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Gilded Serpent presents...
DVD Review
Visual Melodies
produced by Serena and Hossam Ramzy
Review by Debbie Lammam

[Reviewer's 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.]

When Lynette 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.

I promised 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.

As I 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.

A DVD such as this one which adds to the body of work we have to study from is of value indeed.

Serena's dancing 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.

Her performing 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.

The 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 as well.

As an 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 angles.

The viewer 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, with

one strong 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 works.

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 library.

This DVD is available for purchase here-

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