Last Sunday, folk dancer and choreographer Hassan Afifi passed away at the age 77.
Born in 1942, Afifi started his dancing career in 1959 when he joined the famed Reda troupe, before graduating from Cairo University’s Faculty of Science in 1962.
He was a central figure in the theatre.
“Today,” wrote stage and television star Mohamed Sobhy on Facebook, “I lost my friend and life’s companion on my creative journey, I lost Hassanolla, as his best friend, and the icon of Reda troupe.”
According to Mohamed Salah, the Reda troupe manager, Afifi – who was honoured last April by the Ministry of Culture in the seventh round of Damanhour International Folklore Festival – was supposed to be honoured again on the troupe’s 60th anniversary.
The ministry’s folklore sector head Adel Abduh added that his name will be honoured posthumously.
Abduh recalls Afifi’s special skill at understanding the movement of the camera while dances are being filmed: “He had background in cinema and video directing, he knew how to introduce the dancers, how to highlight the hero and angle the shot. He benefited from his early Reda troupe training, touring Egypt with Mahmoud Reda to study folk dances in various regions.
Former Reda troupe set and costume designer Kawther Mohamed, who worked with Afifi in the Egypt Air folk troupe in the 1990s, says he was “respectful and kind”: “He was a very high calibre of artist with a great vision enabling him to transform any given environment into theatre.”
For his part Essmat Yehia, former chairman of Art Academy and chairman of the Board of Trustees of Essmat Yehia Association for Culture, Art and Development (which honoured Afifi three years ago), remembered his friend fondly: “Afifi had a unique style in designing percussion steps and dance movements. All his dance steps reflected traditions, customs and popular knowledge. He was an inspiring artist, a piece of our creative history.”
Afifi, who established his own troupe in 1977, taught for over a decade. His student Aladin El-Kholy recalls, “I first met him as a coach at university, but he selected me to perform with him at Cairo hotels. I also worked on the Ramadan fawazir [or riddle] programme Fattouta with him in 1981, and accompanied him to Germany, where he often taught. He was the first to help us organise the first dance festival in 1997.”
The Reda troupe legend Farida Fahmy says, “Afifi had many talents besides dancing. He was very helpful, and he had a great sense of humor which showed in some comic dances. That is why he was so successful.”
Afifi choreographed many seasons of fawazir and other television series. With Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy, he also starred as an actor in Gharam Fi Alkarnak (Love in Al-Karnak), Agazet Nos El-Sana (Mid-year Break) and Fatat Al-Este’rad (The Showgirl).
According to choreographer Gamal Metwali, a former Reda dancer, “All the time Afifi saw behind the scenes. He had a vision for the dance movements that served the drama. The simple dance movements he created had an unpredictable finese. We learned from him that dancing is not about jumping in the air or executing complicated movements. A true dancer is a dancer who can bring the most intensity to his movements with the least apparent effort.”
Afifi is survived by his wife actress Hanaa Al-Shorbagy, his daughter Yasmeen and his son Hesham.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.