Firebird general rehearsal (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
Following a three-year hiatus, Walid Aouni returns to direct Stravinsky's Firebird with the Cairo Opera Ballet company.
A Lebanese choreographer living in Cairo is not an unusual combination to Cairo's audiences. In 1993, he was commissioned by the Minister of Culture to found the Egyptian Modern Dance Theatre Company affiliated with the Cairo Opera. The troupe has staged over 26 performances directed and choreographed by Aouni.
In his neoclassical take on Firebird, Aouni gives his new interpretation to the original ballet which has been performed to choreography by Mikhail Fokine since 1910.
This Russian folk tale tells the story of Ivan Tsarevich, who managed to capture the firebird, from the tree with golden apples at the enchanted garden that belongs to the immortal evil sorcerer Kashchei. In exchange for his freedom, the firebird gives one of his feathers to Ivan, saying that it spreads powerful spirit upon earth. One day, Tsarevich sees maidens coming out of Kashchei's castle and falls in love with one of them. Despite being warned, he follows them and uncovers the magic that Kashchei holds. Tsarevich then decides to challenge the sorcerer's powers.
While respecting the traditional frame of the ballet, Aouni's take on Firebird is rich in symbols and connotations. He adds a lot of visual components, bringing to the surface four elements of the tale: earth, water, air and fire. Through the movement, the colors and the costumes, the dancers embody good and evil, wisdom and passion, capturing the entirety of life.
Aouni's choreography draws on neoclassical ballet. The choreographer who has been working for the past three decades explains that "the Firebird is originally a classical work, but now when approaching Stravinsky, one can think only in neoclassical terms. Stravinsky's music is innovative and revolutionary in its concepts and arrangement. When French choreographer Maurice Béjart, gave his version of the Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, he also charged the work with revolution on the level of movement and dance. Being one of Béjart's students and thinking about his understanding of The Rite of Spring, I reached my own version of The Firebird."
Erminia Kamel, the artistic director of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company sees the original work as a chance for Aouni to fuse the history of dance and dance genres, and to innovate.
"The troupe performs basically classical works, but occasionally, I like to introduce choreography and performances that touch on different styles, some of them being contemporary. Some of the movements that Aouni sketched draw from the neoclassical dance, however at its heart, his work is quite contemporary, as well as new and original. This is one of the reasons why I was interested in working with him," Kamel comments.
Prior to starting the rehearsals, Aouni drew one hundred sketches, detailing the movements. In the rehearsal hall, he invites the dancers to develop movements that challenge their classical education. He works on solo scenes, paints a number of pas de deux's and pas de trois, structures group dances. He uses all forms to unveil the originality of the choreography and the dancers' potentials. Moreover Aouni relies on the screens to project images representing the four seasons. As such he uses the additional visual aspect only to reinforce the concept of life's circle.
Ballet Firebird takes 35 minutes and will be performed along with Danses qu'on Croise with choreography by Thierry Malandain and directed by Erminia Kamel. The Cairo Opera Orchestra will be conducted by Nayer Nagui.
28, 29 and 30 October, 8pm
Cairo Opera House, main hall, Zamalek, Cairo