Initiation

A Performance Video Review By Shira

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Summary

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

This video was filmed live during a show produced by Gypsy Caravan, a dance company based in Oregon. The show tells a story of a dancer who was tired of the same old "belly dancing", and journeyed into an initiation.

Cover

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What Shira.net Users Think

Have you actually watched this video yourself? If so, offer your own opinion in the poll below! Otherwise, click the "View Results" button to see what worldwide users of shira.net think of it.

 
1) How would you rate Initiation by Gypsy Caravan?
Absolutely fantastic!
Definitely would recommend it.
Good enough to be worth the money, but not special
Disappointing, but had at least a little value
Nothing good about it at all
 

The above poll includes responses submitted since October 28, 2002.

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The Chart

Formats Available NTSC
Overall Rating StarStar
Production Quality Star
Content Value StarStarStar
Packaging StarStar
Total Video Length 1:30
Performance Time 1:20 (89%)
Amount Of "Other" 10 minutes (11%)
List Price $28
Cost Per Minute Of Performing Time 35 cents
Cost Per Minute Of Full Video 31 cents
Cost For "Other" $3.08

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Description

This video documented a live show being performed in front of a live audience in a darkened theater. The lighting effects were clearly chosen to optimize the experience for the live audience, which in turn made it less suitable for the video audience.

This show was striving to be artistic. I applaud the attempt to do it, even if I was dissatisfied with the end result. I'm afraid I missed a great deal of the symbolism, and I never did figure out for certain just what the narrator was initiated into, though I'll acknowledge that it could be partly because I'm usually not very adept at interpreting this type of thing. Much of the story was told through poetry reading and other narration while the musicians played background accompaniment that drowned out much of the spoken text and made it hard for me to make out what was being said. Eventually, I went to the Gypsy Caravan web site, read the description of this video, and said, "Oh, is that what it was about?"

What The Show Was Like

The show began with the narrator talking about how the typical old style of belly dancing simply wasn't satisfying to her any more. This led into a comment about going to the carnival, which was the cue for the stage to fill with swirling dancers in voluminous costumes. Next came a Gypsy fortune teller with a deck of cards, followed by some slow drumming with flute improvisation and undulations.

The next dance was a woman dancing with a man in a black suit with a mask. A poem was being read, but I couldn't make out what it was about. The man's mask looked like a skull. They danced a duet to a waltz rhythm. Later, the closing credits told me this couple was Death and his consort.

About 21 minutes into the tape, the first "belly dancing" was done, in the form of American Tribal group improvisation. This led into a double veil solo which was done well. Following this, Death and his consort returned to the stage and did another waltz. I still hadn't figured out what "the skull guy" had to do with the plot.

Next followed more voice-over, with the narrator reflecting on her life. The fortune teller instructed her to wait for three Muses, although I wasn't certain what would happen once the Muses appeared.

The three Muses appeared one at a time: Owl, Time, and Jezebel. I managed to figure out that Owl was some kind of bird, although I didn't know until the closing credits that she was an owl. I couldn't make out the poem that was read during her piece. Time was easily identifiable--the music played a tick-tock rhythm, and the dancer did many poses with her arms moving like the hands of a clock. Although I didn't realize at the time that she was supposed to be Jezebel, the next dancer delivered my favorite performance of the show: she did an enjoyable karsilama, ending with a Turkish drop.

I didn't realize at the time that these were supposed to be the three Muses that had been foretold--I was still waiting for the Muses to appear. I think that's because I expected the Muses to appear together at once as a trio. Also, the concepts represented by these three dancers didn't really relate to the concepts represented by the Muses of Greek myth. I think my knowledge of Greek mythology got in my way here--the word "Muse" triggered a specific idea in my head, and that idea prevented me from seeing what the storyteller intended me to see.

Next a shirtless male dancer appeared on stage with a flute. I later learned from the closing credits that he represented Pan, the forest god. He strode about the stage pretending to play the flute while flute music accompanied him. He led a woman garbed in many veils about the stage. Over the course of their pas de deux, he removed the veils one at a time. Once her final veil was removed, she began to dance and he resumed his flute playing.

For the next act, people appeared on stage holding three tall, slender, foil-covered rectangular panels which I believed to represent mirrors. A dancer emerged from behind each, then three more dancers emerged. Their costuming was India-esque: cholis and belts embroidered with shisha mirrors, and full skirts. The shisha mirrors caught the light nicely and their twinkle enhanced the effect of the dancing. With six dancers on stage, they did a tribal-style group improvisation. This performance was stronger than the earlier group improvisation. The dancing was enjoyable, but the camera work and overlay special effects were too distracting and ruined the effect of the dance for me.

The group exited, and a soloist appeared on stage. Another dancer joined her. They were clad in matching leotards, belts, and full skirts. It's too bad they chose black leotards, given the poor lighting. Even their hair styles and color matched! This led to a decision point: it was time to choice whether she would stay there, or go back to her old life. It ended with the soloist.

The group came back on stage, and gathered in the background. From behind them emerged a women in a white unitard with a sheer white jacket. She did a number of gymnastic poses, including the splits and several leg extensions. The group then came forward, and the soloist from the previous number joined the gymnast. Together, they did a duet that was effective use of posing. I wish I knew what the gymnast represented. The gymnast then exited the stage, leaving the soloist to finish.

The poetry resumed as the soloist continued to dance. The drone of the supporting music drowned out the poem, so I don't know what it said. The drum beat then picked up and a melody line joined in. Each dancer or grouping of dancers took a turn across the stage, doing a brief reprise of their earlier dance. The fortune teller returned for a bow, and the closing credits began.

The closing credits mentioned the Queen of the Underworld and her court. I never did quite figure out who they were or where they appeared in the show.

You Will Probably Like This Video If

  • You enjoy poetry reading, mythology, and tales of personal journey.
  • You're a fan of Gypsy Caravan.
  • You've seen more than enough "typical" belly dancing, and now you prefer to watch shows that tell a story, experiment with form and style, explore distinct themes, or otherwise differentiate themselves from the usual "belly dancing show" format.
  • You enjoy artistic experimentation.

You Probably Won't Care For This Video If

  • You don't like things that you think are "artsy-fartsy".
  • You're very new to watching belly dancing, and you prefer videos of performers doing "typical" shows.
  • Poor lighting and excessive video effects interfere with your ability to enjoy a video.
  • You're not a fan of the American Tribal style of belly dancing.
  • You're likely to be frustrated at not being able to follow the story due to not always being able to hear the narrative.

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked

  • The show that was captured on this video was not just an endless parade of one dancer after another, each doing her own thing. It had a definite theme, and used narration to tie it together.
  • This show was an artistic endeavor. It brought together music, dance, poetry, a story line, and mythological themes. Shows like this will help Oriental dance get the attention of the mainstream theatrical dance community and bring it the recognition it deserves as a valid art form.
  • The use of symbolism from mythology led to some creative use of costuming, masks, and make-up.
  • The use of poetry reading as accompaniment to some of the dances.
  • The use of live musicians for the show.

What I Didn't Like

  • Because this was footage filmed of a live show in a darkened theater, the lighting quality was poor throughout the entire video. It was fatiguing to watch. I can forgive poor lighting when the videographer is capturing live film footage of ethnic dance under field conditions where it's impossible to control environmental factors. But when the video is being produced (as this one was) in a theater where the producer can control these things, it's disappointing to see a poorly-lit video like this one.
  • For a number of the dances, the accompaniment consisted of poetry being read over the top of soft musical accompaniment. I don't know how easy it might have been for the live audience to hear the poems, but for me watching the video, the background music often drowned out the poetry and it was very difficult to tell what was being said.
  • Some of the sections seemed to drag, and I found myself wondering when they would end.
  • Somebody needs to tell the person who did the editing for this video that just because you can do something with special effects doesn't mean you should! This video made excessive use of overlaying one moving image on top of another. It was often hard enough to make out what was happening on stage due to the poor lighting, and these gratuitous special effects made it impossible. Somebody needs to take away the toys from the person who made the decision to use this effect so frequently!
  • I had trouble following the story line. Maybe it was partly because some of the narrative was drowned out by too-loud musical "background". And I'm sure it was partly because I often tend to be a bit dense at figuring out portrayals involving symbolism and inner journeys. I want to understand them, but I often don't. In any event, I never quite figured out what the narrator was being initiated into, and I didn't figure out who some of the characters were supposed to represent until I saw the closing credits.
  • I found myself wondering whether the audience who was there for the live show had been given written programs that provided helps such as plot synopses or character identification like "Muse #1: Owl, portrayed by ...". If so, then the video should have made an effort to incorporate that information, either by printing the program information on the video cover, or by superimposing appropriate titles over the video image when editing.

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In Conclusion

Despite my complaints about production quality and difficulty in following the story line, I did find this video interesting, and it did have some good dancing. I hope Rees-Denis will continue producing innovative shows--this kind of experimentation is what will help the Oriental dance community grow closer to the mainstream theatrical dance world. I'm glad someone loaned it to me. This show has sparked an interest in me in seeing more of Rees-Denis' work. However, after seeing it, I don't feel an urge to run out and buy a copy of this particular video for my own collection.

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Disclosures

I have nothing to disclose regarding this video. I have never met Paulette Rees-Denis (the producer) or any of the performers. I am aware of Paulette's reputation as a respected member of the dance community, but have never had any interaction with her. The video was loaned to me by one of my students who encouraged me to review it for my site.

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Contacting The Producer & Ordering The Video

Contact Paulette Rees-Denis as follows:

Gypsy Caravan
4805 NE Campaign
Portland, OR 97218

Phone: (+1) (503) 288-4355
E-Mail: gypsycaravan@iefx.com
Web Site: www.gypsycaravan.us

Belly Dancing Bellydancing Dance Bellydance

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