5 - 11 September 2002
Issue No. 602
Culture
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Recommend this page

In progress: Exploring the metaphor

By Amal Choucri Catta

Walid Aouni, director of the Cairo Opera's Dance Theatre, has been recently appointed as artistic director of the school for contemporary dance at the new Creativity Centre. His career began in Brussels, Belgium, where in 1980 he founded the Tanit Dance Theatre. He first came to Egypt in 1990 with Maurice Bejart, and in 1993 was asked to establish the first dance theatre company in the Arab world, at the Cairo Opera House. Since then the company has presented 15 major creations, several of which have been awarded prizes in Egypt and abroad, among them Three Nights of the Sphinx, The Excavations of Agatha, Coma, The Last Interview, The Desert of Shadi Abdel-Salam, Elephants Hide to Die, Son of the Whales, Sheherezad-Korsakov and The Secrets of Samarkand.

Aouni has also created several huge shows for the Ministry for Culture and for the Armed Forces. He is preparing a major performance in Alexandria, celebrating the inauguration of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and his most recent piece, Underground, opened the 14th Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre. Walid Aouni has been granted personal awards and decorations from France, Belgium, Japan, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

This season I shall be celebrating ten years of work in Egypt, with special performances scheduled in the small hall of Cairo's Opera House, where members of our company will present their own creations. It has always been my intention to form young Egyptian choreographers capable of making a name for themselves in the field of modern dance and dance theatre. When I created this company in 1993, it was not only with the aim of introducing dance theatre to Egypt and to the Arab world, but also with the aim of attracting young performers to this form of dance, which was quite new to Egypt. Local spectators had been mainly acquainted with classic and modern ballet, each of which generally has a story to tell, while following a strict discipline with regard to the movements of the arms, the legs and of the steps, the latter being mostly performed on point by the ballerinas.

Modern dance and, later on, dance theatre, abolished the strict discipline, introducing a new choreographic conception, an abstract form of expression which leaves the spectator free to imagine his own plot, to see his own visions and to come to his own conclusions. The same can be said about an abstract painting: many may not understand it, but everyone will see in it something different, something that can be considered food for the imagination.

I don't want to go into the long history of dance now, but I would point out that, in Europe, after World War II, modern dance gradually followed modern ballet and dance theatre followed modern dance, whereas in Egypt dance theatre has been only recently introduced and there is, therefore, some confusion between modern dance and dance theatre. Towards the end of the 1960s, Pina Bausch, the real mother of dance theatre, took over the Folkwang Tanzstudio in Essen, Germany, touring the world with her new creations. She became an international celebrity and dance theatre was accepted and appreciated worldwide. In the meantime it had been adopted in Japan, in Eastern and Western Europe and in North and South America. That is why I decided to introduce it to Egypt where I have created my own shows and organised the yearly international Festival of Modern Dance Theatre since 1999, bringing onto the stages of the Cairo Opera House and the Gumhouriya Theatre companies from Belgium, Germany, France and the Scandinavian countries. There will hopefully, be many more in the coming years, building a bridge of understanding between Egyptian and foreign performers and acquainting local spectators with this relatively unfamiliar form of dance.

Of course, there will always be those who prefer classic ballet to dance theatre. But I still believe that the Cairo Opera House, being a window on the world, should not be excluded from the latest achievements in dance, song, music or any kind of art, hence my interest to form a new generation of dancers and choreographers in this field.

I am glad to have been appointed artistic director of the school for modern dance at the newly established Centre for Creativity, teaching weekly 14 different subjects, both theoretical and practical, with 28 working hours every week, five days per week, eight months per year. After three years the student will receive a diploma enabling him, or her, to pursue their activities as professionals in the field of dance or choreography at the Opera House.

On Sunday, the 14th Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre opened with my piece Underground, which has been programmed for five performances in the Main Hall and is representing Egypt at the Festival. Furthermore, I shall shortly be presenting my contribution to the opening, in October, of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a fabulous show, with the Mediterranean in the background and an immense stage presenting an exact replica of the ancient Pharos. I am sorry, but I cannot give you any further details about this show at present. The only thing I may say, as you have already guessed, is that the piece will be a panorama on the history of writing. In a few months our company will be leaving for Rome where we shall perform Sheherezad with Nasir Shamma, in the framework of the cultural exchange programme between Italy and Egypt, and this season, I shall be presenting two sequels: the first one to The Life Jacket Under Your Seat, and the second the final part of the Silk Road Trilogy, the first two being Sheherezad and Samarkand. I have to admit, shows like these two are largely based on historical events, requiring rich costumes and sets, and people have often asked me to be more explicit, to make things easier for the spectator by telling him the story. But this would not be dance theatre any more. The same goes for Life Jacket and Underground: both tell a story, abstractly, like a metaphor, and it is up to the spectator to guess what it is all about.

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