Gilded Serpent presents...
produced by Serena and Hossam Ramzy
Review by Debbie
note: Throughout this review I have chosen to use the term Oriental
dance, rather than Middle Eastern dance or belly dance for
two reasons: since "entre nous" we dancers are familiar with this
term (we all know it causes confusion outside our community!)
and it is the closest literal equivalent to the Arabic term of
raqs sharqi, and also because it is the term used on the packaging
materials of the DVD itself.]
Harris of Gilded Serpent gave me the DVD Visual Melodies
by Serena and Hossam Ramzy to
review, she reminded me of the reviewers "code of ethics": honesty,
whatever the cost.
her that I would bring an unbiased eye and truthful pen to bear
on this review. I am happy to say that I liked this DVD very much,
and overall I consider it to be a successful venture into new
territory for them.
Like all of
us in the Middle Eastern Dance world, I am familiar with Hossam's
work through the numerous music CD's he has produced through the
years, starting from my purchase of Baladi Plus, when
it was first released, and continuing with many other acquisitions
over time. I am also aware of his various, delightfully opinionated
writings on the subjects of dance, music and how oriental dancers
should listen to the music. My only acquaintance with Serena was
as a presence gracing Hossam's CD covers.
pondered how to approach the actual writing of this review,
I came to the conclusion that I was really looking at three
things with a critical perspective: the concept behind the DVD,
Serena's performance, and the actual usability of the DVD as
an educational tool.
As for concept,
I give the DVD an A+. The essence of Oriental dance is in a dancer's
ability to interpret Arabic music. Of course, this is not the
only unique and defining quality of the form but in terms of importance
it is near the top. The complex interplay of rhythm and melody
is one of the chief beauties of Arabic music, and the hallmark
of a good Oriental dancer is the ability to hear and respond to
it, expressing her personal interpretation of the music within
the aesthetic parameters of the Oriental dance vocabulary. One
of the greatest challenges to dancers who are "non-native" listeners
to Arabic music is in becoming familiar enough with it match movements
to musical elements in a way that is aesthetically satisfying
as well as "Oriental". To talk about what that really means is
a subject for a longer piece than this, so I will suffice it to
say that any tool at our disposal for learning about musical interpretation
is important, and I know from my own path that videos and DVDs
are absolutely invaluable in learning and absorbing musical interpretation
from other dancers of the Egyptian style.
such as this one which adds to the body of work we have to study
from is of value indeed.
also gets very high marks from me. I was delighted to be able
to see her dance style for the first time. She performs three
somewhat short pieces from Hossam's recorded repertoire, all around
the same length: Sanatein, We Maly Bass,
and Bey-Olouly Tooby.
presence and demeanor are serene, elegant and warm. Her musical
interpretation in each case seems to me flawless, in that her
movements are perfectly suited to the changing contours and
content of the music.
range of larger, curving shapes, fluid arm movements, precise,
internally-controlled isolations, and traveling steps that she
uses are well-balanced and expertly put together. In terms of
choreographic structure, the pieces are simple, clear and nuance.
Serena's obvious skill as a technician enables her to move effortlessly
between the melodic line of the music and its rhythmic base. The
clarity and simplicity of the pieces structurally would enable
even a less-experienced dancer to "see" the music through her
movements and, as embodied by the understated perfection of the
great Egyptian dancer Soheir Zeki's style, an
Oriental dance performance does not have to be busy or fussy to
be musically sound. I would, however, have liked to see
Serena dance to some longer, even more dynamically varied pieces
educational tool, this DVD takes advantage of DVD technology
to offer the viewer to see the individual dancers from three
different angles: the front angle, with subtitles indicating
each change in musical segment, and from left and right camera
also has the option to move within the piece to different musical
segments. There is also the option to see a written breakdown
of the choreographies on screen, with information about the step
used to what rhythm or melodic element and the number of repetitions.
This allows the viewer to deeply investigate the way that Serena
and Hossam bring musical and choreographic structure together.
Although, in my opinion, these options would be most educational
for a beginning or intermediate level dancer who is just embarking
on the journey towards learning about what Oriental musical interpretation
(more specifically, the Egyptian style) is, even advanced dancers
who already working in this style will be intrigued. I do think
that the educational component of this DVD works and is effective,
reservation: the written text of the choreographies, which can
be viewed on screen, should have been included in the packaging
insert as well.
I found that
the text was hard to read on screen because it was small and appears
on a dark background, and also I would have liked to have it in
hand to read as I was watching the dances. This is something the
Ramzys could take into consideration if they plan to produce future
DVDs of the same concept. Another more minor complaint is that
when using the option to move within segments of the dance routine,
the viewing sections would not stop at the end of that segment
but had to run to the end of the piece. I suspect that this is
for reasons having to do with authoring the DVD or how DVD technology
On the whole,
though, I think the DVD is successful. The production values are
high and I can imagine that it was a lot of work to produce, and
clearly the Ramzys spared no expense to put out a high quality
product. It would be a useful addition to any dancers video/DVD
DVD is available for purchase here-
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
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The state of Oriental Dance in America, as it is most
often seen today in festivals and restaurants, is at a crossroads
of change from which there will be no way to return.