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Gilded Serpent presents...
Teach, Reach and Dance

3 DVD Reviews:
“Hilary Live: Belly Dancing Around the World with Hilary Thacker”, 
“Angelika Presents: Oasis at the Races” and
“Belly Dance with Jrisi”

by Amani Jabril

We all carry with us our own opinions and thoughts about this art form, its practice and its future direction in which it is growing. If you are like me, you chat with your dance buddies about the latest and the greatest…or not so greatest, as the case may be. However, few are offered a public forum from which to express those opinions.

As such, I want to say a big thank you to Lynette for inviting me to serve as a reviewer for Gilded Serpent online magazine. I am looking forward to talking with you, my new and wider circle of dance buddies about all the great videos, costumes, styles and music coming to us in the days ahead.

Much love and happy reading!

It was hard for me to choose what little treasure I should start with first. The first video I encountered was “Belly Dance with Jrisi”. This is the first in a (promised) series of DVDs that features Australian teacher Jrisi Jusako performing and instructing oriental dance. The entire video is shot on location at the gorgeous “The Pharaoh’s” restaurant in Sydney, Australia. This was a beautiful backdrop for her performances and instruction, all of which were done to the accompaniment of live music.

The whole production was very professional and of high quality. The DVD itself, is full to the brim with goodies including instruction in slow motion; class notes; a behind the scenes Q & A with Jrisi as well as optional instruction in Japanese! Jrisi offers roughly, nineteen short, yet detailed lessons beginning with a warm-up and covering just about every aspect of the foundations of oriental dance movement from head to toe. The instruction was clear, well thought out and delivered with a sharp attention to detail. She took you through posture and alignment, into basic hip movements, isolations and arm postures that were then blended into a Beginners Combination. Jrisi further added onto her original combination creating an Intermediate variation.

This video also offered performances of Oriental, Baladi, Khaleegy, Saidi and a Drum Solo. Jrisi is certainly a lovely dancer, and it is clear to see, even without first reading her bio, that she has been well educated in the Egyptian style with the “old school” masters. El Anwar, the four piece live band that accompanied Jrisi’s performance played beautifully. How refreshing it was to see both instruction as well as performances done to live music! Jrisi performed what I would describe as the Cairo stage versions of folkloric dances such as Baladi, Saidi, Khaleegy and of course, the Raqs Sharqi. That is to say, that these dances have been repackaged for the Cairo stage and as such, they differ, sometimes vastly, from the original folklore. On this point, it is a matter of personal taste, I suppose. But then again, I am kind of a stickler when it comes to folklore.

My only critique of the video would be with the performances. There were many incidents where the music seemed sluggish and to lag behind the dancer and the two did not always mesh well. I felt that Jrisi was holding her energy back and each step was measured for technical perfection. This uneven exchange between music and dancer, I feel, took away from a performance that had the potential to be much more dynamic.

All in all, it was an excellent video. I would highly recommend it to beginning students. Kind of like having a good dictionary on your shelves, it would be a great reference for your video libraries. One, that you could turn and return to as needed. Kudos, Jrisi!
Zil Rating: 4

“Belly Dance with Jrisi” is available for $49.95 through www.hathordancestudio.com.au . Run time, 148 minutes.

“Hilary Live: Belly Dancing Around the World with Hilary Thacker” was up next on our evening’s viewing. “Hilary Live” follows Edinburgh, Scotland instructor and performer Hilary Thacker on her travels through the Middle East, including stops in Marrakesh, Istanbul, Bodrum and Cairo. Ms. Thacker performs with live musicians, performing in hotels, parties, clubs, restaurants and even tabletops. I was unclear as to the message and motivation of this video. What was Ms. Thacker trying to show us? From the video’s cover, I was expecting a product that focused on her performances. However, once inside, I felt the video, came off less like a professional performance video and more like a vacation album full of pictures of all the wonderful and exotic places Ms. Thacker had visited. Still, I liked very much the idea of having the dances performed on location. This premise allows the viewers to get a feel for the local color of the region. The video offered numerous scenes of the landscape and historic sights of the countries they were visiting. Still, scenes seemed to move randomly and did not offer quality footage of her performances. It would have greatly helped the storyline to have some narration or possibly titles for the various scenes. I hope that Ms. Thacker will have the opportunity to revisit the concept and give us a better chance to view her as a performer.
Zil Rating: 2

“Hilary Live: Belly Dancing Around the World with Hilary Thacker” is available for $17.99 through Amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. Run time, 60 minutes.

Finally, we come to “Oasis at the Races” presented by Angelika Nemeth. “Oasis at the Races” is the concert that was created by Nemeth for the 2006 Cairo Carnivale. The video is set at the outdoor stage at the historic Santa Anita racetrack in Southern California.

The show begins with the entire company in full regalia entering the arena to a stately Zeffa procession. I can only imagine that, having seen this live, the combination of the powerful music and impressive sight of numerous dancers in colorful thobes, winding in a long parade must have been truly exciting for the audience.

“Oasis at the Races” offers performances of Oriental, Khaleegy, Flamenco and Persian dances. The entire production was beautifully done. The videography was very well done despite having to compete with the outdoors and faulty lighting. In a strange way, the combination managed to give a grainy quality to the film giving some pieces, like “The Moroccan Tray Dance”, performed by Lee Ali, the feeling of having been captured in the field, at a unique moment in history. This particular performance had its own unique character and could have been ripped directly from old field tapes. Some other performances really caught my attention. “The Moorish Duet” featuring Jose Rios and Janelle Bel Isle is what I would call a “MEOW” performance.

Here’s a new word to add to your vocabulary.... “MEOW” is an entirely sensual expression that captures a particular energy. It is that which fully expresses the lushness of a particular sensation, capturing its dimension; power and fluidity all at once. For me, the first bite of a piece of dark chocolate is “MEOW”. Jose and Janelle were very “MEOW”. Their energy and engagement of each other was excellent. A truly beautiful choreography. 

The video did suffer due to a lighting mishap. However, Angelika offered, as a bonus, footage, an earlier stage version of “Fire On Ice”. I must say that this earlier version of the choreography did the piece greater justice. Angelika is a dancer with great depth and subtly. These were displayed much better on the larger stage with benefit of lighting to enhance mood and videography that was able to capture Angelika’s detailed movements and facial expressions. An inspired performance.
Zil Rating: 3 1/2

“Oasis at the Races” is available for $25.00 through www.angelikanemeth.com . Run time 80 minutes.

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