“Vaudeville” traditionally refers to mixed entertainment on the same bill, and Le Serpent Rouge is just that. A trio of belly dancers, The Indigo, weaves its act between two live musical groups, each old-timey in its own way—the Crow Quill Night Owls and the Gallus Brothers. The show is touted as “vintage cabaret with ragged edges,” implying a touch of disorder or a bit of bawdiness. Or both.
Rachel Brice, founder of The Indigo Belly Dance Company along with Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes, dances in the tribal fusion style. Tribal fusion blends traditional Middle Eastern belly dancing with elements from other, disparate dance forms such as hip-hop, popping and bhangra. Brice and cohorts are seen as pioneers of the style, and they perform and teach internationally. However, the trio doesn’t adhere to commonly used group improvisation. Opting for choreographed numbers adds more awareness of, and interaction with, the audience. The group’s members are slinky, seductive and posses incredible strength and muscle control, showing off seemingly impossible isolations. The Indigo also has a mix of humor and mystique that references Little Egypt of the Chicago World’s Fair and other Victorian-era performers who brought belly dance into mainstream American consciousness.
If any contemporary act lives up to the modern individual’s idea of vaudeville, it’s the Gallus Brothers. The duo performs a bit in which they both play one guitar, each with one hand on the instrument, while juggling three balls between them and singing a ditty full of quaint jokes. Sets involve balancing acts and partner acrobatics, all while cranking out bluesy, boozy porch music.
The Crow Quill Night Owls also has a jug-band sound, happily whipping up tunes with banjo, washtub base, resonator guitar and spoons. The core of the band is Kit “Stymee” Stovepipe and Caliope Kane, but they’re happy to scoop up anyone who can play washboard or fiddle. Like the Gallus Brothers, the band is inspired by early American musical styles, including medicine shows, cabaret, jazz, blues and old-time.
Together these three groups have been performing across the country for months, although Brice conceived Le Serpent Rouge and began touring it with The Indigo in 2007. Not to be labeled as just a belly dance show—a form sometimes underrated and attended only by practitioners and their friends—Le Serpent Rouge is integrated entertainment. The Indigo is also teaching tribal fusion workshops during the tour. There will be a full day of classes in Albuquerque on Nov. 21, for those who get inspired by the show and want to discover their own style of shimmy.