Dance, Delilah, Dance!

By Shakira
Columbus, Ohio

Even the opening sequence of Dance, Delilah, Dance! sets this video apart as something extraordinary. “Visionary Dance Productions” is an apt name for the company, for it’s clear that a lot of vision — in the artistic sense – went into the video. It is far more than the accurate reproduction of beautiful dances; it deals also with moods, images and drama, opening with a lovely shot of a night sky with dark, softly draped branches and a crescent moon. This image, along with the music — Deluvian Rock, composed by Steve Flynn and incorporating timeless rhythms and dolphin cries — somehow evokes the archetypal and arcane.

It’s a perfect beginning, and thanks once more to the perfectionism of the producers, the mood isn’t lost when the titles roll up. Instead of the usual typing or even pseudo-middle-eastern script on a dark screen, the titles are written in sand which is blown away as each title fades – just the sort of appropriate touch you will see all through this video. There are seven dances on this tape, compiled from dances on Delilah’s three previous teaching tapes. It is fairly short compared, for instance, to show tapes, but these are seven Delilah dances, packed with a wealth of beautiful movements, expression, and nuances that make each dance worth the price of the tape.

The first dance — and the only untitled one — is a perfect example of this. It is filmed against a dark background — simple, but dramatic and involving a good bit of skill in lighting. This isn’t your usual not-very-dramatic video lighting and it’s clear a lot of work has gone into keeping the mystery while maintaining enough light to get a good image. The mystery is certainly there — in the first shot, the crescent moon of the night sky is echoed by the light glinting off of a crescent moon on Delilah’s headpiece — a delicious touch, indeed! Somehow even in this opening close-up Delilah projects the sense of unbounded energy and feeling being harnessed and thrown about that recurs throughout this dance. This is a dancer who dances with her whole self, her face is as expressive as her movements, and that’s quite expressive indeed.

The camera work, incidentally, loses none of this. Although they didn’t have fancy tricks like blue studios to play with and use primarily zooms and pans to create motion and emphasis, the close-ups are beautiful and appropriate. How many videos have we seen where the cameraperson decides to zoom in for a close-up of the beautiful star’s face — just as she executes some priceless hip work which we are all dying to see! There is none of that here, thank goodness! It is a tribute to the camera work as well as to Delilah that, when the cameras come in for a close-up of her face, her torso, or even her feet, it is lovely, appropriate, and we don’t feel we are missing something else that is priceless!

Speaking of priceless, there are two real pearls in this first piece: some of the most beautiful, original, and passionate floor work I’ve ever seen and Delilah’s voice-over comments on the dance; you’ll want to watch this many times to be able to fully take in this as well as the dance.

The second piece, Angelita, is evidently filmed on the same set as the last one — and also has an opening that could not be more fitting! The music (of the same name) is one of my all-time favorites; it’s not just pretty, it has incredible feeling. As the music begins, we see Delilah’s face indistinctly, through a shimmering rose-colored veil: she drops her eyes (perfectly and with feeling, of course) and then looks up again, through her lashes; the veil slowly falls and, as we see her clearly, she begins to dance. I would die to do an opening like this — wouldn’t we all!

Somehow everything about this piece is just right: not just Delilah’s interpretation — which is somehow intense, passionate, wistful and innocent at the same time — but the rosy color of her costume and even her headpiece, which is quite unusual. As we watch, is it only the colors that evoke Spanish roses? This piece is predominantly veil work, but watch closely: not only is her veil work very, very good, but she does some creative sleight-of-hand with her skirt, which seems to be made of the same fabric as well. Moreover, there is a wonderful sequence where she seems to wind to a stop, finishing the action with her head, and then unwinding again.

Fast Hips, the third dance, has the same backdrop and lighting; clever use is made of Delilah’s retreat into the more shadowed background: it’s done just as the music becomes a bit quieter, and the camera backs away from the close-ups to full body shots, revealing an amazing synergy between dancer, musician, and camerapersons. Although the music is not the fastest or wildest (at least from the viewpoint of someone used to Amazing Greek as much as Amazing Grace!) the sense of power and precision is no less, and Delilah’s delicate and exact foot placement is just as wonderful as her hip work — something not all dancers can claim.

The next piece, Prayer to Ishtar, sent chills up my spine the first time I saw it and, after countless viewings, still does. The music (again, of the same name) begins first: an eerie, lovely melody which grabs you as the dark screen fades slowly to a bluish light at the top, seen through rising fog; slowly the color becomes more vivid, with the lights through the fog at the top of the screen almost suggesting fog-swirled mountains in the shape of the shadows. This is probably the most breathtaking sequence of all. As the light grows more intense and the colors grow clearer, we see Delilah silhouetted on the background, glowing about the edges in a nimbus of color: she is back-lit, and her veil seems to have a translucent glow of its own.

After a spellbinding moment of stillness, she begins to move: slowly, fluidly in an invocation, displaying some of the best arm and hand work I have ever seen: perfect for the very mystical setting and dead on the strong beats — it’s amazing. It’s also clear that here, too, she is not just doing choreography: she feels this dance; she is being it, not just presenting it. Her pauses are as entrancing as her movement, and the ending is just as simple yet wonderful: she turns away from the audience looking up toward the lights or seeming “mountains” as the mist flows around the island of her figure; she lifts the edges of her veil which glows with even more color as the lights dim, as if Ishtar had heard her “prayer” and turned her veil to wings. As the lights fade, the veil and Delilah’s right side are limned in light.

The complete darkness almost seems to be creating a continuum between Prayer to Ishtar and the fifth dance, Lilith, which opens without music: only Delilah’s ghostly figure, dimly lit and clad in light blue, swirls hypnotically on the screen and drops into what’s apparently a semi-slow motion Turkish drop. Full advantage is taken here of video’s apparent lessened gravity: Delilah seems to glide and drift as she swirls and to veritably float down into the Turkish drop. The screen darkens and the lights come up again to show us Delilah this time on a polished wood floor, arched in a backbend as the music begins. She proceeds to do very gracefully and free arm and hand work, while holding the extreme backbend almost effortlessly. This dance shows off her strong floor work in general, which is noteworthy, among other reasons, for the wonderful extension she has.

We are back to the uniformly dark background, with the addition of a rich oriental rug, for the next piece, Turkish Dance. This is an unusually slow 9/8, but it gives Delilah a chance to show off some hip work as intricate and pert as her costume; there are some especially nice sections with multiple hip drops and an imaginative ending where her rippling hand movements leave graceful, arcing “trails” on the screen as the picture and music fade.

The finale, Conversations, is just as imaginative an ending: a real “treasure” at the end of the rainbow of dances. Delilah stands against a background of sand; a black frame at the top and bottom of the picture gives a sense of distance, a sense of an endless expanse of sand. Zooms are cleverly used to enhance this effect. The capping detail, though, has got to be the heat shimmer: those perfectionists strike again, in another example of imaginative, creative additions that take a dance far beyond a good film record.

Even without all these details, however, this would be a very unusual dance. Conversations apparently refers to various “speakers” — but the speakers are parts of Delilah’s body! There is a different instrumental sound, and a different “personality” for each part of the body: the hands, the abdomen, the hips. Delilah’s interpretation and personalization of each musical sequence is uncanny, perfect, dead right — I’m still looking for adjectives. I’m also still shaking my head over this piece: I doubt that anyone could interpret it as well as she does. It is fascinating, unconventional and occasionally amusing — but it’s always exactly right. Here, too, is some phenomenal hand work and stomach work, for which she is (quite rightly) well-known.

A few words about the technical points: all the footage was shot on a 1/2 inch deck with a Hi-Fi audio track, which is somewhat better than the standard 3/4 inch audio track. The sound was also laid directly from the master audio tape to the master video tape, eliminating intermediate generations. All copies have a stereo Hi-Fi audio track as well as the standard linear audio track. What does all this mean to those of us who don’t speak technicalese? It means those who have stereo video players playing through their home stereo systems are in for a real treat: this tape has wonderful sound!

This tape, at $30 plus $3 shipping and handling, is a wonderful introduction to Delilah, her dance and her music (exclusively Steven Flynn’s compositions) if you don’t have the teaching tapes, want a preview, or are saving up for all three but dying to see her, it is also a good addition to the collection if you already have the teaching tapes but just want to watch her dance. I use it for inspiration and — well, just when I want to be entranced and feel good!

There is one final comment I wish to make. For those of us lucky enough to get Alive From Off Center or occasional Eye on Dance shows on cable, we have seen a fledgling art form: videodance, which is more than just a good recording of a dance — referred to as “documentation.” Videodance is a synthesis of ideas about the dance and knowledge about the video medium; videodances are works of art conceived for the particular canvas of video. I think it is clear from the dances on the Dance, Delilah, Dance! video that these are not just taped performances: they were conceived with more than “I’m going to dance this piece,” or “I’m going to do some veil work” in mind — and, they are more than choreographies. Given the attention to setting, detail, imagery, focus et al, it is clear that these are artistic pieces: statement, feeling, and mood were thought out along with technical details of both dance and video. They are all the more remarkable considering the limited budget for production: no 3/4 inch tape, no fancy editing tricks, no blue studio, no superimposed images, in a way this may have helped them avoid the pitfalls of “playing” with the special effects of video — “Gee, let’s split the screen and see how it looks. Neato.” Somehow, though, I think these people would have avoided this anyway: there is a tremendous sense of what is appropriate to these dances, the sense an artist has for his canvas. Delilah and Steve Flynn are artists, and this is videodance. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Available through Visionary Dance Productions, 4115 Fremont Ave N, Seattle, Washington 98103 / 206-632-2353 or visit our PerformanceVideos page to order

$29.95 plus $5.50 Shipping

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