Homage to Mahmoud Reda: A Life for Dancing
Full-Tilt Boogie presents: Belly – Sensual, Scarred, Sacred
DVD Review by Zumarrad
posted April 17, 2011
For some, the pleasure of dance is about community bonding. For others, it’s about reverence for roots. In this review I look at two quite different DVDs that demonstrate how belly dance has travelled to places outside its first homes in the Middle East, and some of the ways participants there have expressed what it means to them.
The Andalusi and Arabic Dance International Festival Raks Madrid 05 presents
Homage to Mahmoud Reda: A Life for Dancing
This DVD records a 2005 theatre show directed by Nesma of Madrid, in honour of the pioneer Egyptian folkloric choreographer Mahmoud Reda’s 75th birthday, featuring dance companies from Spain, Finland, France, Italy and Switzerland. Nesma is an ex-Reda Troupe dancer and according to the DVD’s cover, all the choreographies are by Reda, who is present for the show (as is Farida Fahmy, whom you see briefly onstage at the end).
I have not had the opportunity to watch many of Reda’s movies, so none of these choreographies (with the exception of the Ranet al Kholkhal duet), or their contexts, are familiar to me. However I believe any lover of Reda-style Egyptian folkloric dance would be hard-pressed to find fault with this DVD. The production quality is high, the sound is excellent, the camera work is just right and the performances are clean and of a solid quality throughout.
The show includes a montage of dance and gymnastics photographs of Reda throughout his life, as well as short clips from one movie that segues into a pretty tribute to Farida Fahmy. Other than that, it is a straightforward theatrical show with no fancy tricks or backdrops – and it’s all the better for it.
While this is emphatically not a teaching DVD it does offer keen-eyed viewers a chance to form a strong feel for the kinds of combinations, turns and footwork that we identify as Reda-inspired.
The dances, nearly all group pieces, also demonstrate how effective a tightly-performed choreography can be and provide lots of ideas for staging and costuming folkloric groups in a theatre show like this one. The costumes are varied and remarkably beautiful.
One drawback is that the show features just one male performer, so Reda’s famed take on masculinity in Egyptian dance isn’t really on display. Some viewers might also find the introductions and award-giving a little dull, but it’s great fun at the end to see all the dancers gather on stage and be joined by Reda for a few seconds of saidi.
It’s refreshing to be able to buy a guality performance DVD that reflects another part of our global belly dance community. Most of the well-produced material we can purchase easily tends to feature North American and occasionally British performers, and not much of it is folklore. This DVD demonstrates one form of Egyptian dance as it has been picked up and represented outside the English-speaking world. It is certainly a good advertisement for Raks Madrid and an inspirational starting point for any dancer keen to learn more about Egyptian folklore.
Rating: 4 zils
Full-Tilt Boogie presents:
Belly – Sensual, Scarred, Sacred
This feature-length documentary by dancer/filmmaker Cecilia Rinn is not going to be to everybody’s taste. Some people might even hate it, but I will unabashedly say that I loved it. It is flawed and messy and real.
The documentary looks at a slice of US belly dance culture and presents it largely unvarnished. Footage and photos of dancers in all kinds of situations, of all ages, sizes and abilities, are interspersed with excerpts from in-depth interviews with an equally eclectic range of dancers – some well-known internationally, some not. It’s globalized belly dance in action.
As Unmata’s Amy Sigil observes, the dance is taking place in a kind of self-supportive bubble to which the general public is really irrelevant.
The production values are not particularly high, but I love the way Rinn embraces the unglamorous and incongruous aspects of belly dance. If there’s a rubbish bin in the background or a light switch on the wall, she doesn’t shift her camera to try and disguise it. I loved seeing dancers performing in chilly-looking breezeblock halls, outside public buildings, at fairs, in cafes, on stages and at a slightly creepy-looking party. Rinn visits competitions and workshops. There’s a cute series of repeated scenes in which dancers – camera pointing out the car window into the night – giggle and get exasperated as they search in vain for the location of their gig. It’s all terribly familiar.
An agenda is pretty obvious in the title. The documentary presents belly dance as a sort of connecting point around which women circulate, finding healing, strength and solidarity. The participants talk at length about their experiences with belly dance, how others have responded to their involvement and what it has done for them. Because the interviewees are so varied, their stories and opinions are equally so. For me there is no “danger” of this documentary conveying untruths or being misleading because it’s so clear that each woman involved is speaking from her own perspective.
Belly is possibly a little too long, and there are a couple of sections I really question the point of (notably Amy Sigil’s story about a toileting mishap), but overall I appreciate the lovely jumble of seriousness and silliness that really does reflect how belly dance community life tends to be.
The greatest flaw in Belly is also its greatest strength.
The Middle Eastern aspect of the dance is conspicuous by its near absence – Delilah, never the poster girl for ethnic correctness, is one of the few people to even mention it. If I were teaching an in-depth class on belly dance culture I’d love to show Belly alongside Natasha Senkovich’s The Bellydancers of Cairo, then sit back and wait for the comparative discussion that emerged.
Rating: 3 1/2 zils
Ready for more?
- 12-14-10 Ready, Set, Go! Leila’s "Belly Dance for Beginners" & Dhyanis’s "Absolute Bellydance Basics: Fundamentals for All Styles"
I stopped being the target market for beginner DVDs a long time ago, though, and I’d be happy if somebody purchased this DVD aiming for a gentle, sexy-feeling workout and fell in love with Belly dance through its influence.
- 10-18-10 Tough to Choose What’s Best from Ranya! Belly Dance Egyptian Style: the Baladi,Belly Dance Egyptian Style: Modern Orienta
A dance friend described it aptly as something you can “geek out” on. It is jam-packed with information about the music, different styles of baladi, and the movements to use in this improvisational style.
- 9-27-10 Master Zilling with Movement,The Art of Playing Finger Cymbals with Momo Kadous,
Things start to get really interesting when he introduces variations of tone, and I wish he had devoted more of the DVD to this technique.
- 9-9-10 Listen and Learn Musical Expertise! Dr. George Sawa: Egyptian Music Appreciation & Practice for Bellydancers CD Review by Zumarrad
The idea is to listen, learn, and use the clips to get the rhythms, in particular, into your body through free dance practice. If used to the fullest, this resource will give you a wonderful grounding in Egyptian music.
- 7-15-10 Sema Yildiz, A Star of Turkish Dance
She was fortunate, she says, to grow up in a Roma (Gypsy) community rich in dance and music – the Fatih district, which houses the Sulukule, famous for its entertainment and considered the oldest Roma settlement in the world.
- 3-18-10 Not Last Year’s Saiidi
Recently, a belly dance community newsletter here in New Zealand ran an editorial in which the author remarked that the current generation of dancers still perform “traditional styles – Ghwazee, Khaleegy, Saiidi” but innovate with poi, fan veils and Isis wings in a sort of dance evolution that retains respect for the value of the old.
- 8-18-10 Nesma, Dancer of Passion
To manage the orchestra is quite complicated. They are all men and the dancer must always keep her distance from them. You have to use the service of a manager who is the intermediary between you and the other persons involved in the business. It is very important to have a good manager, a good professional and good person as well. And it is not so easy to find, I can tell you.
- 10-26-05 Interview with Mahmoud Reda Part 3: Film & Future
If you know about photography, then it will help performing for the movies or for television because usually the choreographer stands beside the director of the movie.
- 8-19-05 Interview with Mahmoud Reda Part 2: The Troupe
So what I call my choreography is not folkloric. It’s inspired by the folkloric.
- 7-19-05 Interview with Mahmoud Reda Part 1: The Beginning
The Ministry of Culture should be of help, not a source of problems. But anyway, they had control of all the theaters, so to find a theater we must go to them, but they gave us problems. I don’t know why; maybe they were jealous!
- 1-18-11 Delilah, Women, Nature and the Body
This belief in the force of the earth is central to Delilah’s approach to teaching belly dance.
- 10-18-06 “The Bellydancers of Cairo” An interview with filmmaker Natasha Senkovich by Betsey Flood
As a maid you can find yourself in compromising positions—not good situations for a woman to be in—but in Egypt, it is considered so much better than being a dancer.
- 6-6-08 A Moment with Amy Sigil,
If life doesn’t get any better than this, then, it’s okay with me! I feel so fortunate. I know so many dancers that are more talented than I; yet, here I am! When my time is over, I will bow out gracefully. I am thankful from the bottom of my heart.
- 1-12-05 Farida Fahmy Workshop
What you know, leave at the front desk in a little bag.
- 1-11-11 Farida Fahmy Set the Record Straight, Innovation and Costuming of the Reda Troupe
The current troupe is an abomination of a wonderful enterprise.
- 4-4-2011 Beginnings Made Easy: Basics, Improv, First Shows!
Cassandra, Tanna Valentine, and Nadira Jamal. While all three are classified as "basic" level videos, one is geared to the absolute beginner, another to the newer dancer ready to perform, and the third to the performer who is ready to graduate from choreography to improvisation; a dancer should take care to choose the correct one for her current developmental stage.
- 3-22-11 Taiwan Bellydance: 2 Events Are Perfect Ending for 2010, Nefertiti Bellydance Carnival & Bellydance Evolution
I admire those dancers participating in the production for their talents, skills, and artistic qualities, however, I feel the framework of story-telling compromises dancers from better expressing their love for this dance (or through it). They are acting through dance rather than dancing to the music.
- 3-16-11 Amera’s Dina DVD Reviewed An evening of Arabic Dance and Music featuring World Renowned Belly Dance Artist DINA
Nonetheless, we need to move beyond her expressions. Her dance is Dina. She is agile, melodic, rhythmic, and her movements are so intertwined with the lyrics and the music that she exists as the music–always reaching out to us and, thereby, bridging the gap.
- 3-9-11 Off the Beaten Path Cory Zamora’s "Belly Dancing for Seniors" & "Learn the Art of Male Belly Dancing"
However, I have a couple of issues with this DVD. One of my issues is that, other than stating the ages of the students (60, 63, 75) and making a fleeting mention of a few physical issues they have (problems with feet, back, etc.), there is not a great deal of material specific to senior dancers.