24 August 2014
With all the extra rehearsals, the Leeds show is going to cost a little more than we thought. Thanks, then, to Qamar14 who have dug deep into their bank account and found us a little piece of sponsorship. Qamar14 have been making magic for Yorkshire dancers since 2006 with their programme of star-name workshops and "for one night only" shows. Like Funoon, they champion rarely-seen dance styles and are credited with helping kick-start the revival of UK interest in Turkish and Roma dance.
21 August 2014
The first of those extra mid-week rehearsals today. It's a terrible rush to get into Leeds straight from work - don't all those late trains and traffic jams know we've got work to do! And if there's a dance guaranteed to blow up your brains and send you home reeling it just has to be Moroccan Chaabi!
20 August 2014
We're back on the BBC! BBC Arabic have cut a whole new programme from the Funoon footage they took at Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival. Although short, it's a proper arts programme that will be broadcast several times today (Wednesday) and repeated on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. According to their statistics, the BBC's Persian and Arabic services reach 41.5million people worldwide. It's wonderful to think that dances first shared in a small theatre in England can now be shared in homes and offices all over the world. There's no stopping those red boots now!
16 August 2014
Rehearsals in Leeds today. Some of the new dances are taking a while to come together and it's difficult for everyone to get time off at the weekend. We're going to have to book in some extra evening rehearsals just to make sure everything is ready for Leeds. Lots more hard work - and lots more cake!
2 Augst 2014
Madame Nawarra hosts her "Taste of Marrakech" Eid Party in Leeds - it's a chance to catch up with a parcel of Funoonies, sit back and watch dances of every sort, bop to the band, and tuck into a scrumptious buffet tea. The raffle and second-hand souk raise over £100 for local charities.
Here's a quick look at our latest fliers!
For those of us in Yorkshire there is a magical car-free weekend when the whole county comes out to play in the sunshine thanks to the Tour de France.
A lot of this summer's bellydance activities have had to be cancelled because they just can't compete with all of the free events and family days lined up in celebration of the bicycle.
It's quite strange to hear dancers actually wishing away this glorious summer so they can get back to some proper dancing in the autumn!
June 17 2014
And here's the full translation of the programme together with the interview Nawarra gave in Leeds that's broadcast slightly later in the evening with a repeat of the first programme:
BBC - Funoon featurette
Voiceover - Nidal: It’s not just glamorous bellydance which Westerners find fascinating for these days their interest has deepened to exploring traditional Arabic folkloric dance in its original form. They are so taken by its beauty that they’re showing it in the proper context and making an excellent job of it. The Funoon Dance Company – an English company – has more than 15 dancers currently touring with their show around the UK and taking part in several festivals. They are raising awareness of folkloric Arabian Dance and showcasing the pure art of traditional Arabian Dance in a theatrical presentation.
Susie White is a dancer born and bred in Britain, but she chose to study and perform only to Arabian music:
Susie White: The Dance Company has been in existence for about 3 years. We’re trying to show Folk Dance at its best, and not what we’re used to seeing with the Cabaret Style.
Voiceover - Nidal: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Lebanon and Iraq are all present at the Funoon show - Funoon al Arabiya is building bridges between the West and North Africa and theMiddle East. The concept of the show came from a love of Arabian Dance, as stated by many dancers and choreographers:
Beverley Smith: We’re really dedicated to Middle Eastern dance. We love it. We are determined to share it and show the world.
Voiceover - Nidal: Since it started, the Funoon Dance Company has only presented Arabian culture through dance in a respectful way. It is trying to show raqs sharqi in a different light to the well known night-time Cabaret style.
Making costumes, sourcing jewellery, and training the dancers has meant months of preparation. Westerners nowadays are so interested and dedicated to Arabian music and dance - which is exactly how Arabs were interested in Western music for decades...
Reporter: Nidal’s report has given us a brief overview of the nature of the show, but we want to know more. Let’s go over right now to the founder of the Funoon Company, Nawarra from Leeds: Hello Nawarra! How did the dancers take to the idea of dancing Arabian folkloric style which must be totally different from anything they’re used to?
Nawarra: Sure, very different. The company started three years ago, and we’ve presented a different show every year. Our concept is “Folk Dance from North Africa, the Middle East, and beyond”. I’ve found that Arabic music is loved and adored by lots of Westerners in general, but the British in particular. (When I came here) I met dancers who were already listening to Oum Kulthoum, Abdel Halim Hafiz, Mohamed Abdel Wahab - and they were loving it. If they loved traditional music I reasoned they might take to traditional dance ... and now we’re going from strength to strength, presenting Arabian dance away from the night-time cabaret and in a theatre format.
Reporter (interrupting): Is it a problem for you that the crew is English and not Arab?
Nawarra: Not one bit! The whole crew are English – every one of them - but they love Arabic music, and have all trained in dancing to it. They’ve put in a lot of hard work. Their dedication in taking on more training and wanting to know more has really given us a determination to give and represent more and more. It’s very hard work, but it’s surely paying off.
Reporter: Yes, yes! It’s a really important point that the whole thing is not just Oriental Dance - Raqs Sharqi - but Folkloric Dance which is far harder. It’s even hard for Arabs.
Nawarra: Indeed. It’s all Folkloric Dance, not Cabaret Oriental style. And folk dance represented entirely in traditional costumes from the various Arabian countries. We did Berber from Morocco, Tunisian Fezzani, Hajjalah from Libya – these are all pure Arabian dances. These dancers are not just interested in the alluring glamour of an oriental cabaret dancer.
Reporter: How do Arabic audiences respond to English girls performing their arts?
Nawarra: It is with admiration and a sense of pride that Arabs watch the Funoon dancers. They’ve all loved it, absolutely loved it. There’s been fantastic feedback. Of course every time I respond by saying that the dancers have put in a lot of effort. Training has been intensive. All the lyrics have been explained and interpreted in context, and obviously all the choreographies have had to be devised and then taught. Hamdoullah, it has surely paid off!
Reporter: I see you’re even dealing with certain subjects currently topical in some countries, such as the Sexual Harassment issue seen in one of your sketches. How do you choose your subjects?
Nawarra: That one was an accident, really... deriving from the song. We took the song as a comedy sketch in order to represent Egyptian sha’abi. We acted the song with simple characters in the form of a comedy tableau, just a sketch to that song...
Reporter: Nawarra, thank you
(Note: This last question about sexual harassment was referring to what’s currently happening in Egypt. I initially didn’t click because I chose to dance to that particular song quite some time before the harassment issue became such big political news. You’ve probably seen a lot of reporting in the media and online in the last week or so. The reporter thought we were featuring that element in our dance... but I had to say no.)
June 16 2014
All the Facebook pages are up for all of the new shows and there's some lovely Feedback on the Liverpool event page:
"WOW!!!!! What a truly sensational show last night!! Such an amazing array of talented dancers that had me on the edge of my seat!! Beautifully explained and choreographed, holding everyone captivated in a completely sold out Unity Theatre!! At the end of the show we were "enticed" on to the stage to join in and dance which was fun as almost all were on their feet.! Well done to all who worked hard putting the show together. Those who couldn't go missed a real treat so try and get to another of their shows around the UK soon. Thank you team Funoon xxxxx"
There was also a rare chance to dance with Yemeni musicians:
Thank you, Maryline Roger Faulkner - and thank you, LAAF!
A small selection of pictures - more to come soon!
June 10 2014 - Show time!
Wow! Just wow! Berbers and Bedouins and Tunisians - oh my! The warmth and noise from a sell out audience that's half-and-half Arab and British! Dance friends travelling miles to come and see us, and people for whom Funoon has been their very first experience of Arabic dance. And almost everyone who was able to get on their feet was dancing with us for the Grand Finale! What a triumphant night! Wow!
Stage invasion - Funoon style!
And isn't this a great post to have on your event page!
June 10 2014 - Dress rehearsals
It's a non-stop day! We've done as much work as we can before-hand - mastering all music so it plays at the same level, pre-printing signs, checklists, and schedules for every room and every aspect of the show, and packing everything we might need for an emergency. There's even time for a spot of carpentry as 30 flags need to be secured to 30 flag poles!
We soon get to say hello to the delightful San'at Mahmudova who will be joining the Funoon tour for as many dates as possible in her busy calendar. Today San'at will be dancing Uzbek and Azeri styles for us - these dances are an important part of the family of folkdances at the heart of Funoon and it's fantastic to see the work that San'at is doing to make sure their stories are told.
We also get to say hello again to Susie White, and to her dance group Ya Raqs who will be guesting in tonight's show. Susie and her girls are dedicated folkloric dancers and known for their exceptional attention to detail in costume and styling. Tonight, as well as Nubian and Egyptian solos by Susie, they will be giving us a Bedouin choreography inspired by Serena Ramzy.
Here's a quick look at Susie's gorgeous Nubian dress - made by Beverley of course!
June 10 2014 - Mid-Afternoon
Anwar Ansi and the team from BBC Arabic arrive and it's a chance for many of us to disappear off to various picturesque parts of the theatre to give short interviews about the ideas behind the show, and about our involvement with Middle Eastern dance. It may seem strange to many from the lands of these dances to find Westerners so dedicated to foreign arts - but once we get to tell our stories it's very evident that although we've all come to Funoon through different paths our relationship with Middle Eastern and North African dance is very much in the tradition of these dances.
By mid afternoon the latest news from the Box Office is that we have completely sold out and there is now a waiting list of a dozen names hoping for the luck of returned tickets. How simply marvelous is that! So proud of all the Funoonies and everything managed in so short a space of time and so full of respect for this amazing Festival.
June 10 2014 - Mid-day
Fabulous bit of good news first thing! The latest Box Office report we had from the weekend suggested that the theatre had passed the all-important half full mark. Two days later the Box Office can tell a bunch of rain-soaked Funoonies that there are now only 30 tickets left for a Full House. This is wonderful news!
It's straight into rehearsals. Working with Phil the Theatre Technician we've scheduled to have a full run-through of the show and as much as we can of a dress rehearsal. The most important part of the dress rehearsal is to pre-programme the best possible lighting for the constantly-changing colours on stage. We want our show to look like a jewel box of colours and the Unity Theatre can deliver just that. It's the first time for many of the crew to try on their full costume, and the first time, too, for our Flag Bearers, our littlest Funoonies, to try out their very important part in our performance.
June 10 2014 - Morning
The big day is here at last!!! It looks like the weather-man was right, too! There's not a cloud in the sky and we don't pass a single car that doesn't have its windows wound down to the sills. Setting off early means we get to Liverpool in pretty good time, but there's no chance for a spot of sight-seeing in this fascinating city - there's Funoon work to be done! (Interesting to notice, though, that Liverpool seems to have purple wheelie bins and turquoise recycling crates. They're so much prettier than the dull grey and brown ones we have back home!)
Just as we get to the city centre black clouds start to roll in from the sea. It looks like the storm promised for this evening is making an early start! Liverpool is washed in an eery green light as rain starts to come down in sheets and the roads become running rivers. Funoon cars arrive at the theatre all at once and grab the available parking spaces. There's a shrieking dash for the safety of the foyer - and a good half hour of storm to watch through the glass before we can even think of unpacking the cars and bringing in all those precious props and costumes! So much for arriving early!
9 June 2014
Big Nerves Day! Last chance to nip out and buy last minute bits and pieces, to raid Primark for suitable earrings, and to collect the postcodes of all suitable carparking in Liverpool. It's incredibly hot and the Weather Forecast is promising the most sweltering thermometer-busting day of the year WILL happen.... tomorrow! So that means going shopping, too, not just for packed lunches but for extra big bottles of water, and tonic water, and rehydration tablets just to be on the safe side. Don't forget to pack safety pins and gaffa tape!
8 June 2014
Dress Rehearsal Day today! For the first time we get to play dress-up with all the fabulous costumes we've been hearing so much about. Beverley brings bag after bag into the rehearsal hall - great big enormous beach bags and bedding bags overflowing with beautiful fabrics in every conceivable colour and we also get to try out some matching accessories.
Seriously, though, today will be the last chance to iron out any niggly problems with choreographies and there's a lot of work to be done to bring everything together in time.
The word from Liverpool is that the show is selling steadily and the theatre is not far off half full. They always ask you, don't they, whether you're a glass-half-full sort of person or a glass-half-empty one. Half full or half empty theatres are much more important than glasses. To be honest, though, Funoon is generally more concerned with mugs of tea or coffee on these early Sunday mornings and probably promising themselves a large glass of something or other once they're home and can put their aching feet up...
28 May 2014
Funoonies are busy raiding everywhere from market stalls to Boots Chemist in search of false eyelashes and other items in order to practise their stage makeup. For some this will be the first time they've worn anything like this much "slap".
Jo is making the English voiceover recordings to go with Ashraf's Arabic ones and Beverley is burning the midnight oil in running Funoon costumes through her sewing machine.
With so much hard work and industry going on - who could POSSIBLY be posting pictures like this to Facebook?
25 May 2014
Another great rehearsal today - and lots of cake and buns too!
18 May 2014
The first recording session for Funoon wa Alwane's voiceovers was completed tonight. Our show presents dances from all over the Middle East and North Africa and we want to tell the stories of the dances so that connections are made whether the audience is familiar or unfamiliar with what they are seeing. Folk dances and traditional music don't obey the lines drawn on a map or instructions to keep within man-made borders and so, naturally, there are elements that appear in the dances of neighbouring countries. This is one of the things that really seems to strike the dancers who come to our shows.
So if we were going to tell stories we needed to find voices that could bring them to life. Fortunately Nawarra was able to grab Ashraf Abderrahman and tell him he couldn't leave the country until he'd helped make our recordings. Ashraf has one of those lovely Radio 4 voices that are so easy to record. All we had to do - he said - was to keep him topped up with coffee.... In the end we had to keep him topped up with coffee AND stay out of the room because he - and we - kept getting the giggles!
Our recording engineer Alex soon got what he wanted in a couple of takes. Ashraf, he says, is a lovely bloke and he can call round again anytime soon. He's not at all sure, however, about further visits from gangs of Funoon ladies!
4-5-6 April 2014
Time for a quick break from everything Funoon - it's Jewel of Yorkshire time! Now in it's tenth year this brightest and best of bellydance festivals never fails to delight and entertain. It's also a good opportunity to hand out our shiny new Funoon fliers and tell everyone about the Liverpool show - so not really a break after all!
31 March 2014
Our fliers are back from the printers on the day the Box Office opens in Liverpool. We have some great photographs from the 2013 show Funoon Alhouriya taken by that master of colour Ian Cartlidge and our fliers are going out in both English and Arabic. It's very important to us that our shows are presented in both languages.
29 March 2014
It's been a busy week! We've decided to bring some new dancers to the "Funoon family" who can make the mid-week scheduling of our first show for Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival. From all the gossip on Facebook it looks like the newly arrived "Funoon Babies" can't wait to get started!
We've also had a call from the Festival organisers who have asked for a number of Funoon dancers to take part in the Family Day at the Sefton Park Palm House in the park on 15 June. Just when we're thinking about the "Funoon family" we're invited to join in the "Festival family"! It's always a lovely day with a chance to meet other Festival performers and the audiences who've supported the Festival all through the week. In many ways it's the perfect way to finish the Festival - a family reunion that says goodbye only to meet again same time same place next year.
Our blog-spot photograph shows Nawarra taking part in last year's Family Day.
26 March 2014
The Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival website and Facebook pages are now up and active, but not yet ready to go live. We're not allowed to advertise until their Box Office is open to the public - which makes a lot of good common sense. Our fliers are ready to be printed - it's so exciting! The Festival website is colour-coded to make finding events easier and we can't wait to tell people they can book for our new show Funoon wa Alwane - Arts and Colours
24 March 2014
Nervous day of ups and downs! First we hear that there have been some schedule changes at the Liverpool Arts Festival and that our show will now be midweek rather than on Saturday. This is a huge disappointment because it means a number of our dancers who have been training so hard will not be able to take time off work. Still, with the Festival managing a huge international cast on a tight budget such things will and do happen. It's to the very great credit of this iconic Festival that it is supported by eager audiences throughout the week as well as at weekends.
We have to let everyone know about the date change and it's very sad for the dancers who will now miss our debut show. We've not been together very long, but we already feel like a "Funoon Family". Towards the end of the day we hear back from BBC Arabic - they had planned only to film the Festival on the Saturday, but they've rearranged their plans and are now coming up from London on the Tuesday as well - just to film us! That's really rather wonderful!
23 March 2014
Rehearsals are coming along nicely - could it be that Madame Nawarra is looking pleased?
Beginning a project like Funoon always goes in the same three stages. Stage One is being thoroughly surprised and delighted with how well things are going. Stage Two is being in utter despair because there doesn't seem enough time and you just know things are never going to be ready. And Stage Three is the moment when you realise you might just be able to pull things together after all!
22 March 2014
Even more excitement! It's time for Beverley to start making costumes - which means taking everybody's measurements, and - for some of us - actually finding out what our measurements are! It's very important to Funoon that our costumes complement the dances and add to the colour and excitement of the stage. We want our costumes to look as much as possible like the traditional clothes associated with the dances we have chosen to portray. At the same time, Funoon costumes must be easy to wear and easy to dance in - and easy to take on and off in the short time available between dances; they must also be able to withstand being worn through numerous rehearsals and performances, and being packed for transfer between venues. Fortunately, Funoon has the wonderful Beverley Smith making our costumes. Beverley's travelling souk - Baladi Bazaar - stocking her own exclusive designs as well as imported dancewear is a well-loved addition to bellydance haflas and to festivals like the Jewel of Yorkshire.
18 March 2014
We're on tenterhooks here at Funoon! Things are moving so quickly it's hard to keep up! We've just learned that BBC Arabic are coming along to support us at Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival in June and that they'll be spending the whole day with us to film both rehearsals and evening show. They came along to see us last year and produced a short video for their Arts section - a great honour. This year - we're so excited we could burst! - they've promised a longer feature with interviews to air during their evening broadcast, which means we'll be seen all over the world as part of the BBC World Service. The programme for this year's Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival has gone online, but it's not live yet and we can't tell anyone or send out our advertising until it is!
8 March 2014
Funoon have invited Egyptian superstar teacher and performer Khaled Mahmoud to Leeds to teach two workshops on folkloric styles from Egypt. We are so honoured that someone like Khaled supports Funoon's aim to build a thriving strain of traditional dance in the UK and to see this take its rightful place alongside the existing passions for cabaret and fusion bellydance. We are even more honoured in that Khaled has devised two choreographies especially and exclusively for Funoon. We shall be exploring the fun and flirtatious party entertainment of the candelabra dance - although Khaled has chosen a modern pop piece, his setting harks back to the playful dancers whose candles lit up the old party tents before electric light. We will also be looking at the Ghawazee styles associated with Alexandria and the town of Sombat in the Egyptian Delta. They're subtly different to the more familiar Maazin Ghawazee of Luxor further south.
23 February 2014
Dances are coming together and developing their characters nicely - is there anything that could make Funoon any happier? Well, yes, actually....stacks of scrummy buns and Jess finding the first novelty use for the new Funoon logo! For a while we think about selling buns to raise much-needed funds, but the rate at which both directors and crew seem able scoff cake and still dance their socks off suggests only the crumbs left at the bottom of the tin might make it to the first sale...
14 February 2014
A special Valentine's Day present for Funoon, an invitation to take part in the celebrations of World Community Arts Day at the Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre in Newport on 7 February 2015. That's another date for your diaries! (This is the poster from last year's festival, but it looks a riot of colour - Funoon wa Alwane, in fact!)
28 January 2014
Funoon announces the date of its Leeds show - Keep your diaries free for 18 October 2014! We will be returning to The Venue, the fabulous new concert hall at Leeds' College of Music, based at Quarry Hill, the famous Leeds "Arts Hub" which also hosts the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Ballet, the Yorkshire Dance Centre and the BBC.
24 January 2014
Stop Press news for 2014-15!
Funoon will be working with Uzbek dancer San'at Mahmudova and exploring the beautiful classical dances of Persia, Armenia and Uzbekistan. Famed Egyptian dancer Khaled Mahmoud has also promised to create an exclusive choreography for the Funoon company.
Funoon is also hosting another Dance Camp in Fes, Morocco in August-September 2014 where in addition to tuition from Nawarra and Beverley Smith there will be a chance to work with Maria Aya of Greece and the legendary Algerian dancer Amel Tafsout.
23 January 2014
Funoon are busy preparing the new show for 2014-15. This will be entitled Funoon Wa-Alwane - Arts and Colours. After an intensive rehearsal schedule, Funoon’s first fruits will be brought to the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival in June 2014, with the full show to be presented in Leeds, London, and other venues thereafter.
22 January 2014
After presenting sell-out shows Funoon al Jazeera al Arabiya in 2012 and Funoon Alhouria in 2013, the Company is now recruiting the dancers and other performers who will appear in 2014’s Funoon wa-Alwane: Arts and Colours. This year’s entirely new show will feature the dance arts of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iran, and the Gulf. We will also be exploring the traditional music and dance of Berber and Bedouin, and making a journey further east following the Silk Road caravans of old.
12 January 2014
We're working on our new logo. We needed something that would be instantly recognisable as well as simple and beautiful. This old tile was our inspiration - and after a lot of pencil scribblings we handed it over to graphic artist David Ferguson to tidy up and make into something special.