Magda Saleh, Egypt's legendary prima ballerina, to be featured in a documentary

Ati Metwaly , Tuesday 5 Jan 2016

Egyptian director Hisham Abdel Khalek's documentary A Footnote in Ballet History will look into Egypt's ballet history through one of its most remarkable figures, Magda Saleh

Magda Saleh
Ballerina Magda Saleh (R) (Photo: Courtesy of Hisham Abdel Khalek)

"Multi-award winning Egyptian director Hisham Abdel Khalek from Paris, France is taking us on a journey through the history of ballet in Egypt as he portrays the legendary Egyptian prima ballerina Magda Saleh in this feature-length documentary filmed between the United States and Egypt."

With those words we are introduced to Abdel Khalek's new project with Indiegogo, a crowd funding platform. The result of his work will be a documentary titled A Footnote in Ballet History, a film that will capture the important years of Egypt's ballet through the presentation of the "legendary ballerina Magda Saleh," as Abdel Khalek describes her.

Over the past decades, the Paris-based scriptwriter, director and producer created a large body of works that found its realisation in cinema. Although in his creative repertoire he tackles a variety of topics, the world of arts seems to occupy a special position.

The life of Magda Saleh, Egypt's renowned ballerina, a graduate of the Bolshoi Academy of Ballet in Moscow and Cairo's Academy of Arts in Egypt, and former dean of the Higher Institute of Ballet, as well as a founding director of the New Cairo Opera House (-1988), is a current preoccupation for Abdel Khalek.

"I always heard about Magda Saleh but I first met her when I was preparing my new Broadway bound musical Akhenaten [in production]. I found her to be a very fascinating person. We stayed in touch," he recalls in an online interview with Ahram Online.

(Photo: courtesy of Hisham Abdel Khalek)

It didn't take the director long to decide to make a movie about Saleh, a project which the latter welcomed warmly. "Saleh is an international artist and even if her career was short, her life was very rich," Abdel Khalek explained, adding that the documentary will look into a few important eras in Egypt's art history and will also draw comparisons with today's status of the field.

"We will focus on Magda Saleh of course, yet through the eras of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak," he revealed, adding that even though a large part of the footage will look into her achievements, the film will also include interviews with many personalities from the cultural scene.

"We will approach Ahlam Younis, the dean of the Academy of Arts, actress Nelly Karim, as well as Saleh's dance colleagues. We will talk about Saleh's career in the former Soviet Union and the USA and her acting experience in Ibnaty Al Aziza (Dear Daughter), a 1971 movie directed by Helmy Rafla and starring Roushdy Abaza and Nagat."

The film will include historical footage, provided by Saleh and institutions mentioned in the production. Abdel Khalek also hopes to get a hold of some of the videos that could be incorporated into the production.

Shot in both Cairo and the USA, the filmmaker will present "Egypt where Saleh's career kicked off and where she lived and New York where she has resided for many years now, together with her husband Jack Josephen, the world-renowned art historian and authority on ancient Egyptian sculptures," the director added.

Amira Selim
Egyptian soprano Amira Selim records song for the documentary A Footnote in the Ballet History (Photo: courtesy of Hisham Abdel Khalek)

Naturally, the film will incorporate a lot of music, from segments that rely on ballet such as Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and Swan Lake alongside music by Hesham Nazih.

"We will also include a song composed by Remon Sakr featuring Paris-based Egyptian soprano Amira Selim," he said.

Abdel Khalek revealed that the recording of the song, which took place in Egypt, is among the most recent developments in the production.

"We will also include dance segments with two American dancers. Magda Saleh will choreograph those. We already agreed to cast Peter Chursin who recently performed in an American TV series Flesh and Bone, while the female dancer will be decided upon around mid-January once I arrive in New York," Abdel Khalek explained.

The director also revealed that the Egyptian interviewees are already scheduled for mid-January, a part that will be executed by Abdel Khalek's Egyptian partner Wanny Yazan and his crew.

Paralleling his efforts in an ongoing production, the director has already secured funds and the currently open crowd funding campaign aims to complete the budget.

"We have already secured some money from the co-producers and we remain very positive," he said.

Khalek concluded that once the film is completed, the team will take it to many international festivals and then move to the theatre release and Video on Demand.

Magda Saleh
Magda Saleh with husband Jack Josephen (Photo: courtesy of Hisham Abdel Khalek)

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