The Afet Collective (22nd May '07)
"Everybody Dance Now"
It's easy to be swept away by a belly dancer.
Beautiful, powerful, sensual, and exotic the allures of the ancient Middle Eastern-inspired dance are hard to resist when watching only one performer. It's damn near impossible when there are seven, which explains the rising popularity of The Afet Collective.
Formed late last year by Canadian-born Eshe, the Tokyo-based ensemble encompasses both the cabaret and tribal forms of the dance. The Afet Collective also features Annan, Farasha, Henna, Ozma, Suiren, and Yoko. Despite varied dance histories and approaches to presenting their art, the septet have been able to strike a near perfect balance operating as a cohesive unit yet still shinning as individuals.
"I would say that this is the most diverse dance group I've been involved in," says Henna. "Our strengths, interests, and skills all differ and we come together to celebrate those differences as well as create new things."
Suiren adds, "Our looks and styles may be different, but we all have unique beauty."
One of Tokyo's coolest qualities is the massive support and appreciation the city has for the arts. As the most populous metropolitan area in the world, there are obviously markets for all major productions and exhibits. There are also plenty of eager eyes seeking out more intimate, enchanting showcases. Belly dance fits into this range and has seen a sharp increase in its popularity over the last several years.
What's been most interesting to see is the large number of women (and occasionally men) who have been inspired to try dancing after attending a show. Aside from the obvious fitness benefits, what attracts people to belly dance?
"Philosophically, belly dance inspires femininity and helps you to open your mind and be a bit more confident, which is sometimes difficult to do in a big city like Tokyo," explains Yoko.
"Everyone wants to be sexy," Eshe says. "Belly dance makes you feel sexy. It's popular because it makes women and men feel so good about themselves. It's also a really accepting art form of all ages and sizes and shapes. A belly dancer doesn't have an expiry date or a weight limit or a size to conform to."
Something the group established early on was their desire to assist others through their work with The Afet Collective. Proceeds from a nearly sold-out February show at Cozmo's Cafe in Tokyo's Shibuya ward were donated to H.E.L.P (Housing in Emergency of Love and Peace) Asian Women's Shelter in Tokyo. The ladies' next gig, which takes place on Saturday May 26, will also raise money for the same organization.
"There was a time in my life when I thought I was going to have to live at a women's shelter,"says Eshe. "I've felt an obligation since then to do something like this. I asked the girls if it was something they were interested in contributing to. I was a bit nervous asking, but all of them were so enthusiastic about it."
With Afet's members hailing from four different countries - Japan, Australia, Canada, and The United States - H.E.L.P's goal to provide support to women of all nationalities definitely struck a chord.
"We want to help people who are in Japan, and since we are an international group, it really makes sense to support an international organization," Farasha says.
Drawing from what Eshe affectionally refers to as their "limitless creative well," the ensemble decided to try their hand at making their own live music during their last performance. Previously, members of Tokyo's Alladeen had provided a wonderful array of gypsy and folk music for the girls to shimmy along to. Inspired equally by the band and by their good friends in Tabla Kwaiesa, The Afet Collective crafted rhythms for one another using darbukas (goblet drums), dafs (frame drums), and zills (finger cymbals). Their upcoming show will feature more live percussion along with a wide array of oriental, tribal and fusion pieces.
"This next show is going to be awesome," promises Eshe. "I'm really excited to see what everyone has come up with. There is going to be a Kama Sutra number as well as a hip hop fusion piece and a dance inspired by the movie 'The Grudge' (the American remake of the Japanese film, Ju-on: The Grudge). There will of course be traditional cabaret and tribal performances, too."
While many dancers strive to make a name for themselves at gigs, The Afet Collective are simply out to prove how well their moniker suits them. Meaning "catastrophically beautiful" in Turkish, if their confidence and sexiness don't wow you then perhaps their cheekiness will.
"When you have a name like ours you can't be shy or self-conscious about it," Ozma explains. "Part of dancing is knowing how to present yourself, and the dancers you work with, with pride and confidence. Our name helps us stand tall and proud."
"I like how such a short word, 'Afet,' means 'catastrophically beautiful.' It's amazingly concise," adds Henna.
Relishing each moment together, the group haven't given much thought to what future directions The Afet Collective will travel in, yet. They'd love to eventually tour and to one day work with artists they highly respect such as Tabla Kwaiesa and vocalist Momo from Hethara. They hope that audiences will not only follow, but also grow with them as they use dance to guide them.
"The Afet Collective are creating a rainbow with seven unique colours," Suiren says. "Come over the rainbow with us to see what is there."
The Afet Collective along with DJ B. Krishta perform on Saturday May 26 at 8 p.m. at Cozmo's Cafe in Shibuya, Tokyo. Tickets are 1500 yen at the door. All of the dancers' proceeds from the night will be donated directly to H.E.L.P (Housing in Emergency of Love and Peace) Asian Women's Shelter in Tokyo.
Interview by shawn and photos by Nam