Egyptian Arts Centennial: From Cairo to Alexandria

Ati Metwaly, Wednesday 22 Jun 2011

'Egyptian Arts Centennial', directed by Walid Aouni, recaptured a hundred years of Egyptian contemporary art at the Cairo Opera House main hall on 15 and 16 June, and will be performed again in Alexandria on 27 and 28 June

photo: Sherif Sonbol

Walid Aouni’s dance performance 'Egyptian Arts Centennial', performed at the Cairo Opera House main hall on 15 and 16 June, attempted to revive one hundred years of Egyptian visual art through the eyes of a student walking through a diversity of artistic trends and paintings representing their creators.

The performance started with the puppets of “El Leila El Kebira”, an Egyptian original folk art show, created by Nagui Shaker, written by Salah Jahin and accompanied by the music by Sayed Mekawy. Even though the “gracefulness of the puppetry art,” as the programme termed it, did not emerge, the show's well-deserved popularity was strong enough to mesmerize the audience.

Later on, the performance moved to music composed by Tarek Sharara, as the protagonist, a student, discovers consecutive milestones of contemporary Egyptian art spanning the last century.

The student walks through the graphic drawings of Al Hussein Fawzi (1905-1996), the copper colors of Gamal El Seginy, the women in works by Hamed Nada (1924-1990), the scenography works by Salah Abdel Karim (1925-1988), the surreal world of Abdel Hady El Gazzar (1925-1966), the Nubian culture expressed in the art of Hussein Bikar (1912-2002), the buildings of pioneer architect Hassan Fathy (1900-1989), arriving finally at the works of renowned "Egyptian Renaissance" sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar (1891-1934).

Every artist’s name was presented with slide projection before the student entered their world of figures revived or inspired by the art works presented.

The classification of iconic Egyptian artists, however, gave the performancethe feel of a scholarly curriculum (which was fitting with the 2010 graduation ceremony of Helwan University's fine arts department that preceded the event).

However, on the level of idea and structure, the segmented presentation of Egyptian art icons can be classified as an interesting attempt at grasping a century of art riches. The protagonist walking through all the scenes, one after the other, stressed a straightforward and traditional approach to the presentation of the subject matter. Even though this classical approach for the material and its themes was definitely clear to viewers, it did not necessarily express the richness, freshness of thought and vibrating dynamics characterizing each artist.

Walid Aouni put a lot of effort into the performance, which took a great amount of work, particularly the scenography and costumes.

Well designed lighting added a special flavor to many scenes. For many dancers the weighty elements were definitely extremely challenging. It was apparent that while many of them were passionate, not all of them were professional. At times, Aouni’s choreography elevated their strengths but at other moments it stressed their weaknesses, including those of the protagonist who bravely tried to cope with the entire material.

As much as the performance might not be a completely fulfilling theatrical performance, it still has value given the visual art curriculum it presented. At the same time, some images created by the choreographer -- especially those with a limited number of dancers -- were truly impressive, and those will definitely remain in audiences' minds.


The performance was staged at the Cairo Opera House Main Hall on 15 and 16 June and will be performed again at the Sayed Darwish Theatre in Alexandria on 27 and 28 June at 8 pm.


Photos: Sherif Sonbol

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