Interview with Myra Krien

By Lindsay Ahl In Zaghareet! June, 2010

Lindsay: You just outdid yourself again at your yearly show, Invaders of the Heart: Anima & Animas. Could you talk a little about your creative process, how long it takes to choreograph each piece, how you put together all the parts, and a little bit about you theme for this year’s show, and how this theme fits into your own life?

Myra: These large stage shows take about fourteen months to build. While I’m finishing one I begin the next. This year we had 27 dancers on stage in 94 costumes, most of which we made ourselves, and all new choreographies. It’s a huge undertaking, but so rewarding. I strive each year to make them better and I feel that I have been able to achieve this goal each year. I usually choose a theme, something reflected in my life, the influences that surround me. Whether this theme is apparent or meaningful to the audience is immaterial to me. I use it as an internal “springboard” and I hang the show around it. Animus Anima are Jungian terms that describe the masculine and feminine counterparts in each of us that can be mirrored either internally or externally. 

This year I want to involve ore men, to bring balance to the work. I met Arish Lam last May when performing and teaching at Spirit of the Tribes. I was so impressed with his overall artistry; he is a masculine and powerful performer and fabulous instructor. I wanted people here to see a male dancer of such quality and technique It’s funny, as soon as I made that choice then other men began to weave into the show. We ended up with three gorgeous male dancers from different dance backgrounds in different pieces. In the myth of Isis and Osiris, Giacamo Zafarano, a classically trained dancer, took on the role of Osiris and Alaric Balibrera dance tango in out Belly Baile suite. They brought so much of themselves to the work and added so much to the show. In America people think of belly dance as belonging to the “feminine”, but I think after seeing the masculine artistry of each of these dancers, it has opened their minds. I like that the show can delight, entertain, and challenge the audience.

We challenge ourselves each year to raise the bar technically in our work, but also to surprise the audience with its diversity. This year began with a devotional piece to music my husband composed and played, referencing the dance’s Indian roots. Next I used both Oriental and Tribal together onstage to the music of Light Rain. I had grown up dancing to Light Rain in the early days. I love the music so much and I want ed to create work that showed belly dance of that era. The following piece was my solo, a VERY modern fusion piece, filled with pops, locks, funk, jazz and hip hop. The following suite feature the Tribal Company doing fusion pieces to Beats Antique, a kind of turn of the century, western meets New Orleans jazz street scene. It sounds crazy, but it was just great and FUN! After Intermission we started back up with the Oriental company telling the story of Osiris and Isis, the original creation and re-incarnation myth.   Many people thought this was the most dramatic and powerful piece in the show. Like a ballet, it is story telling and dance. I think the mythic and iconic symbols made it a powerful experience for the audience. They, my personal favorite, the Belly Baile suite to the music of violinist Claude Chlalhoub, incorporated influences of modern dance and Tango with belly dance. Arish then performed an unbelievable solo of his own work. We finished the show with an ensemble piece to a compilation of belly dance music, hip hop and Michael Jackson (had to tip the hat). I was surpised by how many people came up to me and commented on my solo and Arish’s, saying they were the most powerful and profound examples they had seen of the masculine and feminine. I thought how amazing art is that it can convey so much.

Lindsay: Do you have any advice for fellow choreographers who would like to put on a big show but haven’t done that yet?

Myra: “Love is in the details,” I don’t know who said it, but it will become your mantra. Producing these shows takes a tremendous amount of time, many volunteers, and money upfront. Make a detailed budget and a detailed list of EVERYTHING you can think of that will need to be done. There will always be more things you haven’t though of especially the first time. Delegate to competent people. Check your list. Stay calm, breathe, be gracious, have faith and make it FUN!

Lindsay: Play tell us about the Adult SEEDs® program [Self-Esteem, Empowerment & Education through Dance] that will soon be in place. What is that about and when can people register?

Myra: Register NOW! We are currently planning for July 2011. So many women have commented that they wish they could have had a program like SEEDs when they were growing up and then asked me for a SEEDs program for them. I think it’s a great idea!

Santa Fe is so beautiful and there are some amazing places to hold a retreat. I’m envisioning a beautiful environment with excellent food, a places where the rooms are lovely, but plenty of outdoor spaces for walks and are lovely, but plenty of outdoor spaces for walks and contemplation. In the morning we start with an opening question and meditation, time for journaling then a moving mediation that evolves into dancing. We close with a talking circle and then break for lunch. After lunch is different each day – either a writing exercise, guest presenter, or a FUN interactive exercise or art project. Then more belly dancing, another topic, talking circle and journaling and dinner. One evening we perform for each other, another we go out on the town for dinner and a show.

The program is a life-changing experience, a platform for self exploration, discovery, healing and reinvention of self. It’s a pit stop, an opportunity to get off the track of our lives, rest, play, reflect, rejuvenate and motivate. The topics include self-esteem and body image, as well as defining financial, career, creative and personal goals. These topics are explored through FUN and creative activities to inspire us to move forward to achieve our greatest desires. Guest Speakers include a financial specialist, and a life coach. We ask that each participant make a request of particular areas of interest. This way can tailor make the experience by inviting a few guest speakers that reflect the groups’ current needs and interests.

Lindsay: Philip Glass talks about how music is always there, it’s his job to just listen and write it down. How do you feel about choreography? Do you see the dances? Do you feel them in your body? Does music inspire the movements or do you know the moves and have to search out some music to complement how you want to move? Talk about dance as a language we all know but are unable to tap into until the dancer shows us how.

Myra: First, I should say that in Arabic arts, differing from contemporary forms, the music always comes first. They dancer is the light expression of the sound; the imperative is to be the music. Of course many things can be going on in the music and it is the dancer/choreographer’s artistic license to decide what to follow or emphasize. If movements are our paints then we decide how to best express what we hear using our palette, what colors, where to blend. In order to begin this process you must know that music intimately. 

In this way, yes, the music tells me what it wants to be. Sometimes, like Michelangelo saying that he would see the stone, I see the dance already there. Other times it is more organic, like following an invisible thread, each step reveals the next. When I have a clear and defined vision of what I want to create, I search for the music to express that vision. Then I start the choreographic process. Like all artists, I am deeply affected by everything in my environment. Personal inner experience, emotional landscape, physical landscape, music, images in my environment, books, conversations and much more all influence and inspire my work.

Dance is a language. It expresses the inner landscape of human experience. As Martha Graham says, “movement never lies, it is the barometer of the soul for all those who can read it.” But we all must cultivate the eyes with which to see, the ears to hear.

Lindsay: In terms of training, what advice would you give to a dancer? I’m thinking not just in terms of dancing, per se, but what else? Breath, focus, discipline – talk about what it takes to be a great dancer and how the best ways to take yourself there are.

Myra: A serious dancer must train everyday. Love and courage are the most important, then discipline, focus, commitment and the ability to submit. Strength, endurance, flexibility, grace, movement technique must all be trained. But that is just the beginning. You are creating an instrument and then it must have something to say. Cultivating this takes  a tremendous amount of time and care. Listening to an studying music, reading, watching, taking workshops, studying art and culture, language and studying process. It’s a deep inquiry. A dancer, in particular, must remember that she/he is an instrument, a vessel. They must learn to submit and surrender to that which is being asked of them, asked of them by the music, by the culture, by the choreographer.