most about learning Middle Eastern Dance?

 ·      What folklore of the Middle East are you most drawn to and why?

 ·      What are the challenges (for you) of being a performing artist?

 ·      How has your time with Mosaic changed or enhanced your experience as a dancer?

If you missed an issue, here's an opportunity to get to know the dancers who bring Mosaic to life.