Rare Glimpses: Dances from the Middle East

A Performance Video Review By Shira

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

This documentary is a compilation of diverse dance performances, each introduced with commentary by the late Ibrahim "Bobby" Farrah. It contains an 1897 performance by Fatima, a 1950 film showing a genunine guedra, a modern performance of guedra blended with belly dance, a series of dances by a talented Lebanese family, and a full Oriental performance by Nadia Gamal. I particularly enjoyed the 1897 dancer and the Lebanese family.


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The Chart

Formats Available NTSC
Overall Rating StarStarStar
Production Quality StarStarStar
Content Value StarStarStar
Packaging StarStarStarStar
Total Video Length 54:56 minutes
Performance Time 31:16 minutes (57%)
Commentary  21:33 minutes (39%)
Amount Of "Other" 2:07 minutes (4%)
List Price $50.00
Cost Per Minute Of Performing/Narration Time 95 cents
Cost For "Other" $2.00

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This documentary is difficult to describe in just a few words because it's a collection of widely different performances all compiled on one video. All the performances except one are dancers from "over there". All of the performances except one are folkloric.

The performances include:

  • Fatima, 1897. The first performance consists of 1 minute of Fatima dancing in Thomas Edison's New York studio in 1897. It's silent, since that was decades before talkies were invented, and it's black and white. She plays finger cymbals. Following this segment, Farrah then shows a 15-second clip of the censored version. Watching the video and thinking about how Fatima's dance must have been viewed by Victorian-era people who were accustomed to women squeezing themselves into corsets helped me better understand just how the 1893 introduction of "belly dancing" to the U.S. must indeed have been viewed as scandalous. Seeing where the censor's bars appear is very educational.
  • 1950 Guedra. This footage of a real Guedra ritual being done in Goulamime, Morocco was shot by a Western film crew. At times, the camera focuses on the Guedra herself, and much of the time it pans around the people gathered around her or the drummer. It doesn't show a sufficiently continuous view of the Guedra herself to enable someone who has studied Guedra to see the techniques being applied, but there is merit to the crowd shots because it shows the complete context of how everyone participates. The segment is about 3 1/2 minutes long.
  • Jajouka's Guedra. Bobby Farrah choreographed this in 1975, and this actual performance by Jajouka was filmed in 1994. This is a created-for-theater fusion of Guedra with Oriental dance floor work. It is entertaining as theater, but not useful as a tool for someone wanting to study performances of Guedra to learn more about it. The dance is about 5 minutes in length.
  • Bedouin Family. The performers are a Lebanese Bedouin woman, her daughters, and her husband, filmed in a village 1971. This is the longest section of the video (12 minutes), and shows 5 different dance segments by this family of performers. They wear local clothing rather than "dance costumes", and perform an assortment of dances, including both Oriental (belly dance) and debke folk dances. The five dance segments include a 5-minute debke by the women, a dance in which the matriarch balances a water glass on her head while her daughters dance as a frame around her, an Oriental solo by the matriarch using finger cymbals, a debke duet featuring the matriarch and her husband, and a closing solo by the matriarch. The matriarch's dances are truly a pleasure to watch. She capably performs many extremely difficult moves such as head slides with the water vase on her head and flamenco-style barrel turns. She is also very expressive, emotionally speaking.
  • Nadia Gamal. This is the only non-folkloric performance on this video. It features a 9-minute Oriental performance by this legendary Lebanese artist filmed in 1971. Her performance is an interesting contrast to the family that appears just before her. While the family performs outdoors in a village, Nadia's performance is on a stage. While the family wears everyday clothing, Nadia wears an "I Dream of Jeannie" harem fantasy costume. And so on. Unfortunately, the dance itself is a bit disappointing. She doesn't appear to be particularly interested in either the choreography or the music.

Throughout this video, the lighting and sound quality are "good enough". The only place where I found production issues to be annoying was on the 1950 Guedra in Morocco, where the camera kept wandering away from the Guedra herself.

You Will Probably Like This Video If

  • You would love to see vintage film from the 1890's showing one of the dancers who came to the U.S. to appear at the infamous Columbia Exposition in Chicago where "belly" dancing was originally introduced to the U.S. public.
  • You're fascinated by the Moroccan ritual known as Guedra and you'd like to see footage of a real ritual being performed in Morocco.
  • You're enthusiastic about the work of the late Ibrahim "Bobby" Farrah and you would enjoy a video that features him on-camera for a large amount of time as he describes what each video clip is about.
  • You're a fan of Jajouka (one of Farrah's dance company members) and you would enjoy a video featuring her doing a fusion dance that blends Guedra with Oriental dance floor work.
  • You would enjoy seeing a talented Lebanese village family performing debkes and Oriental dance.

You Probably Won't Care For This Video If

  • You don't have much interest in the ethnic and historical roots of belly dancing.
  • You focus primarily on Egyptian dance, and you're not interested in performers from other places.
  • You're more interested in the 20th-century Oriental style (with beads and sequins) than in folkloric interpretations of the dance.
  • You have seen other videos of Nadia Gamal and you're looking for another with a similar inspirational level of dance skill.

In Conclusion

I have a passion for historical and folkloric dance, so I enjoy this video very much. The only part I don't care for is Jajouka's interpretation of the Guedra. If you're shopping for a video that features Nadia Gamal, there are better choices out there.

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked

  • I was delighted by the 1897 footage of Fatima even though it was silent, short, and black & white.
  • I found the performances by the Lebanese Bedouin family to be inspiring.
  • I was fascinated by the segment showing a performance of the "real" Guedra in 1950. (But I wished the camera would have focused more on the Guedra herself and less on the crowd around her.)
  • The use of finger cymbals by several of the performers.
  • For the post-1970 dance scenes, the camera shows me what I, as a dancer, want to see with intelligent camera angles and closeups used wisely.
  • The content of some of Farrah's comments is useful in understanding and appreciating what the camera is showing.

What I Didn't Like

  • For me, the performance by Jajouka just didn't fit even though she executed it competently. She was the only dancer who wasn't from "over there", and the choreography she was performing which fused Oriental floor work with Guedra didn't quite match the tone of the other performances.
  • In the parts where he is narrating, Farrah's comments seem stilted to me. They come across as a memorize, much-rehearsed speech aided by cue cards rather than the intimate conversation he may have been trying to portray through his choice of set.
  • At times, Farrah's narration stretches on longer than I would have preferred. Some of his comments are useful, but others seem like they're just trying to fill time.
  • Nadia Gamal's performance is disappointing. She appears to be doing a choreography she doesn't like to music that doesn't inspire her.

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There is nothing to disclose. I never met Ibrahim "Bobby" Farrah nor attended one of his workshops, and I've never met any of the performers who appear on this video.

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Contacting The Producer & Ordering The Video

Contact Phaedra as follows:

Phyllis Saretta
175 West 13th Street, Apartment 10G
New York, NY 10011

Phone: (+1) (212) 675-1051

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