Behind the Screens: Jawaahir’s “Girls’ Night IN”

Lightsey Darst took in the new performance by Jawaahir Dance Company, "Girls' Night IN," and found the show sensual and richly hued, if a bit uneven in its execution.

Girls Night IN
Still from Girls' Night IN

FROM THE BEGINNING, JAWAAHIR’S GIRLS’ NIGHT IN: A Look Behind the Screens envelopes you in a sensual world. A vivid hanging greets you as you walk along the narrow Southern Theater entrance; rose petals sprinkle the stairs into the theater; a woman in full rustling, tinkling Middle-Eastern garb even offers chocolate chip cookies at the head of the stairs. Inside, the Southern’s rough-hewn arch is garnet-lit, hung with garlands of flowers. Before the performers arrive, you see fellow audience members wearing the thobe, a thickly embroidered overdress brilliant as a gem and adorned with sparkly paillettes. And it smells as if someone’s dotted rosewater on her pulse points.

The dancers come out, greeting each other at the beginning of the women-only party that is the show’s organizing conceit, adorned with rich-hued clothes and girlish smiles. They whip their long hair around and hold out their dazzling dresses, and they dance—and the dancing itself continues the theme of sensuality. This is classic Middle-Eastern dance, with hip and chest shimmies, gracefully twisting arm gestures, and demurely stepping feet. Cassandra Shore (Jawaahir’s leading lady) and her dancers try out every gyration of the female body, from a single well-timed hip-switch to what in club dance is called the “motor booty”—shimmies so rapid that the wearer’s flickering spangles turn to neon lines. The shoulders pulse, the entire torso waves and weaves, the hips circle one way and the other. But for all that shimmy and shake, this is not pole dancing. Its sensuality is more private, playful, even chaste. This is, after all, a party for women only, and their movements are honey and figs for the women themselves to enjoy. Live music provided by the all-female al Hareem Orchestra aids the mood—high, winding strings, heartbeat percussion, complex harmonies that curl and dissolve like brazier smoke. When the orchestra plays and Cassandra, in a blood-red panne-velvet dress, appears and disappears in smoky light, her hands and arms winding with the music, the senses reel.

But I wish there were even more sensuality. Only the most spectacular parties are worth watching—otherwise, you want to get up and dance and laugh yourself—and though Girls’ Night IN begins richly, it fades in the middle to some forgettable dances. It looks as if the ability to shimmy like a cook tasting her gravy is genetic, and, recognizing this unfairness, Shore has cast her dancers without regard to shimmying ability. The result is that some of the more delicious dancers get scant stage time, while their no-salt-added sisters appear again and again. And I wish the orchestra were more sumptuously lit or perhaps costumed; when they play by themselves, there’s nothing to look at, breaking the synesthetic chain that the rest of the performance works so hard to build.

Still, the evening’s end redeems the dull moments between. It’s not uncommon for good parties to end on a strange note of despair and self-revelation, the dancing getting a bit too wild, the desires out of control or knowing. At Girls’ Night IN, that end-of-the-evening desperation is formalized as a Zar, a dance-trance meant to evoke, then soothe the unruly emotions. Three women toss and roll, wrapping themselves in veils that offer freedom and protection. Here, all the mischief and play is gone, but the underlying sensuality remains, emotion a felt condition of the body. One moment lingered: the orchestra playing its minor-key strains, Cassandra rolling over in her finery, her hair coming loose, ruby dress sliding up to show crinkling folds of dark underskirt. Later, when her guests have left, she pushes herself back against the wall to watch the rays of dawn (in Jeff Bartlett’s lovely lighting) strike through her window, casting over her the patterns for some future dance.

About the writer: Lightsey Darst writes on dance for Mpls/St Paul magazine and is also a poet and editor of’s What Light: This Week’s Poem publication project.

What: Jawaahir Dance Company presents Girls’ Night IN: A Look Behind the Screens
Where: Southern Theater, Minneapolis, MN
When: Performances run March 26 through 30
Tickets: $27 (pay-as-able March 26). Call the box office at 612-340-1725.