Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 December 2009
Issue No. 977
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Whirling shadows

By Sherif Sonbol

photos: Sherif Sonbol Click to view caption
photos: Sherif Sonbol

Director Intissar Abdel-Fattah's Atyaf Al-Mawlawiya (The Mevlevis' Ghosts), a multifaceted theatrical show held at the Cultural Development Fund-administered Ghoury Dome last week, evokes the beautiful rites of the Mevlevi whirling dervishes, heirs to the great mystic poet Jalaluddin Rumi. The show is "a spiritual state", in the words of the director himself, connecting notions of the One with the One's multifold manifestations, and deploying the Mevlevis' traditional modes of movement in the service of a modern choreographic idiom.

At the intellectual level, Sufism is complicated business, but the message of love communicated by Rumi's verses can be no simpler. This show, as the pictures amply demonstrate, was intended as a ritual of purification reflecting the tradition that inspired it. It incorporates not only Mevlevi movements but also Egyptian religious chanting or inshad, Coptic hymns, and even Gamelan from Indonesia. The performance was conceived and constructed in relation to the space it occupied, with the Ghoury Dome playing as much of a part in the final show as any other element.

Abdel-Fattah manages to infuse all this with drama, as well. His premise is a relatively straightforward question: how might the character of Egypt be conveyed theatrically? The answer is a cross between a journey -- outward as well as an inner -- and a ritual of worship, a church service or a Mevlevi whirling session to which he brings the broadest range of symbols and references from the ancient Egyptian to the European.

So much so that you come out of the show not only spiritually purified but marvelling at Rumi's ability to inspire artists across space and time again and again.

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