Dancing Live to Raja

A Performance Video Review By Shira

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

This is a music video designed to showcase music composed and performed by Raja Zahr, a Lebanese musician who lived in southern California for many years. True to the Hollywood music video style, the camera work alternates between the musician playing his instruments and the dance performances.


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The Chart

Formats Available NTSC
Overall Rating StarStarStar
Production Quality StarStarStar
Content Value StarStarStar
Packaging StarStarStarStar
Total Video Length 57:27
Performance Time 55:18 (96%)
Amount Of "Other" 2:09 minutes (4%)
List Price $25.00
Cost Per Minute Of Performing Time 45 cents
Cost For "Other" $1.00

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What The Performances Were Like

Five different dancers performed on this video, including (in order of appearance) Sahra, Angelika Nemeth, Ansuya (when she was a teen-ager), Jenaeni, and Mesmera. For Sahra's opening performance, the music was played by John Bilezikjian on the oud (a Middle Eastern lute), and Raja Zahr on percussion. For the rest of the video, all music is played by Raja, using primarily keyboard but also some other instruments for variety.

This video was filmed in a studio, without a live audience. The set was simple but attractive, with varied lighting. Except for one dance sequence, the mood lighting was usually done skillfully enough that there was nearly always enough light for me to see what the dancer was doing.

Overall, the dancers delivered good, solid performances, but they didn't stand out as being particularly compelling or ground-breaking. Just good, mainstream belly dancing delivered by skilled artists. In several cases, the performers didn't seem to have as much stage presence as I might have expected from dancers of this skill level. I'm assuming it was because all these dancers were probably accustomed to performing for a live audience, and had some difficulty transferring their stage presence skill to dancing for the camera.

Generally speaking, the camera work interefered with my ability to enjoy the video. Admittedly, I've seen other videos that were worse offenders, but this one was enough to annoy me. At times, the camera tilted on a diagonal, showing the dancer's head in one upper corner of my television and her hips in the opposing lower corner. Frequently, it would cut away from the dancer and show close-ups of the musicians playing their instruments. Other times, it would zero in close on the dancer's face, preventing me from seeing what she was doing with her body. A few times, the camera would superimpose two images - one of Raja playing his instruments, the other of the dancer.

Here are the performances that appeared on this video:

  • Sahra. In this 15-minute performance, John Bilezikjian played music for Sahra on the oud and Raja on percussion. At first, Sahra seemed to have an inward focus, probably caused by the studio environment which had no live audience. As the performance progressed, she interacted increasingly with the musicians which seemed to light a spark in her dancing. Once she was well underway, she served as a wonderful role model on how to interact with live musicians who are playing for you.
  • Angelika Nemeth. This segment lasted about 9 minutes, to music played solely by Raja. Angelika entered carrying an enormous veil (what some people call Isis wings) held on sticks to extend her reach. If you've thought about incorporating this type of thing into your own dancing, her performance is well worth watching because she used her prop well to create a variety of different effects. Eventually, she discarded the veil and finished her set with regular dancing.
  • Ansuya. Ansuya was a teen-ager when this video was filmed, and her set lasts just under 3 minutes. She was wearing a glittery tunic over pantaloons, and danced to music played solely by Raja. Her dance skill was that of a capable intermediate student - she clearly paid attention to the music and danced accordingly, but her arms and hands were distractingly busy and her isolations weren't as isolated as I would expect from a professional-level dancer. Still, it was nice to see a younger dancer included on the video, and teens who are interested in belly dancing would probably enjoy seeing this performance.
  • Mesmera. This 7-minute segment was infused with a lot of visual drama, but didn't show Mesmera's dancing skills to best advantage. It opened with a darkened set, with knee-high fog rolling in. Mesmera was kneeling on the floor, with an enormous boa constrictor wrapped around her. She opened the set with some floor work, eventually rose to her feet, then returned to the floor. The performance gave me the impression the boa was too heavy for her to manage well, so it felt like she was holding back in her dancing. Between the too-dark lighting, the fog, and the jumpy camera angles, it was difficult to see the dancing, and what I did see wasn't as exciting as I had hoped for. Still, if you love watching people belly dance with snakes you'll probably like this section.
  • Angelika Nemeth. In this 4-minute section, Angelika does a theatrical interpretation of the cane dance. Her pretty glittery dress has high slits on each side that show bare leg underneath. Unfortunately, the camera angles made this dance quite difficult to appreciate. Far too much on-screen time was devoted to showing Raja playing the three different instruments that were used to create the mix for this number, like, "Look at me! I can play three different instruments!" When the camera did show Angelika, it often failed to show the cane, thus missing the point of what she was doing in her dance.
  • Jenaeni. In this 5-minute section, Jenaeni does free-form interpretation of solo keyboard music played by Raja. I was relieved that the camera work was much better than on the earlier pieces, so it was easier to appreciate her standing undulations and floor work. The music for this number had the sound of piano lounge, which was typical of Raja's later compositions.
  • Jenaeni. This 4 1/2 minute piece offered a nice drummer-dancer duet. I've seen more fiery drum solo performances, but Jenaeni did a good job of dancing to the music and interacted well with Raja as he played for her.
  • Mesmera. In this 4 1/2 minute segment, Mesmera did a veil work performance which was frequently punctuated by graceful standing undulations. I found it to be a nice performance, but not special. I imagine the frequent weird camera angles were part of the reason why I didn't find it absorbing - just as I would start to relax into whatever she was doing, the camera angle would change to something odd like a diagonal shot and jar me out of it.
  • Mesmera. Mesmera closed the video with a 4 1/2 minute drum solo which I found more exciting to watch than Jenaeni's earlier one. Once again, there were too many camera close-ups that failed to show the part of her that was moving, along with sideways camera angles and shots that superimposed Raja's hands on the screen over the dancer.

You Will Probably Like This Video If

  • You're a passionate fan of Raja's compositions, especially his later keyboard material that has the flavor of piano lounge style music.
  • You're enthusiastic about one or more of the dancers who appear on this video, and you'd enjoy owning a video that features performances by them even though it doesn't quite show them at their best.
  • You love snakes, and you'd be delighted to have a video showing a belly dancer performing with a snake in spite of the dark set, fog, and jumpy camera angles that I described.
  • You're a younger dancer who would enjoy seeing a video that includes a performance of a teen-ager.

You Probably Won't Care For This Video If

  • You're an ophidiaphobe (person with a fierce fear/dislike of snakes).
  • You prefer performances that feature typical Middle Eastern style music rather than alternative music.
  • The style of dance you most like to watch is either Egyptian, folkloric, or American Tribal. All of the performances on this video fall into what I would characterize as American nightclub style.

In Conclusion

All in all, this is not a bad video, but it's not a great one, either. It offers an hour's worth of entertainment at a reasonable price, with performances by good dancers. However, its primary focus is to emphasize Raja's versatility in playing varied instruments and composing music. As a music video that constantly brings you back to watching the artist play his music, it's good. But as a video of belly dance performances, there's room for improvement. If you can afford only one belly dance entertainment video, I'd probably steer you to something else.

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked

  • Most of the time (except for Mesmera's snake number), the lighting was done extremely well. It was varied, which varied the mood, but was always sufficient for me to see what I wanted to see. Sound quality was always excellent.
  • Raja chose good dancers to feature.
  • Sahra did a very nice job of interacting with the musicians while she danced.

What I Didn't Like

  • The camera work and editing were obnoxious. Too many tight close-ups that failed to show the moving body parts, too many weird angles, too many fast cuts from one angle to another, too many shots where the musician is superimposed over the dancer.
  • The musical style on this video was primarily Raja's later compositions, and much of it started sounding alike to me by the time the video was over.
  • Generally speaking, the dancers appeared to be missing the "spark" that they are known for. I'm guessing it's because they were accustomed to dancing for live audiences, and had difficulty transferring their stage presence skills to dancing for cameras, but I could be wrong.

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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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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 was one of his later ones. Over time, my interest in his music ebbed, as he moved away from the dramatic style of those earlier recordings 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

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

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