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Gilded Serpent presents...
The Superstars Back In Action
A Review of the DVD,
"Bellydance Superstars
Live in Paris at the Folies Bergere"
by Erica Fritch

To say that I was excited to see the Superstars’ second performance DVD would be a massive understatement.  I waited with anticipation as, every day, the mail man did not bring me my package until finally, after weeks of waiting (okay, it was only 6 days) today it arrived.  Like a kid at Christmas I tore into the envelope to find the DVD (and the new, Volume III compilation CD) lying in pristine condition inside.  I wasted no time in getting down to business and watched the dancing.

By now you have ascertained that I am a little bit biased when it comes to the Superstars.  I saw their show in January this year in Vancouver, and absolutely loved it.  The loud music (on good quality audio equipment!), fabulous lights and outstanding costumes were a close second to the dancing.  But bear with me; I will use as much objectivity as I can muster.

Once you press play, you are introduced to the outside of the Folies Bergere.  This music hall is world famous, was built in 1869, and the gorgeous stone architecture pulls you in immediately.  As the camera fades to the inside, we see the theatre’s seats and the audience awaiting the show.  The atmosphere is set for the beginning of an event, and the anticipation of the audience is infectious. 

The use of inter-titles introduces each dance with the name of the dance or dancer and images of what is about to be presented.  The artist who created the short animation (as they describe it in the credits) knew what he was doing and the production value is very high, but I found this distracting and could have done without it.

The camera work for the duration of the two hours of performance was great.  There were a few (thankfully a minimum) fancy bits with fade outs, some shots from above, lots of long shots so you can see what is happening on the entire stage, and most of the activity is appropriately captured.  Of course there are the ubiquitous close-ups on women’s bellies, the annoying close-ups when you don’t see what the dancer is actually doing (you know the ones I’m talking about), and a few close-ups that seem to be on the wrong body part.  But all in all, the camera work was great, and as I mentioned earlier, the production value could not have been better.  It is nice to have clear, well presented images of bellydance performances.

The lighting for the show has not been altered, so you see what the audience sees.  This gives the images a slightly faded (almost dreamy) look, but does not detract from the quality.  For the Tribal numbers (and Tribal is well represented here with the five dancers performing in different combinations and among the rest of the Superstars) the lights are left dim.  While this is appropriate for the atmosphere of Tribal Style, I found I was wishing for more light to be able to see a bit better.  The mystery and the untouchable-ness of the Tribal dancers seems to demand this concession, though.  The lighting and background for the show is appropriate to each dance, changing colours of lights according to costume colours, and the digital projectors make for intriguing backdrops.  Smoke, effervescent bubbles and towers of flames are added to the rather banal geometric shapes (I guess you don’t want too much distracting you from the dancing!) that rotate through the show.

Now, on to the important part – the dancing!  There is a reason these women have been chosen to be Superstars (as goofy as we all know the name is).  The choreography of the first number, Entrance of the Stars, is phenomenal.  The show starts with a bang as the entire troupe is brought on stage in phases.  With The Desert Roses as the chorus, first we see two, then another three, five, then the whole crew on stage, interacting within their groups and then groups with groups as a whole.  Issam, the resident drummer for the Superstars, and the Wassan Pharaoun (the Pharaoh of Rhythm) is also introduced at this point.  We see much of him through the evening and even get to know him a little bit through his interaction with the dancers and the audience.

In the two hours of dancing we are treated to 19 performances of solos, duets, and group dances.  Raks Asaya shows up for a number, there is an island interlude of Hawaiian dancing, an Indian piece, a double veil dance that will blow you away, lots of Tribal, wings of Isis, some Saiidi, and many drum solos – even a Groupe Drum Solo (I’m not sure why they spell Groupe with an ‘e’).  A group drum solo may sound like an oxy moron, but they pull it off.  Issam drums, Ansuya (the queen of finger cymbals) zills away, and five dancers (including Ansuya) have time to show us their stuff.  Jillina accompanies Issam, and at an hour and fifteen minutes in, I was starting to fret that a glaring omission had been made – we had not seen Jillina’s drum solo.  Sonia, Dondi and the group had all done solos, and finally, well into the evening, we see Jillina in her own solo.  To make up for the tardiness, she has not only Issam drumming, but Rachel Brice on tabla, Michelle Cambell drumming and Ansuya on zills.  Her co-dancers also offer vocal encouragement in the form of zagareets and calls.  On the topic of Dondi, I have to say that I’m glad the Marilyn act was out of the show when I saw them this year.  Feeling vaguely embarrassed as she goofs around in her red dress, the unease lessens only slightly when Issam intervenes and tries to correct things with his drumming.  There are a few cute moments, but really, the whole thing is a bit beyond me.

Miles Copeland makes a goofy appearance once the show is over.  Dressed as a maitre d’, he introduces the dancers one at a time while they walk down the impressive staircase of the Folies Bergere on the arm of a tuxedo clad man.  Rachel Brice is the last to descend, and comes down solo only to embarrass herself good naturedly at the end.

The show is well staged and well filmed, the music is fabulous and the dancing superb (I am definitely pinching a few moves from these guys – not to mention costume designs!).  The ‘Extras’ selection is a disappointment (as are most ‘extras’ on DVDs); it is only an advertisement for other BDSS products.  At two hours, and with the high quality and care that went into the product, this is definitely a DVD worth purchasing. 

Currently, the Superstars web site is not shipping internationally.  Anyone in the US can order directly from the web site; anyone in Europe will have to wait another few weeks while the distribution company in England is setting up for the European continent; anyone in Canada will have to wait until January when Universal Music will be distributing the products in record stores and DVD stores.

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