Gilded Serpent presents...
Review by Gregory Burke
Director: Jon Brandeis
Producer: Miles Copeland
as we begin a discussion of this video, let's get our terms straight.
A documentary film or video is made up of "real" images
constructed in such a way to reflect the point of view of its
maker. A documentary film is a fiction, especially when financed
by its key subject. That being said, let's consider American
Bellydancer. Directed by Jon
Brandeis and produced by
Copeland is certainly the man of the hour, with his entertainment
units: The Bellydance Superstars and The
Desert Roses, and his commercial approach to
the bellydance world through CDs, DVDs,
accessories, and the very video we are discussing. He has elicited
much ire from dancers and dance critics alike for his liberties
with sacred elements of performance ethics and musical choices.
Are they correct in their take on Mr. Copeland? Is he just a sanitized
Bill Graham? Or is he someone bigger of heart
and mind? Let's look at the history: Mr. Copeland comes with a
background in music production, distribution and management, producing
certain bands, that by all accounts, are better off forgotten.
But also, he worked with some very influential and excellent musicians,
starting more than a few trends along the way. He has a unique
cross-media and cross-cultural background. And also, he is not
a man to turn a good thing down, especially if it comes
knocking on his door.
documentary video American Bellydancer
chronicles a remarkable journey both for the producer and the
dancers involved. We wander along with them (at its current length
it seems like a slow wander), as the fabled golden finger of heaven
points down at him and says: find a need and fill it. Apparently,
by his own statement, he is an admirer of Arabic music. And distressed
by the shabby state of the bellydance
community, he set about to make matters right. To fill our minds
and living rooms with visions of pulchritude and the jingle of
golden coins, in a semi-Arabic free environment, an all-American
environment. I am sure individuals of power and notoriety told him
it could not be done.
world at large will never be ready for bellydance
and this pack of squabbling divas cannot be prime-time candidates.
One of Mr. Copeland's greatest assets is his thick skin. Abuse
rolls off him like droplets of water on a well-waxed vehicle.
Copeland sets about his task with an amazing tenacity. The video
follows him as he searches for the requisite amount of women with
the precise talent and temperament, and they must be beautiful.
The film is the semi-linear line of time as the group(s) take
shape, intercut with the usual B/W ancient
beginning, dance footage from DVDs, and the wise talking heads
commenting. In this area, Morocco,
with her stake-through-the heart attitude, shines. He auditions
the women, selects them, and fills their heads with visions of
sugarplums to come, (see S.Coleridge,
Kubla Khan). More important to dancers,
he shows them respect and he pays them. He puts his money where
his mouth is. One possible rationale is that he sees himself as
a caretaker of the art form, now that it is under severe repression
in the lands of its beginning and flowering. And the other is
that he's the right man in the right place at exactly the right
time. And he is either going to reap a whirlwind of debt or a
ton of influence and money. A sure sign that someone means business
is when they hire a competent staff, and recognize among their
dancers who is good at what and place them where they help not
hinder the momentum. Jillina,
as choreographer is the perfect choice. Anyone who thinks Miles
Copeland bears a likeness to a cartoon or is not to be taken seriously,
please go to his "Ark 21" website and read his semi-mythological
Copeland and team carry on about bringing bellydance
"to another level," it's not quite that. It's another
place. The entire video resembles exactly one of those cable shows
concerning the creation of a Las Vegas production. And there in
the middle of it, is a Copeland-like fellow who has an evangelistic
vision of it all. He's dreamt the whole show. A giant waking day
dream. On TV, where many of you reading this will probably
see the video, there is always conflict in the creation of the
show. In this case, it's provided by Suhaila Salimpour
verbally sparring for the psychological upper hand.
points of the video are the Lollapalooza tour and the discovery
that, yes, The Superstars can dance on stage with the Rock and
Roll band, thus another spin-off idea to MTV. And the "big
picture" prep talk by Mr. Copeland to perspective dancers,
watching their eyes and minds grasping the fact that it's real.
It could really happen. Up to now, bellydance
has been a war on the dancers. A career of limited hope.
It was a wonder seeing the women getting a recognizable visual
image in their minds and realizing that it could all come true:
the respect for the art, the tours and the money.
the video progresses, we see Miles Copeland realizing exactly
the same thing as he learns from the dancers, and in turn, gauges
the overall audience response. It's a case of what you preach
becoming manifest before your very eyes. A sort of Ali-Baba allegory.
Remember this is a record guy, a demographic guy. He knows when
folks like something. And if they don't he'll change until he
gets the formula right.
of America, throw away your ten-year old daughters' glittery top
hat and tap shoes, dump the tutu, here comes pre-adolescent hip-shimmies.
Crank up the DVD, it's training-for-Superstars
are the Bellydance Superstars and Desert Roses the Twelve Apostles
of the Antichrist? And is Miles Copeland that Antichrist? Is this
video their gospel? Nope. Not likely. Sorry to get your hopes
up. He's a businessman and they are "folk dancers."
However skillful, well upholstered and anointed they are, those
facts will not change. How long will the phenomenon last and how
far will they go? That is the future, and the future is a mystery.
is no mystery is that the profit from a venture such as this appears
on the back-end. That is, years from now.
the video as reality or entertainment, who can say if it's a demented
vision if everyone claps on cue? Why don't we take the obvious
success of the Superstars and draw our own conclusions. As for
myself, there is room in my world for everybody.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
comic by Lynette
dare they pollute our pond!"
One Ad Changed My Life
by Amina Goodyear (chapter 1)
was very desperate and determined to get back to my old self.
Giza Club Lecture,
Wacky Woman Traveler- Leyla Lanty
and familiarity pays off.
Make a Giza Club! by
to become our first Wacky Woman Traveler...
Giza Academy Awards
of Middle Eastern Dance Video 2000 by
Leyla Lanty And
the winners are.... Photos added on 5-1-01 take another look!