Dance Illusion

A Performance Video Review By Shira

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Summary

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

What a mess! This video demonstrates that not even a highly talented dancer like Delilah can rescue a video with idiotic production techniques. It was designed to showcase music composed and performed by Raja Zahr, a Lebanese musician who lived in southern California for many years. But instead, it really showcases the cool video editing tools that whoever did the post-production editing for this had in his toybox. Yech.

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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 Dance Illusion by Raja?
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 December 21, 2002.

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The Chart

Formats Available NTSC
Overall Rating StarStar
Production Quality StarStar
Content Value StarStarStar
Packaging Star
Total Video Length 39:51
Performance Time 36:26 (91%)
Amount Of "Other" 3:25 minutes (9%)
List Price $25.00
Cost Per Minute Of Performing Time 69 cents
Cost For "Other" $2.25

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Description

What The Show Was Like

This video was produced by a Lebanese musician named Raja Zahr who lived in southern California at the time, and it was designed to showcase performances to music he composed and/or arranged. Raja selected three different dancers (Delilah, Malika, and Shahira) to interpret his music, each in her own unique style.

Over the years, I've heard some fellow dancers say that they buy only videos featuring dancers that they've heard have a reputation for being very skilled. These people believe that this will protect them from wasting their money on garbage. This video demonstrates that this is not a safe strategy - even highly talented dancers sometimes appear on crappy videos.

Of the three performers, Delilah was the only one I really enjoyed. She delivered a solid performance on each of her numbers, and interacted with the camera just as capably as if it were a live audience.

Shahira seemed to be struggling with performing in front of a camera rather than a live audience - her stage presence came across as apathetic. Malika seemed to rely on a pouty seductive attitude combined with an athletic "see what I can do with my high kicks" style for her presentation. Although from a technical perspective, both Shahira and Malika were competent at executing the moves, the performances by both of them felt empty to me.

But even Delilah's performances were ruined by the editing that was done on this video. Some fool seemed to think that the dancing wasn't interesting enough in its own right, so he (and yes, I'm sure it was a male - women typically don't get this carried away with their technology toys) started embellishing it with a bizarre portfolio of special effects. The video managed to fit all the following into just 36 minutes of dance performance footage:

  • Image of dancer shrinks to make room for a brightly-colored frame with an oval center to surround her and fill 1/3 of the screen.
  • Camera angles placing the dancer at a diagonal.
  • Camera angles looking up at the dancer from below (and catching a leering glimpse of her butt cheeks when she spun).
  • Camera angles filling the screen with breasts, belly and hips.
  • Bizarre dithering effect outlining Malika and her veils
  • Background constantly changing color
  • Swapping back and forth between indoor filming of Shahira on the stage and outdoor filming of her (outlined in the ever-ready oval frame) in a different costume
  • Twelve flourescent green blobs (three rows, four per row) superimposed over Shahira that ooze into varying shapes while she dances behind them
  • A second image of Shahira superimposed over the first
  • Strobe effect switching between two different camera angles of Shahira until I felt at risk of having a seizure
  • A return to the wonderfully artistic oval frame, this time with horizontal green lines inside it covering up Shahira, as if I were a voyeur peering through the blinds of the auditorum where she was dancing
  • A split camera image that showed two identical images of Delilah on screen at the same time while she danced.
  • That split camera image superimposed over a third image of Delilah wearing a different costume

The content of the video included the following dance performances:

  • Hayati. Performed by Delilah. A solid belly dancing performance in beautiful green bra/belt/skirt costume. About 3 minutes long.
  • Misty Cloud. Performed by Malika. Nearly the whole time, the camera stayed focused on her head and shoulders. At one point, she poured water into a glass and balanced it on her head. The camera failed to pull back to show her descent to the floor, although once she got there it did a somewhat better job of showing some of her actual dancing, but still made it difficult to see what she was doing. About 2 minutes long.
  • Drum Solo. Performed by Delilah. About 3 1/2 minutes long.
  • Careless Flame. Performed by Malika. One of the worst offenders in the excessive special effects department. This was the one that used all the bizarre dithering to blur the outline around Malika and her veils, and flashed between different colors of background. About 4 1/2 minutes long, which was much too long to sit through all those special effects.
  • Ancient Memories. Performed by Delilah and Shahira, but most of the time the camera emphasized Delilah. It rarely showed both on-camera at once. Both dancers used canes, and both wore baladi dresses. Delilah's dress was slit all the way up to the hips, while the height of Shahira's slit was a bit more modest. About 3 minutes long.
  • Shamoosi. Performed by Shahira. This one alternated between two different views of Shahira - part of the time she was indoors performing on the stage. The rest of the time she was performing in a different costume outdoors somewhere. This is also the section where the oozing green blobs were superimposed over her on screen. About 4 minutes long.
  • Talaa. Performed by Malika. The slits in her circle skirt were arranged to show as much leg as possible, and I was certain that any minute I'd be seeing what my grandmother used to call "the bird's nest". At one point, she performed a slow backbend from a standing position all the way down to the floor. I was very impressed by the flexibility and control that enabled her to do it, but unfortunately her widely-straddled legs made it look more awkward than elegant. She did several high kicks worthy of any Rockette or Ziegfeld Follies girl. About 5 1/2 minutes long.
  • Ah Ya Zein. Performed by Shahira. At times, a shot of her from one angle was superimposed over a shot of her from another angle, therefore making it nearly impossible to tell what she was doing. At another point, the on-screen image flashed back and forth from one angle to the other, at the speed of a strobe light. Then the infamous oval frame appeared, and inserted its bright green horizontal bars so I could feel like a voyeur peering between the slats of hideous green blinds to see the show. Overall, quite annoying. About 5 minutes long.
  • Midnight Promises. Performed by Delilah. The poor editor must have been so exhausted after making a mess of Shahira's performance to Ah Ya Zein that he no longer had the strength to put the title for this segment on-screen. I had to wait until the summary in the closing credits to figure out which song this was. But then he must have gotten a second wind, because he returned to his old games. First came a series where the identical same image of Delilah appeared twice on screen, then that was superimposed over footage of her dancing in a different costume. About 3 1/2 minutes long.
  • A Drummer & a Dancer. Performed by Malika. About 2 1/2 minutes long.

Mercifully, this was followed by the closing credits.

You Will Probably Like This Video If

  • You're more interested in seeing what can be done with fancy-shmancy special effects than you are in watching dance.
  • You're a man who thinks belly dancers are really sexy and you'd like to see a video that offers many glimpses of butt cheeks.
  • You're so enthusiastic about watching dancing by Delilah, Malika, or Shahira that you would like even a crappy video that features them.
  • You're enthusiastic about the music on Raja Zahr's "Dance Illusion" album and you'd like to watch a video of performances based on this music.

You Probably Won't Care For This Video If

  • You actually want to see what the dancing looks like.
  • You prefer to watch classical Egyptian-style dancing.
  • You're not particularly fond of Raja's musical fusion style.

In Conclusion

The idiot who edited this video was more interested in playing with the special effects tools in his toybox than he was in creating a good video of dancing, and the cameraman seemed to spend most of his time shooting upward from below the stage so he could catch a glimpse of people's butt cheeks. Delilah's performances sparkled, but even she couldn't rescue this mess. Malika's performances showcased her flexibility and athleticism, but not her understanding of Middle Eastern dance - she came across as a jazz dancer who had added shimmies and undulations to her jazz style. Shahira's mind seemed to be somewhere else, even though her dancing was technically competent. On a more positive note, Raja's dramatic compositions provide an interesting change of pace from typical Middle Eastern music. Overall, I don't recommend this one.

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked

  • The lighting and sound were excellent.
  • Delilah's performances were enjoyable to watch and she managed to convey a sparkling stage presence for the camera despite the lack of a live audience.
  • I enjoy the dramatic music from Raja's "Dance Illusion" album.

What I Didn't Like

  • The excessive use of fancy-shmancy special effects.
  • Shahira's stage presence was dull. I'm guessing she had difficulty dancing for a camera instead of a live audience.
  • Malika's pouting, seductive attitude became tiring after a while.
  • At times, Malika's high-speed dancing to soft, flowing music reminded me of a runaway freight train.
  • I wearied of seeing people's butt cheeks.
  • Camera angles shooting upward from below the stage, placing the dancer in the screen at a diagonal, and zeroing in for closeups on the dancer's head drove me nuts. It prevented me from seeing the dancing.

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Reviews of Other Videos Produced by this Musician

If you'd like to read my reviews of other videos produced by Raja to showcase his music, choose from the list below:

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Disclosures

I became a fan of Raja's music in the mid-1980's, around the time that "Back to Lebanon" and "Dance Illusion" were new releases. I liked the way he took the Middle Eastern sound and arranged it to create a dramatic effect. During that phase, I purchased several of his videos, including this which his earliest one. Over time, my interest in his music ebbed, as he moved away from the dramatic style of the music used on this video and moved increasingly into more of a piano lounge music style played on keyboard. I met him 4 or 5 times when he was vending his music at dance events, but never really got to know him.

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Contacting The Producer & Ordering The Video

Contact Raja Productions as follows:

Raja Productions
P.O. Box 6525
Burbank, CA 91510
U.S.A.

Phone: (+1) (818) 508-4765
Fax: (+1) (818) 508-4765
E-Mail: sales@rajaproductions.com

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