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Monday, 21 October 2019

Contemporary dancers switch from stage to cage at Giza's zoo

Dancers Samah Hamdy and Hazem Heidar performed inside one of the zoo’s cages, in a call for preserving humanity

Marwa Morgan , Monday 1 Jun 2015
Zoo
(Photo: Marwa Morgan)
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It's one of those typical Saturdays. People fill the Giza Zoo and, despite the heat, children and parents gather in front of the cages to watch the monkeys jump and the lions roar. Yet soon something new catches their attention: a man and a woman trapped in the cage.

Contemporary dancers Samah Hamdy and Hazem Heidar performed CAGE in Giza zoo on Saturday, 30 May. For more than eight hours, a zoo’s working day, the dancers spent their time reading, drawing, walking, resting, and at some point dancing and throwing meat pieces and bloody objects, inside a cage.

The crowd stared in surprise.

The performance, which was Hamdy’s idea, is a response to the “unnecessary” wars that happen around the world, Heidar told Ahram Online. The show is an attempt to “shine a light” on a truth: that humanity is getting lost in this world.

“Samah chose the zoo because she wanted to perform in a setting that reflects the idea that this type of human beings is almost extinct, and hence they’re on display,” Heidar comments.

Zoo
(Photo: Marwa Morgan)

But setting up the project at the zoo was not easy. The organisers had to jump over a few bureaucratic hurdles first, they said.

“It took us over two months of back and forth between the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Agriculture to get the permission,” Heidar said.

“We were always sent back with requests to modify very minute details, like certain words or maybe even letters,” he said, referring to handwritten signs that were hung on the cage, as a part of the performance.

The dancer, who has previously performed in several theatres, considers CAGE a very unique experience.

While he can expect the reactions of his regular audience in theatres, the zoo’s audience, to him, was “unpredictable.”

“Everyone gains when culture reaches people who don’t usually have access to it," he said. "I wish I could perform more in streets, or even in public transport.”

“While the responses were very different and unexpected, I’m personally very happy that we performed in such an open space in front of an audience that was probably seeing such an event for the first time,” Heidar said.

Zoo
(Photo: Marwa Morgan)

“Are they crazy?” one passerby commented.

“They can’t be Egyptians,” another said. “Hey you! Adel, George, Mohamed,” he continued calling and guessing the dancer’s name.

Some people threw bananas and peanuts at the performers, who actually sat down and ate them.

Heidar and Hamdy continued their relatively quiet routine of reading and drawing for hours, and then at some point they started dancing.

In addition to the abrupt, violent movements of their bodies, the performers banged the cage with their hands and with a large part of a broken tree. They reached out to the corner of the cage, got out a box of full or broken dolls, covered with blood, and pieces or raw meat.

“The hardest part for me was when a kid started shouting as he saw the blood,” Heidar said. “His mother did not understand that he cannot take this scene, and I wish I was able to tell her to take him away. I felt bad.”

Another mother threatened her son with sending him to join them in the cage, if he did not stop annoying her.

Yet other children and teenagers watched the performance eagerly.

“Three boys waited for me to get out of the cage and spoke to me, although they should have been playing,” Heidar said. “It’s great that the new generations get exposed to art. This is how they will be able to become creative.”

Zoo
(Photo: Marwa Morgan)

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