main page/topics
back to interviews
Grafik & Layout: Konstanze Winkler
Photos © 1, 3, 4 und 6 Heather Mull, 2 Taboo Media

Interview with Olivia Kissel

by Marcel Bieger

US-American and Pittsburgh, PA based Tribal Fusion dancer Olivia Kissel is sought for all over Europe and comes now to Germany, for the first time, can you imagine that. How it occurred that she volunteered for Germany, how it happened that she became what she did became, and which projects she has in her luggage she shares with us in the following interview. She prefers dancing with others over solo dancing and so the motto of her newest project is:
What dance training other than Tribal do you have, and what makes Tribal for you so special?

I have danced freestyle all of my life. I guess you could say that I grew up as a "feral" dancer.  I started formal training in college where I studied Dunham Technique, Senegalese and Guinean dance. I met Christine Andrews in West African class and we also danced together at Rusted Root shows. She invited me to come to a bellydance class. It's funny, I expected an "I Dream of Jeanie" kind of experience but I was happily surprised by her earthy yet elegant style of belly dance. This was one of the earliest forms of gorgeous, folkloric, fusion bellydance. At the time I described it to friends as the "Punk Rock" version of Belly Dance, but it has come to be called Tribal (now Tribal Fusion) Belly Dance.

Olivia Kissel
Please tell us about the history of your cooperation with Zafira Dance Company.

In the first class with Christine, I fell in love with the down-beat driven, movements and music and the women I danced with right away. So I guess it was a combination of the music, the movement and the dancers: Christine, Maria, Jen, Elizabeth and with Jas & Stacy playing music for the class. I fell right in with this community. We all are inspired by folkloric music of North Africa, Turkey, Iran and Central Asia. The more remote and syncopated the rhythms or the steps, the more we loved it!  We would stay together all weekend playing music and singing around a bonfire and make dances during the day.

We performed at regional art events and festivals for a couple ofyears. One of our favorites was Pennsic (2 week long Renaissance Festical) because it was one of the only places where we could find tattooed, "punk-rock" belly dancers
Maria Hamer and Olivia Kissel
and we danced to the music of TURKU live around a fire ... every night!

Zafira was born in 2000. Christine Andrews, Maria Hamer and I started the company in 2000, and we were soon joined by Tamara Juel and Jennifer Imashev.  We all danced in Ghawazee (dance troupe in Pittsburgh, PA) together, so Zafira is kind of a spin-off from that project in which we were more driven to travel and train with teachers around the country.

After a while we were asked to travel to some of the first Tribal Belly Dance Festival including: "Maja's Majical Belly Dance Festival" which became "Spirit of the Tribes", and we made our West Coast at the first "Tribal Fest". 

We were welcomed on the West Coast by one of our biggest inspirations: Jill Parker. We stayed with her several times in San Francisco and she arranged for us to have workshops in the Bay Area. It was these workshops and intimate Haflas hosted by Jill at her studio that we met, danced and made music with the likes of Rachel, Sharon, Lulu from Habbhi Ru, Tobias Robinson, and Mz. Rose Harden. We have been cross-pollinating since then.We have been teaching performing, traveling, producing shows and videos for the last decade. We just closed the company and produced a final show. We should have a video to share.

We all have families and it is a constant challenge to balance our time & energy between family and our art/work. Each of us has interests that we want to pursue outside of Zafira, so we decided to focus on that, and put the company to rest. It was a great run, and we are thankful for every minute, but now it is time for us to move on. We will still dance together and show up in each other's performances, I am sure!

Tell us about your "Hybrid Dance Project". You say on your site that dancers from abroad (abroad the US) are also welcome, does this mean that an European section is planned, too.

I'm still developing the HYBRID Dance project and figuring out what exactly it is. I believe that it is evolving, but right now it has two parts: the HYBRID INTENSIVE which is performance driven training experience; and the HYBRID DANCE PROJECT which is a place for me to collaborate with other professional dancers and dance companies, and music genres. I am getting ready to lead my first European HYBRID INTENSIVE in the UK.
Here is a link:!/event.php?eid=130252093726658
it is hosted by the lovely Victoria Bone.

The participating dancers in the UK intensive are already learning the choreography. I go there next week to workshop and develop it. We will all perform together at the Boheme Cafe:

I will be bringing 2 dancers from the US who have participated in HYBRID project and 3 dancers in the UK are learning another HYBRID choreography so that we can perform that one together, in addition to the "intensive choreography". I am hoping that some of the Dancers will meet me in Amsterdam in November and perform again at Beyond Belly Dance II hosted by Tjarda Van Straten.

Here is the over all goals of HYBRID: HYBRID INTENSIVE it is a collaborative performance and intense training experience. The technique, expression and choreographic components are workshoped within the context of preparing for a performance. We use the choreography as a springboard to develop concepts and movement quality and interactions between dancers. The performance is both a motivational element (we all want to be our best when we perform, so it pushes dancers toward excellence), and a way to showcase the fruits of our labor.

The "intensive experience" was inspired by the dancers in my workshops. I always have a part of my workshops where dancers perform for each other, and I am continually inspired by these segments. There have been so many of these dances that were almost "performance~worthy".  I would often want to keep going and develop these ideas/pieces. 

This is the starting point for the HYBRID INTENSIVE.  The dancers are sent the choreography ahead of time, so when we meet for the intensive, we already have a shared vocabulary, and we workshop the piece to tailor it to the ideas/interests of the group and we perform it, BABY!

HYBRID DANCE PROJECT is a project-based collaboration vehicle in which I can reach out to dancers from many genres - in different parts of the world - and begin a dialogue. I am fortunate enough to travel and meet talented, interesting dancers around the world. This is a way for me to collaborate with some of them - to have meaningful dance and performance experiences with them. It is a way for us to train together, have a dance dialogue and hopefully come away better dancers in the end through our training and performance together.

Right now, HDP is me starting the dialogue, saying, "Here are some dances – let’s learn these and workshop them together."  It is also a way for me to say, "Hey, I would love to work with you, you got anything interesting to share?"

When you are working on a new performance or choreography how do you proceed. What comes first, a certain music piece, a certain move or a certain costume?

Some choreographies or performances are driven by the music. In fact, those are my favorites ~ I love it when I hear a piece of music and I am so moved by it that I immediately HAVE to dance to it, or close my eyes and imagine dancing to that.  "Gulag Orchester" by Beirut, "Charlotte Mittnacht" and "Dark Eyes" by Devotchka, "Fidayda" by Turku were like that.

You have been to Europe very often and at numerous places, but not to Germany. How did you get in touch with Claudia from Offenburg?

I love Europe and I am very excited to come to Germany.  This is my first time being invited to Germany. I came across the Black Forest Festival on facebook and I immediately fell in love with the name. I am 1/4 German and my people are from the Black Forest, so I am excited to my family origins!

You will be at Tjarda's in November, have you ever worked together with her?
I. Love. Tjarda. She has hosted me in Holland 2 times, and I am excited to go there for the 3rd time. I will be there in November for Beyond Bellydance 4. I admire the constant creative mining that she does.  She pushes herself as an artist, putting a lot of energy into the concepts and ideas behind her movement. She is driven, creative and I always look forward to what she does next. I am particularly excited about this event because we will have a HYBRID component to the performance. Two of the HYBRID dancers from Pittsburgh are coming: Patrice Lanford and Joanna Abel; AND I am hoping that some of the dancers from the UK intensive come down and perform with us! I am also hoping Tjarda dances with us.



Oktober, 28th - 30th 2011

November, 18th - 20th 2011