When Disney came to El Sawy Culturewheel

Ati Metwaly, Tuesday 1 Mar 2011

In the midst of revolutionary themes in the arts scene, El Sakia returns to its regular activities. Disneymania, performed by students from the American University in Cairo revived classic songs from the world of Disney

Photo by Sherif Tarek

Revolutionary themes are among the major interests of most artistic institutions. Some, such as Cairo Opera House, are still in the process of defining their role in the current arts scene and their activities are on hold.

El Sawy Culturewheel (El Sakia) however, seems to be back to its regular activities and the halls are hosting events reflecting the revolution, as well as other events not related to the current social and political situation.

Two weeks ago, speaking to Ahram Online, Mohamed El Sawy said that El Sakia would return to regular activities and this decision is now being put into effect.

Disneymania, a concert presenting selected songs from Walt Disney’s cartoons, is one of the first testimonies of the centre’s return to regular events.

Disneymania, organised on 28 February on the stage of the Wisdom Hall, included a number of American University in Cairo (AUC) students, many taking singing classes under the supervision of the soprano Neveen Allouba, a member of Cairo Opera Company.

Allouba graduated at the Cairo Conservatory and then pursued her music education at Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover. Apart from her appearances in operas in Egypt and abroad, Allouba’s repertoire, and possibly one of her specialties. includes songs from well- known theatre productions, such as those by Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill.

Having a fine stage presence herself, Allouba is one of those singers who can reveal the energy hidden in famous songs and transform them into interesting stage performances.

Eight singers – most of them students of Allouba – performed over twenty songs from famous old and new Disney cartoons, such as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Snow White, Bambi, Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, Aida, Pocahontas, The Rescuers, Mulan, and Hercules, among many others. Singers were accompanied by Greg Martin on piano and Hatem El Daw on percussion.

The first songs gave the impression of a warm-up and it wasn't until  the second half of the concert that their theatrical and vocal abilities surfaced. Singers, who had a timid and rather static attitude at the beginning of the evening, slowly relaxed and turned a number of songs into an enjoyable show.

As such Nathalie Alain has excellent control over her warm voice, something which was very apparent in “Colours of the Wind” from Pocahontas or “True to your heart” from Mulan.  The latter sang in duet with Nesma Mahgoub, was a show of two well-balanced performers. Even if they still needed to cooperate vocally, their duet was possibly one of the best numbers of the evening.

Without doubt Mahgoub feels confident on stage, while her voice is a pleasure to listen to. With full control over her vocal skills and a strong on-stage character, she turned a number of songs into the hits of the evening. 

Equally Ahmed Omar’s on-stage presence is very strong. He managed to incorporate his evident theatrical skills into a number of songs, starting with his first appearance in “Chim Chimney”. His vocal abilities are definitely strengthened by the ease he projects on stage, something that was especially obvious in another song, also from Mary Poppins: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” which he sang in duet with Therese Ananian, a singer who is strongly influenced by Allouba.

Ananian’s interesting vocal material gained more theatrical expression whenever she performed with other singers, as was the case in “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King, sang with Nesma Mahgoub and the above-mentioned “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” with Omar.

The Disney evening included mostly stars of the AUC. Hala Salem is an obvious audience magnet, who has good vocal skills and some experience of exposure on the stage. Other singers - Noha Alaa Ismail, Maurice Chahloub and Salma Mahgoub - added their share to the evening.

Though most of the solo and duet numbers were well-handled by the singers, they still needed more experience in the group songs. And even if some numbers required a bit of verve and contour to the performance, and microphone techniques could be polished, Disneymania is definitely an initiative which has great potential for further development.

The choice of songs from well-known Disney cartoons is a safe move which guarantees the interest of a wide audience. Judging from the audiences’ behaviour and comments during the concert, the majority of attendees were friends of the performers.

What the audience really lacked were children, who would definitely be thrilled with the idea. There is no need to mention the fact that music activities for children are very limited in Cairo and a little advertisement targeting children would have been a win-win situation for both performers and children.


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