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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.