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Global Glances

@ documentaries

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.

DVD coverThe 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 Redas 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
Zil Rating- 4

DVD coverFull-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
Zil Rating- 3


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