Wednesday, July 30, 2014

SIFF: Seattle International Film Festival 2011- Two Movies

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on June 23, 2011. Links within this article were extracted then)

The SIFF, or Seattle International Film Festival, is the largest film festival in the United States and has the catchy and appropriate motto of "See Interesting Films First". The 2011 festival ran from May 19 - June 12 at venues, cinemas, and theatres across the entire Seattle area.

I arrived in Seattle towards the end of the SIFF and generally too late to enjoy premieres or celebrity appearences, or even meet and greets with directors, producers, and the like. So I'm sorry to have to tell you there will be none of that in this article. It will focus on venues and primarily on the films themselves. The original plan was to watch four films, but jetlag and other circumstances whittled it down to two. These two films were "The Hunter" and "The White Meadows". WARNING: This article contains spoilers!

"The Hunter" (2010) screened at the Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill on June 3, 2011 at 4:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time. Originally built in 1915, the Egyptian Theatre has a theatre stage with a cinema screen. The room is curtained on the sides with red curtains and boasts a slightly cheesy (or whimsical, if you prefer) Egyptian decor. In a corner to the left when seated in the theatre/cinema was a sign that read "Aladdin's Magic Lamp". As you can perceive from that fact, the aim in decorating the theatre was not accuracy, but a fanciful Westernized version of Egyptian decor. Still, the antique nature of the place favors that, and it was pleasant surroundings. The Egyptian has been home to the SIFF since the 1980s.

"The Hunter" was introduced by SIFF Programmer Justine Barnum who gathers films for presentation at the festival from mainly North Africa and the Middle East. This information was greeted with applause by some. We were told about the new SIFF Film Center that was opening soon and would provide similar films and services year round instead of just at the festival proper. There would be an opportunity following the screening to linger and mull over various meditations and opinions regarding this and other films at the SIFF Lounge at The Noodle. We were also informed that our ticket to that night's showing would gain us discounts on tickets to see other Iranian films, such as "The White Meadows" and "Circumstance".

"The Hunter" falls under the genre of thriller. It is an Iranian/German film by director Rafi Pitts who also plays the lead role. I was under the impression that the movie was in the Farsi language, but further research online reveals that it is Persian, with English subtitles. The soundtrack is sparse, but effective. It allows the everyday noises of Tehran to dominate the soundscape. In fact, for the first half, the viewer hears mostly traffic, and, for the second half, mostly rain. The story centers on a very quiet, meditative ex-con Ali Alavi. In the midst of the Iranian elections of 2009, he struggles to reintegrate into free society and shows every likelihood of becoming a reasonably obedient citizen. He earnestly tries to spend as much time as possible with his beloved wife Sara and six-year-old daughter Saba. But one day, Sara is killed in the crossfire during a clash between police and insurgents and Saba goes missing. We follow Ali in his desperate quest to find his daughter and get answers from the police. But, in the same way that he fails to receive any real information from the police, so he fails to locate his daughter. Eventually, she is found, having been beaten to death. This is where Ali's efforts to reintegrate end. His profound grief turns into resentment against the police that he believes murdered his family, so in a sniper-like fashion in broad daylight he shoots two policemen, leaving them dead on the road. It isn't long before he is chased down. Here begins the second half. Now in a forest nearby to Tehran where Ali used to take hunting excursions, he is arrested. But the two policemen who have him in custody are not familiar with the woods and all three are soon lost. The clear line between hunter and hunted then blurs as the policemen decide to take justice in their own hands and the viewer is confronted with outright corruption in the system. The startling last scene, in which Ali dies, leaves the question: who is right and who is wrong when everybody are criminals? The applause following was short and sparse. Perhaps the audience was still processing what they had just seen.

Trailer for "The Hunter".

The next day, June 4, 2011, "The White Meadows" (2009) enjoyed one of its final screenings for the SIFF at The Kirkland Performance Center at 6:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time. The Kirkland Performance Center also had a theatre stage with a somewhat larger cinema screen. The decor was more modern with stadium seating, blush colored seats (the bottom six rows nearest the stage were red), and a gray and black stage that clearly was meant to disappear and focus attention fully on whatever was happening on it rather than the stage itself.

"The White Meadows" is a drama by director Mohammad Rasoulof, for which he and its producer Jafar Panahi were jailed. While Rasoulof has been released, as of the date of this screening, Panahi had not. The film itself has been banned in Iran. It was introduced by SIFF Programmer Clinton McClum who was eager to update the audience on the current status of the director and producer as it was known. Judging by the general conversation of fellow viewers, this movie was a real hit at the festival. The film is in the Persian language, with English subtitles.

"The White Meadows" follows the long tradition of allegory in Middle Eastern literature. In artfully beautiful shots, a world of fable is created using Lake Daryacheh (or Lake Urmia) in North Iran as the setting. It is a stark world of salt islands (called "salt marshes" in the film) in a lake as calm as glass where everything is a sparkling, maddening white. Rahmat, played by Hassan Pourshirazi, paddles through this dream-like world on a small boat and does not interfere in anything that he witnesses, except to collect the tears of the mourning, the oppressed, and the suffering. He patiently listens to complaints, sins, burdens, cares, grief, and woes. In this way, he gives comfort and a measure of relief to the people he searches out. He silently watches their various rituals, superstitions, customs, and punishments. For most of the movie, the audience is awe-struck as they follow his long and arduous journey. This film has the feel of both Homer's "The Odyssey" and the classic collection of tales "The Thousand and One Nights", commonly known as the Arabian Nights, for it has both the element of the epic journey by sea of Homer and the grandiose, mythical events of the Arabian Nights. It is not until the final scene that the viewer is shocked with the sight of green, the sound of birds, and an odd conclusion that plays upon several elements encountered in the journey in a symbolic, meaningful way. This movie is both powerful myth and a thoughtful meditation on human suffering and oppression. The overall effect is that one is transported into a fairy tale realm with anything but a happy-ever-after ending that holds a merciless mirror up to the human condition into which the viewers are not forced, but rather tricked into being willing, to gaze at and the serious questions asked cannot be denied. As the credits rolled, the Center was filled with a dead silence for all of two minutes as the audience stared- absolutely stunned by the heart-wrenching import of the film. When the applause finally broke out, it was heartfelt and prolonged. "The White Meadows" is a movie through which one feels changed a little- almost imperceptively- but permanently.

Trailer for "The White Meadows".

The Story Behind U2's Song "Miracle Drug"

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on July 29, 2011. The link in this article was extracted then)

U2 are famous, among other reasons, for the surprisingly touching and often pregnant with meaning inspirations for their songs. One of their songs that has been most discussed for its meaning is "Miracle Drug" from the studio album "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb", copyright 2004 U2 Limited. Although never officially released as a single from the album, "Miracle Drug" has quite a devoted following among the band's fan base, and even outside it. Here is the remarkable story that inspired it.

Cerebral Palsy is an "umbrella term" that covers a number of neurological disorders of varying severity and symptoms caused by lesions, and sometimes tumors, in the brain. Therefore, there are various types of CP as diagnosed, and it is not uncommon for an individual to have multiple types of varying degrees in the same case. Because CP is so variable, very little is known about it. There is no cure. And treatment consists wholly of attempts to correct growth anomalies and minimise symptoms and long-term complications. Even this is very hit-and-miss, more experimentation than anything. Researchers and doctors are not able to even agree on what causes the lesions and damage to the brain that results in CP (though oxygen deprivation is the undisputed cause of a small percentage of cases).

Christopher Nolan (September 6, 1965-February 20, 2009) was born with severe Cerebral Palsy. His was a very complicated birth. He was breached and, in order to save the life of both mother and child, a C-section was performed. A second surgery was also required on his mother. He himself was deprived of oxygen for approximately two hours, but somehow he managed to survive. His condition has often been described as paralytic, but that is inaccurate. As he himself wrote in his memoir "Under The Eye Of The Clock" he rarely ever stopped moving. The trouble was that he had almost no control over those movements. He humourously describes his embarrassment when stress and tenseness caused his limbs to fly about unbidden and he punched someone in the face or worse. His spasms were so severe that when he commanded his body to move a certain way it often froze and refused to move at all. Even his ability to speak was affected: his words came out only as moans and shouts. He was placed under the care of the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf, Dublin, and when he reached school age his family moved into Clontarf so that he could attend at the school sponsored by the clinic. His family, friends, and school staff communicated with him through a system of meaningful eye movements. After the medication Lioresal became available, he was able to control his head just enough to type using a "unicorn" device attached to his forehead. He immediately began writing letters, short stories, plays, and poems heavy with alliteration. Soon, he decided he wanted to attend school with the able-bodied. He tested as having above average intelligence, but a school could not be found that agreed to take him.

Mount Temple is a secondary school in Clontarf, Dublin which was established in 1972. It was an experimental school for its time. It was the first public school in Ireland to be nondenominational and one of the first to enroll both sexes. The faculty employed a very liberal, tolerant attitude toward the behavior of their students and in the teaching methods they used. (Interestingly, it also has the distinction of having the most star-studded alumni in its period of Irish history, the most recent of which being actress Eve Hewson, Bono's daughter.) It was thus the school to which to send children who didn't fit anywhere else. After a brief interview with Nolan, they agreed to take him on. He was the first disabled child to be taught there. For the first week, he attended half-days in order to build up his stamina for the full-day schedule, to give him time to become relaxed in the public school setting, and to give his able-bodied student helpers time to adjust as well. In time, he adjusted very well to the format of Mount Temple despite the great fatigue that the long days gave him and he had a large body of friends there. When he was fifteen, his collection "Dam-Burst Of Dreams" was published which established him as a school legend to this day. Eventually, he went on to Trinity College, Dublin and published two more books: "Under The Eye Of The Clock" (a reference to Mount Temple Comprehensive) and the novel "The Banyan Tree". He died after choking when he was 43 years old.

The boys that became U2 also attended Mount Temple Comprehensive School. They were also put out of other schools because of being children of bi-national and/or bi-religious parents and/or having behavioral issues. Fourteen-year-old Larry Mullin, Jr. posted a sign up there for auditions in his family's kitchen. Seven boys answered the post and the Feedback was born. Mount Temple allowed the boys to use a classroom there to practice in. In time, the lineup was whittled down to its four current members and the name was changed to the Hype and, finally, to U2. It was by winning a talent contest at Mount Temple that the "baby band", as fans now affectionately call that stage (originally coined by U2's manager Paul McGuinness), was able to cut its first EP with CBS Records: the now very rare and sought after "U2 3". All of which is now the stuff of legend.

It was just as U2 were enjoying their last year of school that Nolan arrived. He must have left a mighty impression on the boys of this band, for there you have the possible roots of Bono's least discussed and longest held cause: disability advocacy in Ireland, particulary for those with CP. And the inspiration for "Miracle Drug" which is written as if from the view point of Nolan's mother.

"Miracle Drug" by U2 ("How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb", 2004) v=RNm7P2lY9DA

The Five Funniest Videos on Youtube

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on January 25, 2011. Links in this article were extracted then)

In this article, I list what I think are the four funniest videos now available on This is intelligent humor- meaning that it is funny while still being relatively dignified. Much of the comedy has to do with the words that are said. There is no slapstick or bodily functions to be found in these videos, only good, clean fun. And each skit just improves with repeated viewing! Each description includes who posted it, whatever description the poster put with it, and a brief idea of what to expect when you click the accompanying link. They are listed in order. Get some tissues to wipe your eyes, sit back, and laugh until you can't breathe! The object here is enjoyment- and remember, laughter has in fact been scientifically proven to be the best medicine.

1. Jedimaster0096 shares with us the funniest sketch. From the second season of "A Bit Of Fry and Laurie", this is Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie discussing "Beauty and Ideas". This sketch proves beyond all doubt that these two actors are comedic geniuses. The discussion itself centers around an actual philosophy and this sketch has been used in college classes for perusal and dissection on this and similar theories. What other sketch can boast of that? Fry leads the discussion with an overwhelmed Laurie struggling to keep up. Fry continually changes Laurie's name throughout- even calling him 'lovelet' at one point- and exhausts himself with passion for his subject. There are times when you can see both of them struggling not to laugh.

2. Albanbytyci gives us Victor Borge's "Phonetic Punctuation". Just what show this sketch came from is not listed. But this hilarious jewel is just what it says: what if we spoke punctuation as well as words? After demonstrating the sounds of various punctuation marks, Borge reads a short story with these sounds. If you do not fall out of your seat, I'll be very surprised!

3. Johal91a has posted another Victor Borge moment. This one is Borge's "Inflationary Language" where he inflates the numbers that naturally occur in the English language with one number higher. Thus, as Johal91a points out, anyone becomes anytwo, etc. Again, he reads a short story to demonstrate this language. Imagine the practice that had to go into this sketch before he could perform it! Again, you're certain to fall out of your seat! My favorite line: "Get out of here, you three-faced triple crosser!"

4. BBC gives us the longest sketch in this article. At the time, David Tennant and Catherine Tate were co-stars on "Dr. Who" and here Tennant is Tate's new English teacher for "Comic Relief" in 2007. First she jibes him for being Scottish, brilliantly throws out some "Dr. Who" references, and finally lampoons Shakespeare in a fashion that will have you crying in merriment in short order. Perhaps the best bit is at the end where Tate quotes the entirety of "Sonnet 130" as if her mouth were a machine gun designed to slap Tennant hard in the face. You've never heard the Great Bard like this before and likely won't again any time soon!

5. BrokerTim uploaded this brilliant video of his "dad at Comedy Barn" in Tennessee. This is for those of you who feel the need for less intellectual comedy at this point. This video became so popular that a ringtone was derived from it and a website was launched at I could watch this all day and I'll still laugh! Poor guy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top Ten Broadway Musicals

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on December 22, 2010)

It is difficult to narrow down Broadway musicals to a top ten. I enlisted the help of my Broadway-savvy sister, Elle Casey, on this one. We tried to consider what really were the top ten and not just our personal tastes. Included are brief paragraphs explaining the plot of each show and the name of one song per show that we feel defines it. They are listed in no particular order. We hope that you will tell us your opinion in the comments.

Cabaret- this classic originally opened in 1966, has enjoyed a number of revivals, became a movie in 1972, and has some of the most recognisable songs of any Broadway musical. Set in Berlin of 1931, the story centers on the Kit Kat Club and its seedy nightlife in contrast with the growing Nazi menace outside. The plot revolves around Englishwoman Sally Bowles and the American writer Cliff Bradshaw. There is also a second couple, Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, the former a German boarding house keeper and the latter a Jewish fruit vendor. The emcee of the Kit Kat Club watches everything unfold while what in the beginning are the twisted stories of love, lust, and revenge become intertwined with the Nazi horror that invades. Defining song: "Cabaret".

Chicago- this satire of corruption and the concept of the celebrity criminal first opened in 1975. It is set during the Prohibition in Chicago and has a subplot of the allure and immorality associated with jazz at the time. It has also had a revival which has become the sixth longest running show in Broadway history. A film adaptation was made in 2002 that starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, and Queen Latifah. Much of the story takes place on Murderess Row in Cook County Jail. Roxie Hart is accused of murder and faces hanging until Billy Flyn enters the picture. Defining song: "All That Jazz".

A Chorus Line- the original production was in 1976. It has nineteen main characters, each auditioning for the same show. The set is very sparse. Each character is revealed as an individual vying for their bit of spotlight and sometimes the competition is ruthless. In the end, however, they all become indistinguishable just as a chorus line would be. It was adapted to film in 1985 and has enjoyed several revivals and reincarnations. Defining song: "What I Did For Love".

Hair- No list would be complete without this Rock musical. After an off-Broadway debut in 1967, "Hair" came to Broadway in 1968, stirred up much controversy, and defined the Rock musical genre. It came directly from the Hippie culture of the time and many of its songs became anthems in the Anti-Vietnam movement. It was also innovative in that the audience was invited onstage for a "Be-In" finale. A movie adaption was released in 1979 and some of its songs became Top Ten hits. A revival opened on March 31, 2009 to rave reviews and received a Tony Award. Defining song: "Hair".

Phantom of the Opera- Another must for this list. Andrew Lloyd Weber has reigned as the undisputed king of Broadway for decades now and this is his crowning acheivement. Originally written as a vehicle for his then-wife Sarah Brightman, it opened in the West End in 1986 and on Broadway in 1988. It is the longest running show in Broadway history and has long made its home at the Majestic Theatre which was the only theatre to have the mechanics to house the show. It celebrates its twenty-third year in January 2011. The reincarnations and movie adaptions of it are numerous. It opened in Las Vegas in 2006 with everything appropriately glamoured up. The most recent movie adaption was in December 2004 starring Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler. Defining song: "Music of the Night".

West Side Story- this is also one of the most beloved stories to grace Broadway. It opened in 1957 and spawned a movie classic in 1961 starring Natalie Wood. Set in 1950s New York City and based loosely on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", the play raises interesting questions about the forces that divide mankind. The 2009 revival uses Spanish lyrics for some of the songs sung by the immigrant population while the original had them singing in English. This adds to the reality of the story and reflects the prominance of the Spanish language today. Defining song: "Tonight"/ "I Feel Pretty".

American Idiot- this rock musical is fantastic in that it is based largely on one album and has redefined what the average ticket-holder expects from Broadway. The music of alternative-punk band Green Day are the backbone of this production. After a run at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2009, it moved onto Broadway in March 2010. The reviews are stellar and ticket sales ar strong. The list of awards given to this show is impressive. A concept ablum turned Broadway success. Defining song: "Whatsername"/ "St. Jimmy".

Memphis- this is loosely based on Dewey Phillips, a Memphis DJ who was one of the first white DJs to play African-American music. It lived in various cities around the U.S. between 2003 and 2009 before finally coming to Broadway on October 19, 2009. REviews are mixed, but it appears that the plot is alluring enough that it just might become a classic. Defining song: "Memphis Lives In Me".

Rent- just a few years ago this show was all one heard about. A rock opera based on "La Boheme", it centers around a group of artists struggling to survive in New York's Lower East Side in the best days of Bohemian Alphabet City. The show enjoyed an off-Broadway life starting on January 25, 1996 and made a home on Broadway on April 29, 1996. It enjoyd immense popularity and explored the theme of AIDS which was most prominent in people's minds throughout its run. It closed on September 7, 2008, after a 12-year run, but has enjoyed various incarnations and an off-Broadway revival is set for 2011. Defining song: ""Seasons Of Love"/ "Will I?".

Spring Awakening- this is one of the most melancholy offerings to date. It is a rock musical remake, so to speak, of the controversial 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind. The original play was banned in Germany. It is set in 19th century Germany and follows teenagers just discovering sexuality and all the painful consequences of fornication, etc. It also explores the horrors of abuse. The result is tragic for every character. It premiered off-Broadway on May 19, 2006 and opened on Broadway on December 10, 2006 . It's run was short, ending on January 18, 2009, after 888 performances and 29 previews. The soundtrack continues to sell well. Defining song: "Touch Me".

Cabaret (musical), Wikipedia.
Chicago (musical), Wikipedia.
A Chorus Line, Wikipedia.
Hair (musical), Wikipedia.
The Phantom of the Opera (1986 musical), Wikipedia.
West Side Story, Wikipedia.
American Idiot (musical), Wikipedia.
Memphis (musical), Wikipedia.
Rent (musical), Wikipedia.
Spring Awakening, Wikipedia.

Top Ten U2 Songs: A Personal Compilation

(originally published on Yahoo! Voices on February 26, 2008. Therefore, this list does not include the album "No Line On The Horizon" or anything released since.)

This article proved a challenging one, more challenging than might be remotely expected. Here we are dealing with one of the greatest bands in history- a band that has quite literally changed the world. They have done this, not simply on personal and individual scales within each of their fans, but also culturally, politically, and even technologically. Their music is such a living, breathing force that a Top Ten hardly suffices if one means to list these as a Top Ten of All Time for Everyone. Perhaps a Top Twenty might do the job, or even a Top Fifteen; but alas, the choices are overwhelming. Therefore, in an effort to make this a little easier perhaps (although in truth it was still nearly impossible), I decided instead to write about my Top Ten Songs. Even so, the fair representation of all U2's studio releases and reinventions proved impossible within such limited numbers. I also made a point of trying to avoid the more well known songs such as "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "With or Without You", and "Where the Streets Have No Name". The exceptional greatness of these songs is inarguably established already and often these classics overshadow other lesser known songs of equal quality. Believing that the lesser known phenomenals deserve their moment in the sun, I did attempt to include a few of them. Without further ado I give you all my personal top ten songs by U2:

10. "Discoteque"

This is a rollicking fun song from a mad era in U2's history, and here I mean mad as a compliment. From the Pop album, this song is as contradictory as the image the band put forth during this time. Pop, as defined by the band, meant "to make or cause a small explosive sound". This they certainly did, taking electronica and dance to whole new levels. In "Discoteque" alone there are at least eight different layers of drum machine effects in addition to Larry's own drumming. It is over-the-top, flashy, and frantic. And "Discoteque (Hexadecimal Mix)" especially is a belly dancer's dream with unexpected musical turns and twists. But it is also a remarkably deep song about a woman looking for love (in all the wrong places) and running from it at the same time: "You hurt for it, work for it: Love/ but you don't ever show it" and later "You're looking for the One/ But you know you're someone else instead/ .... You take what you can get/ Because it's all that you can find/ But you know there's something more/ Tonight." This song is truly representative of just what the band was about in those days: megastar partiers of the wildest kind, poking fun at everything including themselves, and yet cynical of how far such a lifestyle could really take them. They still had a conscience, were still earnest, and were still a thinking man or woman's band.

9. "One Tree Hill"

From the classic album The Joshua Tree, this is a beautiful, even haunting, ballad in tribute to a close friend who died in a motorcycle accident. Greg Carroll was a Maori from New Zealand and he often looked after Bono's wife Ali when Bono himself could not be there, taking her out dancing, etc. He was like family. So when he took Bono's Harley Davidson on an errand and didn't return, it was a blow the band has yet to recover from. According to one source, Bono never owned a motorcycle again. This song was performed, likely in a less polished state, at Carroll's funeral and fitting evokes the sea-faring lifestyle of Maori tradition. The lyrics are certainly poetry, the performance of them among Bono's finest, and musically is a delight- so much so that it is easy to forget That one is listening to an eulogy: "You run like a river/ Run to the sea."

8. "Heartland"

This song comes from U2's experimental and hodge-podge live/studio release Rattle and Hum. Once again, this song is representative of the purpose of that album and movie. It takes us across America from the Mississippi cotton fields to the oil fields of California, and likens America to a lover the day after: "See the sun rise over her skin. / Don't change it." and "She feels like water in my hands." This is as direct a love song as U2 has ever written and performed. The notes are clear, nearly pristine, and the music has the dream-like quality of love in its first passionate throws before reality sets in. Other songs from this period depict reality- a love for the country while not turning a blind eye to its less than favorable aspects. This song is all about exultation and enthrallment: "Heaven's gay: / Here is a heartland."

7. "Walk On"

This song's original intentions are political, being an encouraging anthem both about and to Aung San Suu Kyi. But its inspiring message has a much wider and deeper appeal. It sounds for all the world like a personal message from the band that it is worth fighting to live in these perilous times, that each and everyone of us has our contribution to make and we must by all means strive to make it. It can't be taken from us. U2 are famous for this kind of ... idealism? Well then, idealism in its best connotations. The majority of the album from which this song comes, All That You Can't Leave Behind, is of this sort. This song is perhaps one of the best examples of U2's persistent positivism. The music also reflects this, and it slowly builds into flight, yes, flight; especially is this so in live versions and the closing refrain of hallelujahs.

6. "One Step Closer"

This comes from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, an album whose title is a direct reference to Bono's father, Bob Hewson. On the back side of the CD near the center one can see at certain angles the words "Miss You Sugar", Bono's mother's pet name for Bob, making this a dedication of sorts: an album for and about the curmudgeonly old Dubliner. This song is written as if from Bob's point of view. Dying with cancer, he loses faith in his God and in his life. Does God exist? If so, does he care? Well, I'm "one step closer to knowing." What I like about this song is its return to the aesthetics of classic U2 as found in their work of the eighties. There is also the fact that, in the song anyway, it is never explicitly stated what one is closer to knowing, which leaves the interpretation open-ended for the individual and gives the song room to grow beyond its original intentions, as so many U2 songs do. This also reads like a piece of lyric poetry.

5. "Miracle Drug"

A song about the mother of a poet who has Cerebral Palsy? Irresistible! If the message isn't enough, we also have here one of a handful of instances where The Edge sings lead, although in this case it's only a few lines. See if you can pick them out. I dare you! Also from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, this song showcases Larry's extraordinary drumming skills. The effect as a whole is utterly exhilarating. If you happen to be familiar at all with CP, it is powerful enough to move you to tears.

4. "Stay (Faraway, So Close)"

Bono has said that this is his favorite U2 lyric and it's no wonder. This song attacks a risqué subject (domestic violence) and seeks to make sense of it. We are introduced mostly to the psychological effects of abuse, particularly if it's long term: "You say when he hits you/You don't mind/Because when he hurts you/You feel alive", "You stumble out of a hole in the ground/A vampire or a victim/ It depends on who's around", and "With satellite television/You can go anywhere". Dark? Yes and the music does little to alleviate that here. The live versions, usually acoustical but occasionally amped up almost to heavy metal, are even darker and more disturbing. But that is as it should be: no glossing over this one, folks. Domestic violence is all bad. Period. This is a song you'll never tire of.

3. "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"

The more conservative of my friends take issue with the title, but this song could clearly not be known by any other name. Originally, this song was recorded for Zooropa but was cut from the final line-up for the album. It eventually found a home on the soundtrack for Batman Forever and has since become one of the songs always associated with the beloved Zoo TV tour character Mr. MacPhisto. This is a song about celebrity, but it is hardly a celebration: "You don't know how you got here/You just know you want out" and "But they want their money back/If you're alive at thirty three". At the same time, it acknowledges that some people crave it as much as they hate it, maybe more, and even suggests that some are made for that burden: "You know you're not shy/You don't have to deny it, love". This is among the sexiest of U2's oeuvre. Certainly it is among one of their most rock-n-rollish songs, as demonstrated by a very edgy (pun not intended) guitar riff and a backing rhythm that shakes the walls.

2. "Fallen At Your Feet"

This is a relatively rare track. It can be found on the soundtrack for the movie The Million Dollar Hotel, a decidedly European movie set in L.A. about love in a hotel full of people with mental difficulties who cannot afford needed care. It is a bizarre and twisted storyline that in the end succeeds in being sweet. The song transcends the movie. It is a simple piece musically. It is acoustical and features Daniel Lanois singing harmony. It is as light and breezy as an early summer morning and lyrically takes one's breath away. As is normal with U2 songs, it threads several meanings together. It is a man singing to a woman, as well as someone singing to God: "Teach me to surrender/Not my will/Thy will". Beautiful.

1. "One"

I couldn't avoid all the well known standards, it seems. Honestly, I could have included nearly everything from Achtung Baby on this list; it is truly an album that deserves to go down in history as nothing short of legendary. This song is unlike anything else from that record and at the same time could belong nowhere else. It grows, expands, and matures with you as you do and never gets old. Written as if from a man with AIDS to his father, this song is angry- much too angry to dedicate to your significant other. And yet... it is tender at times. Although the obligation to "carry each other" is anything but a privilege here, it is a duty kept out of love and a promise to work through the issues. Of late it has also taken on a political connotation with the advent of the One campaign and the band's placement of it in the setlists of the Vertigo tour. It is as sonically intense as it is lyrically. The bass line is deep, definite, and resonate. The drums are indifferent and sad all at once and this is quite possibly the only song Bono can actually play on his guitar. It is The Edge that musically makes the show here with one of the most memorable riffs in history. The guitar solo on the recorded version is short and sounds like a keening, but in the live versions it expands into full-throated sobs and then soars on invisible wings. This implants a hope in the song that is much more subdued in the studio version. Bono's lyric changes add even more weight and integrity to an already deeply profound song: "Did you come here to play Jesus? /I did" and "Hear us coming, Lord/Here us call/See us scratching/We're scratching at your door/ ...Please, don't make us crawl". This is a song that will still be important forty years from now, even if no longer enjoying radio rotation.

I wrote this article with full knowledge that it is a controversial subject; certainly so among the band's more avid fans. Feel free to expound on what you thought should or should not have been included. I look forward to your input.

Top Ten Alternative Albums of the 1990s

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on February 23, 2011)

Alternative was a more fluid genre in the 1990s than it is now. Back then, the genres were big and encompassing. There was Rock, Country, Pop, R&B, Hip Hop was getting started and Rap matured. Everything that didn't fit comfortably into one of those was called Alternative and divided within that category into sub-genres. Also, artists were experimenting with their sounds so that they were taken out of their former genres and were selling out of the Alternative racks in the shops (internet was not yet the force to be reckoned with that it is today). At the end of the decade, many of those artists were returned to their former catagories and the numerous sub-genres became full-blown genres in their own right, making Alternative a much more specific and competitive catagory of music. Since this article is meant to numerate the top 10 Alternative albums of the 1990s, I have taken the view of the genre that existed then in my considerations. The albums are listed from least to best and reflect merely my opinion. Please, feel free to open a discussion regarding your favorites and why in the comments. I'd love to know!

10. Barenaked Ladies- "Gordon":

This Canadian group remains unique in its blatent good humour. They were masters at tackling serious and not-so-serious subjects by making them hilarious and giving them a peppy beat. They were also famous for the fact that their live shows were almost entirely impromtu events. Released on July 28, 1992, "Gordon" has the most songs that eventually landed on their greatest hits compilation. Here you will find "Enid", "Brian Wilson", "Be My Yoko Ono", "What A Good Boy", "New Kid (On The Block)", and the perennial favorite of many "If I Had A $1000000". That still has to be one of the funnest songs ever: "Haven't you always wanted a monkey?"

9. The Cranberries- "Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can't We?":

With a lead vocalist siren with a voice somewhere between Sinead O'Connor and Enya, this group became the biggest Irish musical export since U2 about a decade earlier. And their timing was impeccable. In the 90s, there was a modern Irish revival with Broadway sensations "Lord of the Dance" and "Riverdance" selling out packed houses and going on the road and traditional Irish aires showing up in movie soundtracks of all kinds. Hybernophiles spang up everywhere wearing Celtic harps and claddaghs and drinking Guinness (myself among them). The Cranberries rode that wave and swelled it. With O'Riordan's otherworldly voice and the music that backed her, they created dreamscapes overflowing with feeling and nuance. The lyrics about O'Riordan's bad romance spoke to a generation who felt that society itself was one long, abusively bad relationship.

8. Smashing Pumpkins- "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness":

The Smashing Pumpkins are probably the most underrated band of 1990s Alternative music. This album in particular is epic in ambition and execution. Released October 24, 1995, it was described by the band as being "'The Wall' for Generation X". It was released in three formats: cassette, CD, and vinyl. The cassette and CD versions consisted of two cassettes and two CDs respectively. The first was called "Dawn To Dusk" and the second was "Twilight To Starlight". The vinyl version had six sides that were titled thus: side 1 "Dawn", side 2 "Tea Time", side 3 "Dusk", side 4 "Twilight", side 5 "Midnight", and side 6 "Starlight". It includes the songs "Tonight, Tonight", "Take Me Down", and "1979". "1979" remains the Smashing Pumpkins most recognised song. That being said, I also like their album "Siamese Dream" because on it is the song "Disarm".

7. Nirvana- "MTV Unplugged in New York":

"MTV Unplugged" was probably one of the last good shows on a network that originally had the best idea, but it had already begun to go wonky and turn into smut. Interestingly, Nirvana's performance on this show gorged with great acoustic performances is almost the only one remembered now. It aired on December 14, 1993. Nirvana did the unusual thing, choosing for their setlist lesser known tracks and covers. This supergroup from Seatlle (mother-city of the Grunge sub-genre which they catapolted to national fame with the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit") was never comfortable with the limelight and perhaps they were tired of hearing their own hits. At any rate, it proved to be a good call. It became the first Nirvana album to be released following Kurt Cobain's famous suicide in April 1994 and debuted at number 1. The episode was released on DVD in 2007. My favorite song here is their cover of David Bowie's "Man Who Sold The World".

6. No Doubt- "Tragic Kingdom":

Does anyone else think that Gwen Stefani was more palatable in her No Doubt days? Released October 10, 1995, this album played across several sub-genres. It became the go-to album for every oppressed and marginalised girl in Gen X with songs like "Just A Girl", "Excuse Me Mr.", "Sunday Morning", and its most famous song "Spiderwebs". But it wasn't just feminine angst. It described the battle of a generation against hopelessness with songs like "The Climb" and "Tragic Kingdom". After the failure of the experiments of the 60s and 70s and the resignation of the 80s, this was the sound of a generation taking notice of pain and suffering and bearing the full weight of it on their shoulders unapologetically.

5. Alanis Morissette- "Jagged Little Pill":

Speaking of unapologetic, this album certainly was that. It defined a new role for women in music and new expectations. Released June 13, 1995, it just barely beat No Doubt to this definition. Morissette stepped out as a force to be reckoned with as uncontrollable as the weather. No woman artist before her had been so free with profanity (my copy was self-edited). She stretched her voice mercilessly, cooing, screaming, and warbling as no one had done before. She proved herself a poet as well as musician. Who knew you could pack so many multi-syllable words into one song? And she was one of the first to add a secret song (a track hidden away at the end of a CD which can only be heard by playing the last listed track and waiting, sometimes as much as 20 minutes).

4. Oasis- "(What's The Story) Morning Glory?":

No list of 1990s Alternative would be complete without Oasis. This band relied on two legendary Irish brothers and was a volatile one. It was not uncommon for them to break up on stage in the middle of a gig in full view of their audience only to get back together a few weeks later (I think they are currently broke up). But their following was fanatical. Often, opening bands for their shows were booed and abused until they left the stage because Oasis was the only thing their fans wanted to see, so the band's instability could never hurt them. "(What's The Story) Morning Glory?" may be their best album. There is no denying the greatness and staying power of its songs. "Some Might Say" can be found on the video game "Guitar Hero World Tour". Yes, there is plenty of Gen X melancholy here, but my nephew was a fan before his death last year at almost 12 years of age. So there.

3. Radiohead- "The Bends":

Actually, you could probably insert any of Radiohead's albums from the 90s here. "The Bends" is my personal favorite. The title refers to what happens when you come up out of the water too fast when scuba diving and that's pretty much what you'll find on it. Thom Yorke's uniquely falsetto voice and Radiohead's boundary pushing music is kind of like- pardon the expression- tripping without acid on most of their albums. This one is the most tame, but don't let that description fool you. Released March 13, 1995, this album is home to some of their best songs: "The Bends", "High and Dry", my favorite "Fake Plastic Trees", "My Iron Lung", "Black Star", "Sulk", and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)". Yes, I left some unlisted.

2. Pearl Jam-"Ten":

Do I really have to say anything about this one? Pearl Jam was, next to Nirvana, the iconic band of the Grunge sub-genre and it seems to me that they are proving themselves the greater over time. The fact that they recently released a strong album probably doesn't hurt in that regard ("Backspacer"). Originally released August 27, 1991, "Ten" was re-released in 2009 in 4 formats: Legacy, Deluxe, Vinyl, and Super Deluxe. It generated 3 hits: "Alive", "Even Flow" (which can also be found on a version of "Guitar Hero"), and "Jeremy" (based on the true story of a tormented boy who shot himself in the face at school). Other strong tracks include "Once" and my favorite Pearl Jam song "Black". To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of "Ten", Pearl Jam are reportedly planning a music festival somewhere in the middle of the U.S. sometime this summer. Details have not yet been released.

1. U2- "Achtung Baby":

So here I am at number 1 and I'm tongue-tied. There is so much to say about this album that there is nothing to say. And you might think it ridiculous or cliche to find it listed here since it can be found on almost every list that has been composed of the greatest and most influential albums of all time. You might be right. But I'm going to give this a shot anyway:

..."It's time to go away and dream it all up again." Bono famously remarked in 1989 after the mind-blowing success of "The Joshua Tree" and the exhaustion of years of touring. U2 wanted to make an album that would sound like anything except U2. They recorded in Hansa Studios in Berlin and in Dublin. This album nearly ended the band who fought violently over artistic differences. The Edge went through a nasty divorce. Bono welcomed the arrival of his second child. The Berlin wall had come down and Communism collapsed. The world was finally beginning to come to some kind of grips with that new terrifying disease AIDS. All of this and more found its way onto an album that not only succeeded at not sounding like U2, but that in fact sounded like nothing ever heard before. Released November 19, 1991, this Attention, Baby! has been vital in creating the definition of Alternative as we know it today. Music critic Neil McCormick, commenting in a review of U2's 2009 release "No Line On The Horizon" in his column, wrote: "Who doesn't sound like U2 these days?" Every song is breathtaking. This album is exuberant, decadent, ironic, playful, dark, sexy, mad, and joyous. It is joie de vivre in audio form. And did I mention daring? With songs written from the viewpoint of various fictional characters, we eavesdrop on a mad philosopher's phone call from hell, a song about love of the divine, and a woman, and bellydance all at once, a song about a father/son relationship that is cracked by AIDS, a song about divorce, a song about loving someone even when it's not perfect, or gone completely bad, or even when the significant other is gone, a song about the numbing effects of pop culture and celebrity, Judas Iscariot singing to Jesus after his suicide, and a song about terrorism. And that's just the meanings that U2 have openly discussed. Add to that the numerous nuances that the songs take once they become part of the listener's psyche and you have endless possibilities. This is a real contender for best album of all time.

Gordon (Album), Wikipedia.
Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can't We?, Wikipedia.
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Wikipedia.
MTV Unplugged In New York, Wikipedia.
Tragic Kingdom, Wikipedia.
Jagged Little Pill", Wikipedia.
(What's The Story) Morning Glory?, Wikipedia.
The Bends, Wikipedia.
Ten (Pearl Jam Album), Wikipedia.
Achtung Baby, Wikipedia.

Top 7 U2 Videos

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on March 14, 2012. Links in this article were extracted then)

Everyone knows that it's almost impossible to rank U2 songs and make a list of them. Everyone has tried (myself included) with varying degrees of success or failure. It is much easier to rank and list their best videos. Although U2 have always been on the forefront of innovative, ground-breaking videos (as they are with everything), there are definite standouts. I'm sure there will be differing opinions. By all means share them. However, these are my opinion of the top 7 U2 videos to date. I did not attempt to span their whole career of approximately 35 years, nor did I bother with representing albums or eras. I simply went with what I consider the absolute best U2 videos up to the present.

7. "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"- Originally written for the album "Zooropa" (1993) but pulled from the tracklisting before its final release, this song was later given prominent place on the "Batman Forever" Soundtrack (1995). The song on its own is fabulous- one of their best- but this concept for the video made it unforgettable. This is the first time in history that a music video was animated to such an extent- and, of course, U2 were all for it because it meant they did not have to be present for a video shoot. The concept plays with the idea of the beloved Zoo TV characters Mr. MacPhisto and The Fly as if they are locked in battle against each other. Interesting bit of trivia: the Riddler's line at the beginning is voiced-over by the Edge. He felt that Jim Carrey did not enunciate clearly enough. The "t" sound that you hear on the end of the word "bat"- that's the Edge. On Youtube:

6. "Elevation"- Released on the album "All That You Can't Leave Behind" (2000) and also featured on the "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" Soundtrack (2001), this mosh-on-the-spot, classic-concert-sing-along has a video to match its catchy, adrenaline-pumping sound. I admit to never having watched "Tomb Raider", but it does seem to me as though the special effects in this video anticipate "Inception" with Leonardo DiCaprio (2010). What is absolutely wonderful here, however, is the clear showcasing of U2's famously clever sense of humor. I never stop laughing every time I watch this video! On Youtube:

5. "Stuck In A Moment (You Can't Get Out Of)"- This song is from the album "All That You Can't Leave Behind" (2000) and was written in response to the suicide of INXS' lead singer Michael Hutchence. The song had two videos. The Rest-of-World version involved Bono being kidnapped and then thrown from a moving van over and over and ultimately being saved by the Edge. But the U.S. version was pure genius, despite U2 admitting that they really "don't get" American football. This is another video during which I cannot stop laughing the entire time it plays. From John Madden's U2 reference laden play-by-play opener to the Charlie Brown moment (watch for it), this is a jewel of a creation. Definitely, one of U2's all time best videos. On Y! Music:

4. "Numb"- Written by the Edge about his divorce from high school sweetheart Aislinn O'Sullivan, this song is from the album "Zooropa" (1993). This is the first experiment U2 had with anything like rap (but not the last). The first time I saw this video I couldn't believe that this was a U2 song. It sounded so foreign to their past work. But the humor of the video eventually convinced me. There's something unique and contagious about Irish humor and this is a video which, once again, showcases that. It also features Morleigh Steinberg whom the Edge began dating after the Zoo TV tour wrapped and whom he married in 2006. She is the bellydancer. Some accounts suggest this video was shot in one take. At the end, U2's manager Paul McGuinness whispers in the Edge's ear: "There's someone I'd like you to meet." According to the Edge, that simple statement puts the fear of God in him! On Youtube:

3. "The Sweetest Thing"- This is Ali's song. Ali is, of course, Bono's wife. He wrote it as an apology for forgetting her birthday during the Joshua Tree sessions. For years, he refused to release it for the public. But when the compilation album "The Best of 1980-1990" was released in 1998, this song became its promotional single. Two versions of it were featured on the album which had two CDs: the album proper and a "B-sides". It also had a brief moment in the film "Mr. Deeds" (2002) starring Adam Sandler in which it coincided with Bono's uncredited (and hilarious) cameo as a homeless man. This video is certainly one of U2's best. It must have been a monster to arrange. This is the only official music video in which Ali appears and Bono's apology in it is elaborate. The streets of Dublin were closed for the shooting. And, yes, that is the actual cast of "Riverdance"! Yet another video which inspires plenty of laughs and convinces girls the world over that true love does exist in this world after all. On Youtube:

2. "If God Will Send His Angels"- I don't think anyone has attempted anything similar to this video yet. From the seriously underrated "Pop" album (1997), this song is about domestic violence- this time from the point of view of the abuser. It's a character Bono has only invoked this once. The video, by all accounts, was one of the most difficult to make that U2 have in their entire body of work. There were two cameras set up on the table, each facing the opposite direction, so that those on either side of the table could not see each other. That is why they seem to talk all at the same time. The cameras were high-speed panning cameras. This meant that the vocal track that Bono had to lip-synch was slowed to the point of being unrecognizable. He reported suffering agonies while trying to catch the cues of the song. But the effect is marvelous! The color is delightful. And the nervous-breakdown feeling that the hurried movements suggest is perfectly suited to the mood of the song. There is so much going on in these frames that it is difficult to see it all. The firemen that enter had actually arrived nearby to answer a call (you can see the truck's lights in the background) and found themselves invited to join in the shoot. Towards the end, Bono exits the diner on one level of the frames and can be seen pausing outside it on the other level. This is truly innovative filming. On DailyMotion:

1. "Please"- This is my all time favorite U2 video. From the "Pop" album (1997), this song was written about the Troubles in Ireland when the ceasefire (one of many) that U2 helped to orchestrate along with a great many other individuals (in 1994) was broken in 1996. A ceasefire declared in July 1997- one month after the release of "Pop"- continues unviolated to the present (with the exception of the Omagh bombings). This is a highly emotional song and so is the video. Full of dagger-sharp, painful symbolism and literal tears (Bono weeps in front of a screen of blue sky and clouds), this video is poetry in film. It only improves with repeated viewing. On Youtube:

What are your favorite U2 videos? What should have made this list, in your opinion? Begin the controversy (a word I use with all humor) in the comments below. I'd love to hear your opinions!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Best Oriental Dans Videos on Youtube - 2013

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on December 13, 2013. Links in this article were extracted then)

This year in bellydance has been phenomenal. The performances and choreography to be found on Youtube is superb. I started with about 400 videos and whittled them down - painfully - to the top 20. Unfortunately, not all styles of Oriental Dans enjoyed the same level of talent and skill this year. I had difficulty finding good videos of the more traditional forms of the dance. Either the filming itself was poor quality, or the costumes a little too revealing or sloppy, or the dance itself was not up to par. It seems, however, that Tribal Fusion is having a sort of glory days. An effort was provided to display the best of the best, as I do every year, and as great a variety as possible within that first over-ruling law. The videos are presented in no particular order. So, settle in and happy shimmies!

1. Youtube user blackzebra72 has uploaded "Mia Shauri Bellydance With Tamborine". This is easily one of the best examples of what the more traditional cabaret forms can be. Whoever was in charge of the music for this event obviously missed the end of the song and let it play through again. When it began playing a third time Mia, who must be exhausted, gives a shake of the head to indicate it should end. Thus, we find out that at least half this performance is improvisation. And it is delightful to watch repeatedly.

2. Illan Rivère gives us one of his own performances. This man from France is one of the best Tribal Fusion dancers practicing today. I never watch one of his dances without coming away in awe. He is breaking boundaries and carving out new directions for the dance constantly. In "Solo Illan. Tandem.", he is painted as if he were a golden image of some ancient god but moves as if he were actually made of rubber or water. This is the ultimate in Tribal Fusion bellydance.

3. Tori Halfon uploaded "Kami Liddle performs at The Massive Spectacular! 2011". Almost everything from the Massive Spectacular shows is amazing, and Kami Liddle is stellar. With her trademark fusion of Tribal Fusion bellydance with Modern dance, her graceful fluidity draws crowds from everywhere. When a Hall of Fame of Bellydance comes into existence, it is bound to include her.

4. From LongHairBellyDancer comes "Sadie belly dance (Sadie's complete belly dance)". Sadie shines best in her drum solo dances as has been seen in past articles of this type, but she excels at any style of cabaret. This video is classic Sadie.

5. Ebony Qualls pioneered the fusing of Tribal Fusion bellydance with hip hop and she has uploaded a wonderful group performance of just that. It is has the long, unwieldy name of "Hip Hop Bellydance - Tribal Fusion - Ebony and Raqs Caravan Urban - Rakkasah Spring Caravan". These girls are clearly having fun and so is the audience.

6. amiradance has uploaded her own dance (which is becoming increasingly common as Youtube gets tougher on copyright issues) with "Belly Dance tabla solo by Amira Abdi". This is just about the most traditional you can get in terms of cabaret: a bouncy, lively, full on assault of drums and flash and hips. Amira shows us how they are doing it in the Middle East with gusto.

7. Erson Cile gives us this remarkable performance by Giuliana that borders on but does not cross into Gothic Tribal dance. "Tribal Fusion Giuliana" seems like a fragment of a dark and memorable dream. This is superb dancing. Tough minded, hard-edged, drawing heavily from the flamenco influences on Tribal dance and technically near to perfect, this video gets better with repeated viewing.

8. Tori Halfon strikes again with another Massive Spectacular performance. "Deb Rubin peforms at The Massive Spectacular! 2011" is one video I will be coming back to in the future. Deb's bedlah is beautiful and the song she is dancing to is contemporary and powerfully evocative on its own (the song is called "In The Tower" by DeVotchKa. There's a poem hidden in that song, waiting to be teased out, but I digress). Her lines are so clean that it is as if every movement were ready made for a photographer. As we all know keeping the line clean is all important in dance. This performance enthralls me.

9. Zoe Jakes was on fire this year! Tori Halfon gives us this unusual performance that represents something new in Zoe's dance, "Zoe Jakes of Beats Antique performs Fusion Belly Dance at the Massive Spectacular!". It seemed that this year, Zoe was all about taking her art to the next level by turning her dances into stories. In this video, we run the gamut of emotions. The dancing itself is hypnotic. Halfway through, she pulls out the familiar beast to a Beats Antique song she has made classic.

10. missakiwikawaii uploaded "impro tribal/hip-hop". This video is made all the more exciting by what that title suggests - that it was not choreographed, but is improvisation. That is difficult to wrap your head around when you watch this. Léa N'Kaoua takes Ebony's idea of fusing hip hop with Tribal Fusion Bellydance, throws in some Gothic Tribal influence, and does something spellbinding, something you wouldn't believe if it hadn't been captured on video. Don't look away and try not to blink or you will miss something incredible.

11. IrinaDances gives us her own work that is always amazing. Irina is well on her way to bellydance superstardom and this video "Bellydance Fusion by Irina Akulenko" illustrates why. You might recall her sword dance as the personification of Justice in 2011's article. This year she dances to what sounds like a modern twist on Native American flute music.

12. You can't get much more authentic than Tamar Bar-Gil's offer of "Tamar Bar-gil - raks baladi". This is a form of cabaret bellydance. Tamar dances it as it was meant to be. Raks baladi is Arabic for "country dance" and this is it. I love this. Tamar gives it her heart and soul. Technicality is not her focus - she's more about just dancing for the enjoyment of it - but she's not lacking in technical skill either. This is refreshing to watch.

13. Kami Liddle (yes, that Kami Liddle) uploaded "Gold Star directed by Kami Liddle at Tribal Fest 2013". It is a group dance that embodies Kami's style and is pure fun. Zoe Jakes is also part of Gold Star for this performance as well as several other famous names in bellydance. These ladies are lovely and excellent. They define fabulous.

14. Tori Halfon must be very much involved in the Massive Spectacular! shows. Another video by that user is "Mira Betz performs Fusion Belly Dance at the Massive Spectacular! Las Vegas". Mira Betz is one of the most well known names in bellydance and for good reason. Her style is a combination of Tribal Fusion dance and modern/interpretive dance. She loves to tell stories with her choreography. Here she gives us the muses as dancers. I love this performance for so many reasons. I'm sure you will, too.

15. ProduccionesPelusas uploaded "Eva Sampedro - Tribal Fusion Dance (Mission & Turkish Percussion Darbuka) (15-12-2012).mov". (There does seem to be a trend toward ridiculously long names for videos.) If there is such a thing as unadulterated, straight-on Tribal Fusion Bellydance, this is it. This has almost a vintage feel about it in everything, from the bedlah, to the music, to the lighting, and the choreography. Eva executes it as if she was born dancing.

16. Tori Halfon had most of the best videos this year, including "Joline Andrade performs Fusion Belly Dance at the Massive Spectacular!" Joline has some of the most precise and cleanest lines in bellydance and she knows how to use them. It seems likely that she also studies ballet in order to keep them so very strong. In this dance, she pulls out classic poses drawn straight from ancient Egyptian paintings and Indian dance. That last pose alone is worth the video's place in this article. Well done, Joline!

17. Youtube user diliuke has been attending some bellydance competitions and uploaded our last cabaret video, "1st place in competition 'Queen of the Pyramid' 2010. Bellydancer Dovile from Lithuania (Kaunas)". Dovile is dancing to classic music from the Bellydance Superstars tours. Her dancing is almost too precise for cabaret. This is strong dancing, stronger than has been seen from cabaret in general lately, and that is encouraging. She dances with passion, but also manages to get the audience going as well. And her bedlah is gorgeous. This video represents hope that cabaret bellydance will pull out of its current slump.

18. Tribal UMRAH Festival uploaded the teacher's performance for us. "Rachel Brice & Illan @ Tribal Umrah 2012" has the two biggest names in Tribal Fusion dance working together in the same performance, Rachel Brice who invented Tribal Fusion and Illan who is the best male bellydancer in Tribal today. The result is astounding. I could never tire of this dance!

19. Again, here is Zoe Jakes to tell us a remarkable story in a dance that is possibly her best performance of the year. Tori Halfon uploaded "Zoe Jakes Fusion Belly Dance performed at the Massive Spectacular! 2013". This starts with the new side to Zoe's dancing that she has been developing this year, but ends with typical Zoe as we have come to know her until now. Fun stuff.

20. Rachel Brice (again yes, that Rachel Brice) has uploaded a group dance for us titled "Rachel Brice's Datura at Tribal Fest 13 - Full Set". Rachel choreographed, directed, and appears in a rollicking fun Tribal dance that includes some of the biggest names in bellydance, such as Ashley Lopez and Gothic Tribal legend Morgan Fey. The audience is on board before the dancing begins and it gets louder as it goes. This is what they have been waiting for. The dancing can't be beat. Every girl brings her best. And the sari skirts at the end was an inspired choice.

I hope you felt the need to zaghareet after every one of these videos. I did! Personally, I'm so excited for what 2014 will bring in bellydance! See you next year.

(Due to the shutdown of Yahoo! Voices on July 31, 2014, there will be no article of Best of Oriental Dans for 2014. The series will resume in 2015 on this blog.)

Best Oriental Dans Videos on Youtube - 2012

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on January 6, 2013. Links in this article were extracted then)

It is that time again, folks! Time to list the best videos on Youtube of Oriental Dans for 2012. Which made the list? Let's see!

This year, I made an effort to narrow the videos down to fewer than the 2011 list. This has made it incredibly hard to choose and some very high quality performances sadly had to be left out. The result was a list that is a little less varied than past lists have been, but that includes performances by male dancers. Often when people think of Oriental Dans they assume it is a form of dance only for females, but traditionally it is performed by both genders. These male dancers show us just what people in general are missing!

Let's get straight to the videos. Listed in no particular order, they represent the crème of the crop of what is happening in belly dance today. These videos demonstrate the skill, artistry, passion, athleticism, and fun embodied by the dance. They also display at least some of the many subgenres within Oriental Dans and how the art continues to grow and stretch as the dancers experiment more and more with it. Happy shimmies!

1. "Inga Peterman Tribal Prague 2012", uploaded by tribalPRAGUE: This video shows us the talent that Germany has to offer in a performance of classic Tribal Fusion. Almost everyone who dabbles in the Tribal Fusion form has danced to the music, but Inga's choreography is flawless and lightly executed. Her bedlah is fabulous and her striking hair makes a performance that is fun and bears up to repeated watching.

2. "Irina - Tribal Fusion Bellydance improvisation - World Dance New York", uploaded by StudioEast: I have to admit that Irina is always a favorite with me. I have never seen a performance of hers yet that wasn't absolutely stellar. This one is no different. Her choreography is always well thought out, subtle, and effortless-looking. I think someone said in the comments section that this is what Angelina Jolie would look like as a belly dancer. At any rate, she is a first class artist and this list would be incomplete without her.

3. "Zoe Jakes", uploaded by IvanitaM09: This is classic Zoe Jakes, show-casing her unique style, and as usual, pairing it with the music of Beats Antique. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, this Belly Dance Super Stars Tour veteran has sass and wit. She dances with an edge, putting her personality and humor into every performance. If you want attitude, you got it. As the years go by, this style continues to evolve. She continues to astound and delight a loyal fan base. Watch and see why.

4. This video has a name in Arabic script that Blogger won't seem to accept. It is uploaded by supersa7ab: For a change of pace away from Tribal Fusion to something traditional, this video shows us how it's done in the Middle East. Unfortunately, there is no information given as to who the dancer is. Nevertheless, she is a perfect example of the art in its traditional cabaret form. There is not a single step or muscle movement misplaced here. This kind of dancing inspires every other subgenre of Oriental Dans out there.

5. "Illan. Solo 1. Berlin 2011.", uploaded by illanriviere: Here is one of the male dancers on this list. Shot at the 8th Sommer Festival in Berlin, this video is spectacular. While the movements of belly dance seem to be invented with the female form in mind, the naturally superior physical strength of the male body means that male dancers can sometimes perform with more stamina than the female dancer can. The male dancer is often more technically precise. The results can be breathtaking! This particular performance is fantastic. I can't take my eyes off it.

6. "Rachel Brice", uploaded by maja1785: This is my fifth annual list and somehow Rachel Brice always lands a spot. The reason is simple: she is one of the best! This mesmerizing choreography is an example why. Each muscle, each movement, is a graceful work of art. Even the way she places her feet on the floor. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is slack. This woman must literally live in a dance studio in front of those mirrors to have this kind of utter control. Yet it looks so natural, so easy to her! As if she is simply out for a stroll in her neighborhood! How can she not be on this list?

7. "Bellydance Superstars Tribal Fusions - L'art exotique du Bellydance - Moria Chapell", uploaded by gothla: This video made it into the list for several reasons. Primarily, it is one of the best performances by Belly Dance Superstar Tour veteran Moria Chapell that I've seen. Secondly, I was enchanted by the idea of Oriental Dans to bagpipes. Thirdly, it features the ever-smiling Issam Houshan on the tabla, who is well known and beloved in the belly dance world. The combination of these three things made it irresistible.

8. "Belly Dancing Drum solo Festival Del Mar 2011 Melaque, Jalisco Mexico", uploaded by Uought2BeinPictures: A high-energy traditional cabaret solo performance that will leave you out of breath and a little in awe. Alida shows her dance troupe how it is done and is clearly a crowd favorite. I am almost exhausted by the end of this one and impressed with Mexico's Oriental Dans scene.

9. "Kami Liddle at Tribal Fusion Faire 2008", uploaded by Kami Liddle: Kami Liddle is one of my favorite dancers. Her choreography here is relaxed and not fully representative of her skills, but that's not to say that it is sloppy. By no means! She just chose to withhold a little for this performance, to understate. The music, however, is delightfully fun and sexy. Kami's facial expressions are as much a part of this dance as her body - and who can resist the humor of wearing hieroglyphics on her skirt? Yep, that's Kami!

10. "Beats Antiques8", uploaded by mustangdeet: A dance troupe that includes Zoe Jakes, Kami Liddle, and a pregnant Mira Betz rocks this dark stage in San Francisco on New Year's Eve 2012 (by which I assume is meant December 31, 2011). Once again, this is epic belly dance with attitude. Mira skirts the edges of what is safe choreography for mothers-to-be with fearlessness. The troupe supports her so beautifully that one has to know what to look for to notice how that situation is worked with and incorporated. This is magic. What can possibly be better than a Belly Dance Super Stars Tour veteran dancer? A whole troupe of them!

11. "AL RACHID DOBLE VELO VIOLIN", uploaded by semidiosdragon: This is the second of the male dancers on this list. Al Rachid is one of the most famous Oriental Dans performers in the world and this video is ample proof why. Think a man can't handle a veil? Think again. His spins are outrageously amazing. This iconic music is challenging for any dancer to choreograph, but he does so with seeming ease. He makes dancing a double veil look like child's play and yet retains a very definite masculinity throughout. If I had a top five, this would be in it.

12. "Sadie Marquardt Belly Dance", uploaded by avihass: World famous and truly lovely, Sadie Marquardt demonstrates Egyptian style cabaret in this video. Drum solos are perhaps her forte and especially her wide variety of shimmies. Everything she does is classy, from her choreography to her bedlahs. She is belly dancing's sweetheart.

13. "Kami Liddle & Zoe Jakes perform at The Massive Spectacular! 2011", uploaded by DaughtersofDurga: Shot in Las Vegas, March 2011, Kami Liddle and Zoe Jakes continue to redefine Tribal Fusion with a duet that highlights their personalities even as they dance together. This performance is quirky, fun, and serious at the same time - everything that Tribal Fusion is. Basically, I get the feeling of a couple of friends who are just enjoying being with each other. The fact that the dance turned out incredible- well, that's just frosting on the cake!

14. "Angelina @ Ya Helwa", uploaded by badkittylulu: This is a performance of gypsy dance and it is a fun one! Angelina is so bouncy. It's easy to see she's enjoying herself and the music. She has clearly put some real research into her gestures. The repetition of movement is perfect. The bedlah is beautiful. In all, this is a performance to make the heart happy!

15. "Strung Out por Joline Andrade | João Pessoa - Brasil", uploaded by Egyptianpb: This video would also be in the top five if I had that. Recorded on August 27, 2011 at the Egyptian Show in Brazil, Joline Andrade delivers a performance that is so strong that its imagery gets stuck in the mind. Her bedlah is lovely, not overdone. Her lines are strong. Everything about this is well done. I've never been able to watch this just once!

Best Oriental Dans Videos on Youtube - 2011

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on October 21, 2011. The links in this article were extracted then)

It is near the end of the year again. And that means that it is time to list the top Oriental Dans videos on for 2011.

This year, I made an effort to include what is going on in the Middle East as well as in the West. While most practicers of the ancient art can be found outside the Middle East today- Russia now boasts the most famous school of belly dance in the world and there are more dancers in the U.S. now than in all of the Middle East- it is important to remember that the dance scene there is still a vibrant one. In fact, Cairo, Egypt remains the holy city of belly dance, as it were. Every dancer hopes to perform in Cairo one day. As the mother of the dance, the Middle East has much to teach us concerning the art. You will notice that the various styles of dance there are less concerned with precise choreography, costuming, and skill than elsewhere. Instead, the focus is on the emotion and joy of the dance. And, since belly dance can be a storytelling dance, the instinctive understanding of the native tongues and rhythms of the music lend an easier quality to the performances than the carefully studied and even more carefully applied efforts elsewhere. Both the native expressions and the ever evolving styles of the West represent beautiful, artful performances of a dance as long in history as human life is and all are pure joy to watch and participate in.

So let's get to the videos! I have listed them here in no particular order or arrangement. Each year that I endeavor to make this list it becomes harder to narrow down the number included. The popularity of Oriental Dans is growing and it is even beginning to take a place in mainstream culture that it has never had outside of its countries of origin. This year, there are 28 videos of joyful, bouncing, intense, and sultry performances. Have fun!

1. I start out with a bit of cabaret. Youtube user RahelClaman has uploaded for us a video of presumably one of her own performances that she has titled "Rahel Bellydancing at VFS Impact Awards 2010". This is a three-part performance featuring familiar songs from the Belly Dance Super Stars canon: the first song is "Warda", followed by "Sahra Saidi", and finishing with "Sexy Saidi". This is an excellent example of cabaret in the West and what most folks commonly think of when presented with the words belly dance. Rahel is sweet, graceful, skilled, and wonderful to watch.

2. Next is a bit of American Tribal Style (ATS) belly dance (a uniquely American take on Oriental Dans). User danomoon offers us a view of his wife's dance troupe WildCard BellyDance. He has titled this video as "WildCard BellyDance - Tribal Style Hafla 2011" and it gives us the group-feel inherent in that style. In this ensemble dance, both zills and swords come out to play.

3. Ansuya Rathor is one of the most celebrated dancers performing today and is a regular on the Belly Dance Super Stars Tour. User dreamtymefilms has uploaded for us a fairly good sampling of her cabaret fusion style that they call "DreamTyme Bellydance Presents: Ansuya Rathor on Maui". Besides Ansuya's energetic and mesmerizing skill, what I really enjoy about this piece is that one can actually hear the beautiful zing of the zills. Usually, the overdubbing of the music later silences such nuances, but here they ring out clearly. And that is appropriate since Ansuya is possibly the most skilled with zills in the West.

4. Now for a taste of the Middle East in our list. User sheihamar gives us Sabah performing happily with her orchestra in Israel. "Orit Maftsir!!! Sabah's Yana Yana" is a joyful experience. I love the way Sabah sings along as she dances. Clearly, this is a dancer who enjoys her work and she is good at it, too!

5. Over the years, Tribal Fusion (an outgrowth of ATS and the most popular form of Oriental Dans on Youtube) has continued to evolve as more and more is fused into the style, so we will see as we continue down our list. User genocida gives us Morgana performing her interpretation of the Immortal Serpent legend: "Immortal Serpent - Morgana (2006)". Morgana usually performs the Gothic style, but this is much less dark and sometimes one forgets that she is human and not a snake!

6. In the world of belly dance, Petite Jamilla (another veteran of the Belly Dance Super Stars Tour) is known as the Queen of Turns or the Spinning Queen. User aaishayunuen's "Petite Jamilla" aptly demonstrates why. It also is an example of the diverse musical styles that are finding their way into the belly dance repertoire. For this performance, Petite Jamilla chose "Ajaja" by Ramses, a prog-rock band from Germany who often uses Middle Eastern rhythms in their music as well as Arabic song titles. Notice there are two veils in this performance.

7. User PersephoneUnderw0rld uploaded the next video on our list. This is Tribal Fusion in its typical evolved form. Sherri (a.k.a. Cherchez La Femme) mesmerizes her audience with an intense solo performance and (as always with Sherri) fantastic music. Her bedlah (costume) almost reminds one of an owl and what hooked me is the opening few seconds. Does anyone else remember the 1980s Jim Henson film "Dark Crystal"? Then you'll recognize those first few haunting notes. It is also nice that one can hear the tinkling of her hip scarf and other ornamentation on her bedlah. To fully enjoy "SHERRI at TRIBAL CHIC'S SHOW (2 of 2) Luz de Gas, Barcelona", I recommend getting a firm hold on your chair. You just might forget where you are!

8. More cabaret in this video and the most beautiful bedlah I've ever seen! User nucleoddv shares with us Ju Marconato of Brazil doing her stuff. In "JU MARCONATO BELLY DANCE", we get a very nice sampling of her take on the smooth, graceful methods of the Egyptian style. Well done, Ju!

9. The lady in this video needs no introduction in the belly dance world. The undisputed ruling queen of Tribal Fusion, Rachel Brice shows us how a drum solo should be danced in this video uploaded by taliajazel. "Rachel Brice insane belly dancing" is an example of why this Belly Dance Super Star is often imitated, never duplicated.

10. Back to our Middle Eastern dancers, this is Fifi Abdou dancing with a live band. Fifi is a legend of the dance and you can easily see why. Her movements are easy, unforced, not over-thought. If one listens very, very closely, one does hear her zills at times. There is nothing shy in this clip. Fifi shows us what vitality is. User malikaalia's "Fifi Abdou Bellydancer" is worthy of repeat viewings- an excellent place to learn new moves to possibly incorporate into your own dances.

11. User 927272246 shares with us a sword dance worthy of a movie about Cleopatra. "Sword Belly dance" is an ensemble performance drenched in candle light. Watch out! There are a lot of swords here!

12. User MarimarBd has a reputation for top quality Oriental Dans videos and here is yet another example. "Sharon Kihara - Tribal Fusion Belly Dance" is a stunning example that belly dance, and in particular, Tribal Fusion, can be performed to anything. Sharon's music here is a combination of animal sounds and more. What she does with it is equally fascinating.

13. User BellyJae offers us vintage Tribal Fusion in the form of Avasa. I first came across "Avasa" in 2006 and was fortunate to rediscover it by accident. The simplicity of both her movements and her bedlah speak to the era of Tribal Fusion to which it belongs. This video is all about attitude, and it is awesome!

14. "Petals of the Fire" uploaded by dervishashirin shows us what that world famous school in Russia is producing. This dynamic performance revs up the pulse and has something in common with interpretive dance. Christina Vlasova does an amazing mimicry here that you will watch over and over.

15. User shakti10's "BELLYDANCER SAIDA -DERBAKE" shares the performance of one of the premiere belly dancers in the world today. Saida demonstrates dancing the derbake in Argentina. She is a good example of both the West and Middle Eastern aesthetics of the dance. Her skill is undeniable, her costume gorgeous, it is difficult to get more precise than this choreography; and yet the pure joy of dancing still shines through in her performances.

16. User seraswan offers us "Sera Solstice: Rakassah West solo 2009" which demonstrates Tribal Fusion as the ever evolving art it is. Sera incorporates jazz dance into her style for a truly interesting and innovative dance that captures the viewer in wonder. I would really like to see more of this in the future.

17. User DaughtersofDurga has uploaded "Rachel Brice and Mardi Love Perform at The MASSIVE Spectacular! 2008". This features two members of the world famous dance troupe the Indigo, all of whom are Belly Dance Super Stars. In this performance, these amazing girls reach back to the beginning days of Tribal Fusion and show us a retrospective interpretation of the vintage style that they helped to create and continue to take to every imaginable level as it evolves. In fact, this piece has more in common with ATS than with Tribal Fusion as usually performed today. Clearly, they are just having fun with this.

18. User ammura gives us a glimpse of belly dance queen Suheir Zaki in "Suheir Zaki". A legend of bellydance, Suheir shows us again the graceful, fun, and easy style of Egyptian cabaret. She has a modesty and fluidity to her dance (despite her bedlah, which is unusually revealing for a Middle Eastern dancer) that makes one think one is watching a ray of sunlight dancing in and out of shadows.

19. AmaliaMaya offers us one of her own performances with "Tribal Fusion Bellydance - Orientalia 2007". Amalia demonstrates Tribal Fusion with a fearless, take-no-prisoners attitude. Her bedlah is striking, particularly the headpiece. And I really like her choices of music for this. The overall effect is almost intimidating.

20. wannabeonutubetoo gives us another performance by Petite Jamilla in the upload "Petite Jamilla Bellydance Superstars". I really love Jamilla's pants here. And her performance is splendid, almost exhausting. Here the Queen of Turns has more curly hair and demonstrates that she is just as skillful with the rest of the dance as she is with spinning.

21. I really can't say much about this video. The information included with it is in a language that I am not familiar enough to attempt to guess at what it says. User samantarizzato shares "Hadara Nur e Bia Fernandes - Dupla Campeã do Mercado Persa 2011" with us and I can say that these two ladies have perfect synchronicity. This is simple Egyptian cabaret, no frills or very many obvious embellishments, but done most beautifully.
22. This upload by blackzebra72 is of one of my favorite dancers. Marina here demonstrates for us the Turkish cabaret style. My all-time favorite performance by Marina has apparently not found its way to Youtube yet, so this will have to do. "Marina Bellydance" is a traditional cane dance and Marina may be small, but she's a little riot of joy and energy!

23. User patinka gives us one of her own performances with the video "Patricia Tribal Fusion Solo Nov 2006". Patricia is an excellent dancer. This performance, which she bills as a tribute to Belly Dance Super Star Kami Liddle, fuses Bollywood movements and poses for a dance that I certainly watched more than once.

24. Back to the Middle East we go with a view of another belly dance legend. User Alice1968World gives us "NELLY FUAD Balady" which is just what it says: Nelly Fouad dancing to a baladi beat. This was filmed in the 1970s, I think, hence the multi-frame shots.

25. User TaiChiDancer has uploaded for us a clip from a cable television show that features the Ultra Gypsy Dance Troupe. "Ultra Gypsy" is an ensemble dance of gypsy fusion Oriental Dans with Jill Parker as lead dancer. If you watch carefully, you'll also be able to pick out Rachel Brice in what may be her only performance while wearing her hair down. The music is a live band and was composed especially for this performance. Here is some of the best belly dancing you'll see anywhere. And the joy that infuses this piece is contagious!

26. User StudioEast shares with us one of the most powerful dances on this list. "Irina Akulenko - "Justice" from "Tarot - Fantasy Bellydance" DVD" is another dance that holds something akin to interpretive dance. Irina is wearing a very simple bedlah for this sword dance in which she personifies the concept of justice. She has embraced the idea that justice is blind by wearing a blindfold and the idea that it is in servitude to higher ideals by offering up the sword to an unseen figure at the end of the dance. She incorporates some Bollywood dance moves and the music she has chosen is simply beautiful.

27. User anmagi offers us a compilation piece of various lovely moments of the Indigo Dance Troupe's 2010 tour in "The Indigo "Serpent Rouge Tour" 2010". This is an excellent example of this amazing dance troupe's whimsical take on Tribal Fusion belly dance. The troupe is made up of Belly Dance Super Stars Tour veterans Zoe Jakes, Mardi Love, and Rachel Brice and this video was recorded at the Market Theatre in Seattle. Although the video is quite long, it is so entertaining that one hardly notices. Unfortunately, I don't know who the male dancer is, but in order to clown with the dance so well he must be a good dancer himself, so I wish I knew.

28. For our final video, we return to the Middle East and user sheihamar for "Arabic bellydance- Orit". It appears that the dancer here is again Sabah with a risque piece- she removes some of her bedlah to change the look and feel for the second part of the dance, something that is sometimes viewed as vulgar in Oriental Dans wherever it is performed, but particularly in the Middle East. Still, as before, there is a collective joy to this performance that is rare in other parts of the world. If one listens very carefully, one will hear the crowd singing along to the song, even though it is played as an instrumental.