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01 June 2006 @ 05:04 pm
Gothic Bellydance DVD review  
I'm debating whether to set up a section on the reviews portion of my website dedicated to book and DVD reviews relating to bellydancing. In the meantime, I may just post such reviews here.

I originally posted this review over at Amazon (it may not be viewable at that location yet as I just submitted it), and it references other Amazon reviews.

As a novice bellydancer and a lover of dark aesthetics, I was positively thrilled to discover that a DVD such as this was available. I pre-ordered it and awaited its arrival with baited breath. In retrospect, I worry that my eager anticipation for this DVD may have raised my expectations unrealistically high. Like virtually every other existing thing in the universe, this DVD has its high and low points.

In contrast to performance DVDs like the original Bellydance Superstars video, the camera angles utilized in Gothic Bellydance allow for a better appreciation of the dancers and their choreographies as a whole. It did not include lengthy belly and breast close-ups which result in the cropping out of a significant part of the dance. For instance, I think that in order to really appreciate even isolation movements, one needs to see them presented in the context of the entire body to view the controlled motion in contrast to the stillness of the rest of the figure. And, of course, if you focus the camera on the abdomen or chest for too long, you completely miss the complementary arm movements, etc. in the shot! In this DVD, thankfully, the camera tended to stay with the dancer as a whole. I suppose this approach would prove to be quite monotonous for a major motion picture, but the real purpose of the DVD is to document the performances, and what is really on display here is not the compositional skills of the camera person but the skills of the dancer.

Also in pleasant contrast to some DVDs is the simplicity and austerity of the set. While some lighting effects and perhaps a bit of smoke is used, the set itself is not cluttered with arbitrary props which obscure the dancers; if props are present on the set it is because they are deliberately placed there by the dancers and are integral to their performances. However, the use of photographic overlays and digitally inserted designs and patterns do often break up the expanse of black backdrop surrounding the dancers. In most cases the technique makes for an interesting visual, rather like a moving collage, and its rare that these overlays obscure and/or distort the dancer significantly. There are a number of cases where editing was heavily used, but in the case of the two most greatly edited pieces, Jehan's "Goddessence" and Blanca's "Lovers of Teruel", it's not such a great loss since these two pieces involved the least amount of actual dancing anyway. I did however notice some odd editing of Ayshe's snake transformation piece after she had completely freed herself from the snake cocoon wherein one second her bra would be showing and at another her entire chest was covered with flesh-toned fabric.

The majority of the costumes presented in this DVD are gorgeous, sensual, and inventive. Gothic Bellydance certainly provides a wealth of inspiration in this category. Another of the things I greatly appreciated about this DVD is the variety of styles presented. The traditional, cabaret style of bellydance was represented by Neon, Tanna, Jeniviva, Tempest, and others, while tribal fusion wove its way into the mix via Asharah's and Ariellah's performances. The two pieces by Martiya Possession, comprising the dancers Ya Meena and Raven, provided an interesting contrast with their seemingly more folkloric style. Unfortunately though, the quality of the performances varied quite widely.

I found Ariellah's solo pieces to be superb. Her interpretation of every musical nuance and her muscular control is something I aspire to develop myself one day. In my opinion, out of all the dancers presented in this DVD, she was able to bellydance to traditionally non-bellydance music the most successfully. Likewise Asharah's performances were a joy to watch, although I think at times she could appear a bit sedate or aloof. Jeniviva's pieces grew on me over time, and personally I prefer her second number "One Night in Gotham." Her style and arm movements remind me very much of Suhaila Salimpour. I was entirely unimpressed with Blanca's "Lovers of Teruel." She did some shimmying and perhaps a hip circle or two, but during most of the footage featuring her onstage, which was not very long compared to her other scenes, she was too occupied with swinging around the ribbons woven around her arms. I agree with many of the other reviewers in that I thought Jehan's "Goddessence" was very out-of-place. I am not offended by S&M, but her piece felt out of sync with the rest of the DVD, and like Blanca's performance, it included extremely little by way of actual bellydancing. What little bellydancing Jehan actually does on the oversized torture-chair is almost completely obscured by the swath of fabric that serves as her bedlah. Ayshe's performances were very dramatic and visually-appealing, and she possessed a wonderful array of props, but again I perceived very little actual bellydancing during her pieces (although there was certainly some type of dancing involved). Her "Metamorphosis" while very intriguing conceptually and visually, seemed to lack any basic bellydance moves with the exception of the Tunisian hair toss, which is used quite liberally. I think that her pieces would probably be better classified as theatre or performance art than as bellydancing specifically. Tanna had an amazing all-black, sumptuous cabaret-style costume in her first piece, "Serpent Rising," but I'm sorry to admit that I thought her dancing was somewhat lackluster. Both of her choreographies included veils, and the majority of them were just focused on twirling them around. In her second number, "Come Darkness" which ends with a very short drum feature, her clenched fists and rigid arms made her seem very crude and ungainly. I largely enjoyed Neon's pieces, although I would have loved to have seen more of her dancing and less of her trying to visually establish Goth credentials. However, the initial section of her dance in "Island of Dr. Moreau" although I understand how it responds to the music, was incredibly jerky and not very appealing. Tempest had some stunning costumes, all the more impressive because she designs them herself, but her dancing was a tad stiff, especially when juxtaposed next to Ariellah's in the "Ritual Means" performance (honestly though, virtually anyone's dancing would tend to look stiff when placed next to Ariellah's!).

Practically every dancer did a piece heavily involving either a veil or Isis wings, and while those accessories can prove to be a nice addition to one's repertoire, I think they also tend to easily become a crutch - a tool that becomes an end in itself, not a highlight to the dancer's movements. Unfortunately, in most cases, I believe that the props were actually more of a hindrance than a highlight. For example, many of the dancers became too engrossed with swirling, tossing, and walking around with the veil aloft so that the motion of the rest of their body was virtually ignored. It was a major disappointment to find only one drum solo on the entire DVD, which belonged to Asharah (I'm not counting the truncated drum section at the close of Tanna's second piece).

I've read through the twenty-some reviews previously posted here on Amazon regarding this DVD, but I have yet to find any reviews which feature the blatant style-bashing L-J refers to in his/her post "Gothic bellydance unites, not divides!". I have read critiques of the skill level of the dancers themselves, certainly, but none of those criticisms seemed intrinsically based upon whether the dancer was a tribal- or cabaret-style dancer. If other reviewers here were signaling elements in the performances as "not bellydance" it was not because they were too cabaret or tribal for their tastes, it was because some of the pieces genuinely lacked distinct bellydance movements and/or combinations of either the tribal or cabaret vocabulary.

There are indeed reviews that call into question the Bellydance portion of the DVD's Gothic Bellydance title, but I believe those reviewers are doing so because of some of the aforementioned performances, those which show a profound dearth of characteristic bellydance movements and isolations. Amaryllis would have us believe that "Because this new bellydance movement [Gothic bellydance] is so successful, a lot of traditionalists hate it. Hence the aggressive bitterness that some people just can't keep inside." While the review by A Real Bellydancer that Amaryllis directly references is a tad bitter, it and the other reviews which question the bellydance status of Gothic Bellydance are not actually attacking the notion of a fusion of Gothic culture and bellydancing, they're simply questioning if "bellydance" is an accurate description in the case of many performances on this particular DVD. Quoting the review by A Real Bellydancer, Amaryllis suggests that simply writhing around and bellydancing are equivalent ["perhaps taking some 'writhing around' (we call it 'bellydance'!) classes in addition to sewing might help"], which I find to be somewhat disturbing. If "writhing around with yards of gauzy fabric", a fairly accurate description of some of the pieces on this DVD, is truly all I need to proclaim myself a bellydancer and be taken seriously as the genuine article, what prevents someone from donning pink slippers and a tutu and claiming equal footing with ballet dancers who have had years of actual ballet training? Do we really want bellydancing to be defined that loosely? As an art-form, bellydance is fluid enough to allow the incorporation and influence of various other elements without losing its essential core, which it has already done throughout its history. Some of the performances in the Gothic Bellydance DVD showed that a combination of the Gothic aesthetic and bellydancing can be done interestingly and well, unfortunately others presented in the DVD tended to lose sight of the core along the way.

Overall, I would say that this DVD is imperfect but still inspirational, which is to be somewhat expected of the first DVD of its kind (at least, it is the first Gothic Bellydance DVD of which I am aware). I would recommend it to those who are already interested in exploring Gothic bellydance as a treasure trove of ambience and costuming ideas. However, if you're just a bellydancer or bellydance enthusiast seeking to broaden your collection of fantastic performance videos featuring all-around, professional-level skilled dancers, you may wish you had looked elsewhere.

I fully expect that when my review is posted, I will be greeting with a slew of "unhelpful" votes simply because I critiqued the performances. It seems that every review which even slightly casts a critical eye on this DVD gets bombarded with them.

Edit: I'm shocked, but so far my review has received 2 helpful votes. Weirdness. It was also weird when I discovered that Amazon had edited out the word "breast" in my second paragraph and replaced it with an ellipsis. I didn't realize that "breast" was a dirty word! O.o It's not like I wrote "booby" or "tit," sheesh. I edited it and replaced it with "chest."
ambience: Offerings Vas