Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Miming Ramadan

Reham El-Adawi found out about a new way of reviving the Ramadan spirit

Miming Ramadan
Miming Ramadan
Al-Ahram Weekly

It is almost four hours before Iftar in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar, specifically on Al-Gedawi Street of Darb Saada, Bab Al-Khalk. This is the heart of Islamic Cairo, and a number of young people and children are gathered around mime artist Amr Abdel-Aziz, helping him prepare for “Al-Mefakarati” or The Thinker, the show he performs every Thursday at 7.30pm with the aim of bringing the arts of mime and pantomime to the streets of old Cairo in the spirit of Ramadan.

“This project was the second in a series of pantomime street performances with the silent pantomime performances utilising traditional Ramadan themes and materials to promote and preserve the spirit of Ramadan in the older popular neighbourhoods,” Abdel-Aziz explains. He points out that Darb Saada is particularly associated with Ramadan traditions: it is the commercial centre for Ramadan decorations, lanterns and desserts. The Al-Mefakarati project uses traditional themes and materials to invite everyone, through pantomime, to share their thoughts on the subject of Ramadan.

Asked about the response of Darb Saada dwellers to Al-Mefakarati, which he performs with his face painted white, in a black and white striped T-shirt, Abdel-Aziz says, “In fact, the response has been totally unexpected; people were thrilled to listen to the religious songs and old tawashih, old Ramadan fawazir [riddle] songs as well as the music of old Ramadan TV series, all of which prepared them well enough for the pantomime show about old children’s games of the holy month.” Abdel-Aziz says he was impressed by the cooperation of the audience in preparing for the show; they even invited him for coffee and tea and Ramadan drinks at Iftar. “They welcomed the show because it is an unfamiliar art genre that nonetheless brought back old Ramadan memories.”

According to Abdel-Aziz, the history of the art of mime goes back to 1890 when a papyrus was discovered with manuscripts of 13 mime plays written by Herodas who lived in Alexandria in 270 BC. A mime artist (from Greek mimos, “imitator, actor”) is someone who uses mime as a theatrical medium or as a performance art, acting out a story through body motions, without use of speech. In earlier times, in English, such a performer would typically be referred to as a mummer. Miming is to be distinguished from silent comedy, in which the artist is a seamless character in a film or sketch.

The performance of pantomime originates at its earliest in Ancient Greece; the name is taken from a single masked dancer called Pantomimus, although performances were not necessarily silent. In Mediaeval Europe, early forms of mime such as mummer plays and later dumb shows evolved. In early 19th-century Paris, Jean-Gaspard Deburau solidified the many attributes that we have come to know in modern times: the silent figure in a white mask.

Abdel-Aziz explains that the goal of his project is to promote these arts in Egypt, infusing them with Egyptian identity, and bringing culture to smaller communities through street theatre. He is keen on reviving the sense and feeling of Ramadan that existed in popular neighbourhoods but in a contemporary idiom: “The Al-Mefakarati project will bring about nostalgia for the Ramadan of the older generations and introduce children to that holiday spirit.”

Abdel-Aziz says the idea first occurred to him as a child: “When I was five I used to go to my grandfather’s house in Imbaba, where I would watch the magician entering the street in Ramadan with his team to entertain the children, and the neighbours used to watch from their windows. His reward was Ramadan sweets. In those days all the streets in the area used to prepare for Ramadan three months ahead. The spirit of the holy month began to disappear day after day for many reasons: inflation, overcrowding and social complications...”

The project came into being with support from the British Council in Cairo, which grants funding to young independent artists every year through: proposals are submitted and a specialised committee selects the projects to be granted. The event takes place over four days in different popular neighbourhoods, creating a framework for the presentation and preservation of traditional culture in these areas.

A mime and pantomime artist who has lived and worked in Cairo since 2006, Abdel-Aziz was born in 1989 and, on completing his secondary education in 2005, focussed on independent theatre. In 2007, he became interested in the art of mime and began his independent studies. He participated in several workshops with artists from Holland and participated in a two-year workshop with instructors from Egypt, France and Belgium.

Abdel-Aziz has presented several mime and pantomime performances including I am not Romeo, The Black Balloon, Stop and Think, and The Giver Tree. He participated in the Contemporary Dance Festival at the Cairo Opera House as well as the Hal Badeel (Alternative Solution) Festival in Cairo. His most recent work was a series of pantomime performances at the Cairo Metro in collaboration with Mahatat for Contemporary Arts.

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