On two consecutive days, 6 and 7 March, the Cairo Opera House will host ballet performances choreographed and directed by dancers from the Cairo Opera Ballet Company. The performances are parts of the newly launched Abdel Moneim Kamel Young Choreographers Festival.
According to artistic director Erminia Kamel, for a long time the late Abdel Moneim Kamel (1949-2013), who was director of the company as well as chairperson of the Cairo Opera House (the National Cultural Centre, 2004-2011), had already been planning to create a platform for young choreographers in the form of an annual festival. This platform would be aimed not only at exploring the choreography talent of the young generation but also at providing an opportunity for the dancers to access their work in ballet from another angle and as such develop many new layers of understanding in the creative process.
The original launch of the festival was supposed to take place in March 2013 but these plans were shattered by the sudden passing away of Abdel Moneim Kamel in February 2013. Being the sole creator of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company and in many ways its emotional pillar, it was natural that the festival had to be postponed to a later date. In January and February 2014, Erminia Kamel organised what might be considered a test-run for the festival on the stage of Al Gomhoreya Theatre.
During three days, ten dancers-turned-choreographers presented works that varied from dances based on literary material (The Brothers Karamazov, Rasputin, Thebes at War, V for Vendetta) to ballets intended as personalised expressions of a theme within a dramaturgical line created by the young choreographers and directors (The Unknown, Exit Door, Destiny). For many emerging choreographers the Gomhoreya performances were an opportunity to have their works and concepts assessed. Following the ballets, Kamel shared her impressions with the young creators. A few weeks later, she gathered the works on the main stage of the Cairo Opera House. “I consider 6 and 7 March to be the official launch of the Abdel Moneim Kamel Young Choreographers Festival, which we hope will run annually,” she said.
While the artists will have an opportunity to show another side of their talent, the idea behind the festival is not limited to a mere presentation of choreographic skills. The exercise is also an important opportunity for the dancers of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company to explore many layers that form a relationship between choreographer, choreography concept, feasibility of execution and the human body. According to Erminia Kamel, for dancers to excel it is important to understand what it means to be on the other side. “Choreographers might have great ideas but communicating them through bodies of the dancers can be much more complicated than it seems. This is when one realises that the human body does not always respond well to certain idea emerging from the mind.”
Kamel explains that when dancers step into the role of choreographers and directors, they gain a very important insight into the link between concept and flesh. This in itself improves the dancers’ capacities. On the other hand, throughout the journey towards the actual realisation of an idea, they re-analyse how the choreographer’s mind functions and eventually reach a better understanding of the process, which is then translated into movements. Kamel underlines however that this exercise does not necessarily aim at creating technically better dancers but it can help give more meaning to what they are doing on stage.
Another important aspect of the festival is to explore the skills of a trainer and in the natural course of life many dancers eventually become teachers and trainers anyway. “Not every dancer can be a trainer. One of the main challenges for the trainer is to find practical solutions leading to the realisation of the concepts. For instance it is very difficult to create a perfectly synchronised movement in a group and to the music, and lack of synchronisation makes it impossible to understand the movement.” Kamel also points to duets such as pas de deux. Although they can be technically well performed they may lack synergy among the dancers, underlining that technical perfection is only one of the ballet’s aspects. It is the particular fragrance of unity that infuses the choreography with meanings and the ballet’s very substance is hidden in the dancers’ understanding of the many relations that exist between idea and movement.
In its inaugural year, the festival accepted all choreography submissions from the dancers yet she would have preferred them not to be limited to male choreographers. “We have several young talented girls in the Cairo Opera Ballet Company. I hope they will follow their colleagues’ example and engage in choreography in the coming years.”
The performances were on a tight budget. According to Kamel, the works had the benefit of some new scenography and costumes, in addition to elements borrowed from performances already staged by the company.
The festival which will run on two consecutive days, 6 and 7 March, will include
- Thebes at War based on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz with choreography by- and directors Farouk El-Sherif, Mohamed Nabil, Ahmed Omar and Mohamed Abu Sereaa;
- The Brothers Karamazov, based on Dostoyevsky’s novel, with choreography and directors Walid Bedair and Mohamed Abu Sereaa;
- Rasputin, looking into one the most scandalous figures in Russian history and its time, with the choreography by Hany Hassan;
- V for Vendetta with Hamad Ibrahim as choreographer and director.
- Exit Door where according to the programme notes, the creators tackle issues of love, freedom and dignity, with choreography by- and directors Ahmed Yehia, Ahmed Nabil and Ahmed Saleh;
- The Destiny which tackles the intangible meandres of fate with Maged Hamdy as choreographer and director;
- The Unknown looks into a relationship between Egypt as a mother figure and the Unknown, with choreographers-directors Mamdouh Hassan, Mohamed Hamed, Ahmed Saeed and Amir Tadrous.
The sequence of the programme is yet to be announced.
Thrsday 6 and Friday 7 March at 8pm
Cairo Opera House Main Hall, Zamalek, Cairo
This article was originally published in Al Ahram Weekly