Folk: turning back the clock

Farah Montasser, Thursday 9 Jun 2011

An evening of story telling by Samira Kirollos explores the rich lives of three Pharaonic icons: Akhnaton, Hatshepsut and Cleopatra

Samira Kirollos

For two hours, without any intermission, Egyptian storyteller and researcher Samira Kirollos, Ph.D. in Drama from Stanford University, told the stories of her favourite ancient Egyptians: Akhnaton, Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra, bringing each character's distinct personality to life. 'They Did It Their Way,' was an evening of storytelling set to Sinatra music, held at the EU Delegation to Egypt on the evening of 8 June. 

Kirollos portrayed the three rulers as a tribute to the January 25 revolution. The leaders are inspirations for the storyteller, and had helped to revolutionise and develop Egypt for more than 5,000 years ago.

For some, the idea of a solo performer portraying multiple characters failed to impress. Others seemed to appreciate Kirollos’ meticulous research and high ideals.

“I first focussed on Akhnaton, Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra when seeking the ideal figures that I wished to bring to life. Research skills obtained from years of study that culminated in my Ph.D. in Drama, coupled with time spent with the experts who set me straight on aspects of my readings went into writing of the scripts,” she told Ahram Online.

Kirollos’ storytelling methods are revolutionary. “By playing Frank Sinatra before each story, by wearing costumes that suggest rather than demonstrate historical accuracy, I link the past to the present as we deal with, at times, elusive Pharaohs that we strive to understand,” said Kirollos.

Kirollos studied ballet from an early age. Before telling any stories, she opened by dancing along to the legendary Frank Sinatra’s ‘I Did It My Way.’ As the music faded out, she took on her first character, Akhnaton.  

“The touching, single-minded Pharaoh Akhnaton created a revolution in religious thought and ancient Egyptian art,” said Kirollos. Decked in jewelry and a yellow, ancient Egyptian costume, Kirollos engaged with the audience as King Akhnaton. In character, she described his background, historical facts and some of his most interesting achievements. 

Moving on to Hatshepsut, Kirollos repeated the same introduction, dancing to Sinatara before becoming queen. Hatshepsut, she said, is “an exceptional woman who ruled as king. She made Egypt fabulously wealthy and strove to be more remarkable than any of the Pharaohs who had preceded her.”

For the third and last time, Kirollos made her signature entrance before presenting her final Pharaoh queen, Cleopatra. “My favourite of all,” said Kirollos, smiling. “There are a lot of rumours about me," she began. "A lot of people all over the world think they know me and have been telling a lot about me, but I am here to tell you my own version of the story.”

For the audience, the Cleopatra story may have been the most familiar, but as Kirollos launched into the events of the queen’s life, obscure details emerged.

Playing Cleopatra, Kirollos said, “During my first visit to Rome with my beloved Caesar, I noticed that the beautiful city of Rome stunk; and I was the one who introduced to Caesar the sewage system although the Romans hated me and called me names.”

There were mixed reactions to 'They Did It Their Way' as the audience filed out of the hall. Some were pleased with the performance. Others were extremely bored and glad the two-hour show had ended. Some commented that Kirollos was a better stage performer and actor than she was a storyteller. Some had left the room before she even began her Cleopatra story.

'They Did It Their Way,’ with all its historical facts, was indeed enlightening and inspirational for Egypt today, but in all its excitement may have failed to engage the audience.


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