The Deer of Paradise

A Performance Video Review by Shira

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Overall Rating: StarStar (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars)

This was a very disappointing video. It records an hour-long stage performance by Japanese dancer Maha and her Al Camarani Danse Orientale Company. I had seen Maha and her troupe dance live in person in the past, and I bought this video because I had enjoyed that performance very much. It turns out that the video does indeed contain the choreography performances I had seen live and hoped would be on it. However, to my extreme disappointment, the lighting and camera work made it nearly impossible to see the dancing in the segments that I wanted most to see.


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The Chart

Formats Available NTSC
Overall Rating StarStar
Production Quality Star
Content Value StarStarStar
Packaging StarStarStar
Total Video Length 60 minutes
Performance Time 52:30 minutes (88%)
Amount Of "Other" 7:30 minutes (12%)
List Price $49.95
Cost Per Minute Of Performing Time 95 cents
Cost Per Minute Of Full Video 83 cents
Cost For "Other" $5.99

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What The Show Was Like

This video is effectively a recording of a live theater production. It features a Japanese dancer named Maha and her troupe, Al Camarani Danse Orientale Company. Most of the video is a showcase of Maha herself, but there are also some group numbers. Although Maha is a very good dancer, her solo numbers were not particularly innovative.

The show opens with "Serpent With Wings", a sequence in which Maha dances with a flowing semicircular cape which has sticks to extend the size of it beyond her reach. The entire stage is completely dark, with a spotlight highlighting the cape and her skin. With a slow chifte-telli rhythm in the background, she undulates and spins, emphasizing the flow of the cape. The second song is "Isis", which is the chifte-telli from the Desert Wind CD named Kali Ma. This too is very dark, with just a tiny bit of light on Maha's skin. Her dark skirt is nearly invisible. Against this dim backdrop, she undulates, assumes a variety of Pharaonic arm poses, and does snake arms.

Next comes an ensemble number with four dancers called "Voices From Darkness". The set is completely dark, and they wear dark dresses. A minimal spotlight calls attention to their arms and faces. Each holds a candle in one hand. As a group, they call attention to the candles through spinning and snakey arm movements. The choreography is interesting, but this dance would have been much more effective with lighter-colored dresses and just a little more light on stage to showcase the graceful movements of the dancers.

A smooth transition leads into a solo dance called "A Woman Dancing In The Desert." It features Maha in a folkloric costume, including a face veil that covers her entire face below the eyes. This scene has just a little more light than the earlier ones, but again Maha wears a dark-colored dress that makes it difficult to appreciate her dance moves. I became extremely frustrated with the camera angles: far too frequently it focuses on tight close-up of the feet, tight close-up of the hip, tight close-up of the face, then far, far away from somewhere high above in the auditorium. Even when it's just at the right level to see the dancing in context, it keeps cutting away from one view to another. Following this, Maha transitions directly into the next song called "Asaya" (cane). Using music from the CD "The Gathering Season" by Solace, she removes her face veil, picks up a cane, and does a pleasant Egyptian-style cane dance. Again, the set remains quite dark and it's fatiguing to try to watch Maha dance in this darkness while wearing a dark costume.

The first half of the show closes with "Dervish". This consists of a drummer alone on a darkened stage, playing a drum solo. There is no dancing, just video footage of the musician as he plays.

The second half of the show opens with "Gypsy". The camera follows the dancers as they weave their way down a backstage hallway, through a crowd, and onto the stage. Again, the problem with camera angles and insufficient lighting continues. Once on stage, each of the four dancers takes a turn doing a solo as the others sit on the floor in the background. The worst part of this section was when the cameraman decided to zoom in and out in time to the 9/8 karsilama rhythm of the final soloist. I found myself getting seasick. It was hard enough trying to watch the dancing with almost no light, but I gave up when the cameraman started playing his zooming games. The "Gypsy" sequence ends with the three dancers together doing what appears to be the FatChanceBellyDance style of dance, only they don't execute it as well as FatChance. However, I was able to forgive them for this when they completed the sequence with all three executing a Turkish drop in unison.

The next item on the show is "Mandala", a fascinating choreography that starts with floor work and very soft music. As the song continues, the music builds and the dance movements carry the energy level gradually higher and higher with it until the dancers are standing in a single file line and undulating in opposite directions at the end. This particular choreography was one of the reasons this group captured the attention of everyone at the Rakkasah Middle Eastern dance festival in California in 1999. I found it fascinating in 1999 when I saw them perform it live. However, I found the video to be extremely disappointing. The scene for this dance is even darker than the rest of the video. It's nearly impossible to see what the dancers are doing, and their sinuous, undulating movements are completely lost in the darkness. It's really a shame, because this is a superb troupe choreograph, and the dancers skillfully perform it.

The next number is "Sword Dance", also performed by the ensemble of three dancers. The music is fast, and the dancers do a number of hip articulations to it. Maha balances the sword on her chin, then sinks slowly to the floor all the way into a backbend, then gets back up. At the end of the number, all three dancers sink rapidly into a backbend, each with her sword balanced on her head as she does so. Again, the video is much too dark and the ever-changing camera angles are much too distracting. This choreography too is wonderful, and skillfully executed, but it's nearly impossible to see it in the darkness.

"Violin Solo" comes next on the program. The violin player stands alone on the darkened stage and sings. He plays skillfully, in the dark. There is no dancing.

"Line In Paradise" features a solo dance by Maha consisting almost entirely of sinuous arm movements and undulations. The set goes totally dark, so that there's literally nothing to see except a totally black television screen.

Finally, for the final segment which is titled "The Deer Of Paradise", Maha performs a full Oriental routine. She enters to a drum solo with Egyptian-style veil work. She then discards the veil as the violin begins, and dances to rapid, upbeat music. As the music slows down, she goes into undulations and performs a Turkish drop. From there, she does some lovely floor work in a backbend, gets back to her feet, and dances to a lively drum solo. She goes into a spin with rapid head circles that made my neck ache just to look at them, and closes the dance in the splits.

After this comes "Epilogue", which is just the dancers and musicians taking bows together followed by the closing credits.

You Will Probably Like This Video If

  • You enjoy fast-cutting camera angles that change every time you blink your eyes because you think they add drama.
  • You think that a set so dark that it's almost impossible to see the dancers is good because it's dramatic.
  • You have enough theater experience to be knowledgeable about technical aspects of producing a live show such as lighting, and you would be able to appreciate a video on the level of noting the techniques used to produce the show.
  • You've seen Maha and the Al Camarani Danse Orientale Company dance in person, and you absolutely want to have a video of them regardless of how poor the lighting is.

You Probably Won't Care For This Video If

  • You're not particularly interested in appreciating the technical skill of sound and lighting technicians in theaters and you'd prefer a video that emphasizes dancing over "look what I can do with my equipment".
  • You prefer a good view of what the dancers are doing rather than artsy-fartsy camera angles and lighting.
  • You can't see any better in the dark than I can.

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked

  • The quality of the dancing is excellent. When these dancers appeared in person at Rakkasah (a dance festival that occurs in California every March), everyone stopped shopping to watch as they performed. This video features some of the same choreography they used in that performance, and it's wonderful.
  • The back of the video label lists in both Japanese and English the program of dances performed.

What I Didn't Like

  • Because this was a video that merely recorded a live stage show, the technical details such as lighting were done to optimize the experience of the audience sitting right there in the theater, not the experience of the poor soul who bought the video after the fact.
  • The lighting is horrible. Absolutely horrible. The entire video is much too dark, and to make it worse the dancers are wearing dark-colored costumes. I'm sure it looked fine in person at the live show, but the video camera did not capture enough light to make the dancing easy to see. The very best choreography on the entire video ("Mandala") is almost impossible to see because the lighting for it is even worse than the lighting on the rest of the video. The lighting is so poor that when I watched this for the first time at a friend's house at a video party, she thought maybe there was something wrong with her television.
  • The editing and camera work were idiotic. About every time I blinked my eyes, the scene jumped to a new camera angle, many of them that made it difficult to see what the dancers were doing. Far too much time was spent in close-ups of a dancer's face or extremely wide-angle views from high up looking down, both of which made it impossible to see the actual dance moves. The camera angle bounced around so much that even the good angles were painful because they weren't held long enough to let me see what the dancers were doing -- just as I started to relax and enjoy a well-executed movement, I would become disoriented by a jump to yet another stupid camera angle. The person who edited this video must have the attention span of a 3-year-old. In one segment, the music was playing a 9/8 rhythm and the camera operator was attempting to zoom in and out in time with the 9/8 beat -- it nearly made me seasick trying to see what the dancer was doing!
  • Each time a new dance on the program would begin, a label would appear on the screen identifying it by name. Unfortunately, sometimes this label was only in Japanese, sometimes it was in English, and sometimes it was in both. I fully respect the desire to sell this video to both the Japanese- and English-speaking markets, but either all titles should have appeared in both languages, or two different versions of the video should have been produced, one with Japanese titles and one with English. There were several times when a Japanese-language title came up and I found myself wishing I knew what it said. The same is true for the label on the case -- it does provide the most important information in both Japanese and English, but I get the distinct impression that there's a lot more Japanese information that simply was not translated into a language that I could read.

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In Conclusion

The dancing in this video focuses primarily on sinuous, undulating moves and dramatic effects. The solo numbers are skillfully performed, but they're not particularly innovative. The strongest numbers are Manadala and Sword Dance, which were executed by the group. These stood out because the choreography demands that an entire group of dancers do extremely difficult moves in unison as a group, and they deliver these very well. However, due to the lack of light and frequently-changing camera angles it's not easy to see what they're doing. It isn't just me -- when I took it to a video party attended by fellow dancers, one person asked, "Who wasted their money on this video? You can't see a thing!" All in all, I was very disappointed.

Although I found the dancing on this video to be worth watching (especially the group numbers), I really can't recommend it because of the problems with the lighting and the camera angles. It's so difficult to see what they're doing that I didn't feel this one was worth the money. What's the point of making a dance video if the technical details make it impossible to appreciate the dancers' skill?

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I met Maha and her dancers a few years ago when we all attended the weeklong workshops that were offered in conjunction with the Rakkasah dance festival in California. They seemed nice, but we didn't mingle much and I didn't get to know them very well. Beyond that, there really isn't anything to tell.

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Contacting The Producer & Ordering The Video

Contact Maha as follows:

Al Camarani Danse Orientale Company
21-1-113 Daikyocho, Shinjuku-Ku
Tokyo 160-0015

Phone: 03-3351-3157
Fax: 03-3351-3187

I purchased my copy of this video from Dahlal International, a vendor in the U.S. Her phone number is 1-800-845-6432.

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