Le Serpent Rouge presents musical entertainment’s latest odd couple: jug band music and belly dancing
Rachel Brice of Le Serpent Rouge isn’t going to let a momentary setback spoil her good mood. “Right now we’re sitting by the side of the road with a broken-down vehicle, but that’s fine—we’ve done that twice already,” she cheerfully tells GT by cell phone. “We’re broken down and sick, but it’s fun!”
Brice, a former Santa Cruz resident currently residing in Portland, Ore., serves as artistic director and choreographer for The Indigo Belly Dance Company, in which she performs alongside her former Bellydance Superstar colleagues Mardi Love (Urban Tribal Belly Dance) and Zoe Jakes (Beats Antique, Yard Dogs Road Show). Brice explains that Indigo’s tribal fusion belly dance style, which contains elements of 1920s jazz, American tribal, electronic fusion and old-time dance forms, owes a great debt to turn-of-the-century vaudevillian variety shows. “Our belly dancing, in a lot of ways, is inspired by what we would imagine that we would want to do if we lived in that time,” she states.
That influence is especially apparent in Le Serpent Rouge, a traveling music/dance show that finds Indigo joining forces with two Washington-based American roots music groups: Crow Quill Night Owls and Gallus Brothers. On Sunday, Nov. 28, Moe’s Alley patrons will experience Le Serpent Rouge’s adventurous blend of belly dance and old-time ragtime and jug band music. “Somehow, even though it seems like they’re polar opposites, the show feels like it holds together,” Brice claims, adding that the group has been “taking some of the old, sort of Orientalist pieces like ‘Egyptian Ella’ and other old pieces that allude to how fascinated America was with the Orient, as they called it at that time, and sort of bringing back some of that old-time Orientalism.”
Crow Quill Night Owls banjoist/vocalist Alex Anagnostopoulos (aka Caliope Kane) says she and Crow Quill’s other core member, Kit “Stymee” Stovepipe (resophonic guitar, harmonica, kazoo, vocals), share a passion for “old medicine show, pre-war blues and a time when there were real entertainers. People didn’t have TV or radio from that era, and we love the thought of traveling bands coming in and having vaudeville.”
Anagnostopoulos was initially skeptical as to the compatibility of old-time music and belly dancing, but a little research revealed that such a combination was very much in keeping with tradition. “With sideshows, it was like, ‘Bring the exotic dancers out from far, forgotten, unknown worlds,’” she offers. “And then [there were] musicians just backing up people trying to sell stuff, or trying to just enliven everything.”
Anagnostopoulos notes that by collecting old 78 records, various members of Le Serpent Rouge have discovered jazz music’s eastern influences. “It’s crazy: even the styles—for a period of time women were wearing turbans because of the Far East and their mysterious ways,” she observes. “Even a lot of the influence for the flapper style is from the Native American style, with the beaded headdresses and stuff like that.”
Clearly, America’s bohemian fringe has a longstanding habit of mixing and matching aesthetics from divergent cultures and time periods. Recent instances of this can be found not only in the neo-vaudevillian movement, but also in the fluky popularity of Balkan gypsy music and Appalachian clogging among hipsters and counterculture types. Thus, Le Serpent Rouge’s fusion of Middle Eastern dance and old-time western music isn’t as left-field as it might first appear. As Brice laughingly puts it, “I think the counterculture types just always are inspired by the least likely thing.”
Le Serpent Rouge performs at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. For more information, call 479-1854 or go to moesalley.com.