Downtown Cairo’s Rawabet Theatre on Wednesday night hosted a “Contemporary Dance Night” showcasing eight ten-minute performances by local choreographers, most of whom have been studying dance at the Cairo Contemporary Dance Workshop for the past three years. The event’s chief aim was to make contemporary dance more accessible to Egyptian audiences.
“This past month alone there have been three contemporary dance performances,” event choreographer and curator Ezzat Ismail told Ahram Online. “We want to bring dance to the people.”
“We want people to understand what contemporary dance is, with all the changes happening in the country,” he added. “We don’t want to fight for our right to exist as we already do; we want to fight to be recognised as productive individuals in society.”
The first performance, dubbed “Lungs,” was by Emma Banany. It featured dancers moving behind a screen, revealing only their silhouettes, to ambient music. Banany explained
later that she was trying to depict life inside a lung.
Most choreographers, however, refrained from commenting on their work, preferring that the audience interpret performances in their own way.
“Can You Smell It,” by Mohamed Foad, came next, involving highly-emotive dance and lighting techniques. This was followed by “Colour Blind,” by Ezzat Ismail, performed entirely on video.
A very moving performance choreographed by Sherin Hegazy, “Hypatia,” told the story of the Egyptian philosopher – and first notable female Egyptian mathematician – of the same name. Hypatia was eventually stripped naked and killed by a mob in Alexandria after being accused of having illicit relations.
Following the intermission, there were four other performances. Upon returning to the theatre, members of the audience were provided with an envelope, which they were told to open during the third performance, “10 Minutes,” by Nadine Emile. We won’t tell you what the envelope contained so as not to spoil the surprise.
The second part of the show began with “They” by Ahmed El-Gendy, which featured a split-screen video of a couple dancing in mud while others film them in the background. This was followed by “The Balance,” by Hossam Abd El-Hamid.
“The music was beautiful,” said 22-year-old audience member Nada El-Shazly, of the latter performance.
Next came “10 Minutes,” as the mesmerised audience opened their envelopes. The performance used a number of alternative methods to ask the philosophical question, “What is Creativity?”
“She acknowledged the pretentious aspect, which we as an audience felt throughout the performances,” said Alia Ayman, a 23-year-old documentary filmmaker-to-be. “In a way, she offended her fellow choreographers, but she’s saying something very honest and genuine.”
“She’s saying what we’re feeling throughout the show: that what was happening was not necessarily creativity,” Ayman added. “What she did was creative.”
Finally, audiences watched “Trying,” choreographed by Shaymaa Shoukry, featuring improvised performances involving several dancers using their bodies to collide with the wall.
Nahla El-Kourdy, 23, who works in advertising but has some background in dance, enjoyed the performance.
“We’d like to see more of this atmosphere and style so we can understand it better,” said El-Kourdy. “Contemporary dance is about dancing with emotions. The body movements have a philosophy behind them. You’re not just making a choreography – it’s a reflection of something internal.”
After the show, choreographers and dancers discussed their performances with interested members of the audience.
“For anything to be beautiful, you have to get used to it,” Salma Abdel-Salam, one of the dancers who performed in “Lungs” and “Trying,” said. “This beauty is subjective. After a while, people will get used to this type of movement and will start to understand it and like it.”
“Audiences are still getting used to contemporary dance,” she added.
Choreographer and dancer Sherine Hegazy, for her part, said: “It’s not about being entertained. The performance reaching the audience is dependent upon how much the audience is exposed to this type of movement.”
According to Nadine Emile, “People feel the need to break down and change what was done before; to break free of the idea that it’s not the rule of dance that matters.” She added, “But this is the responsibility of the artist: Am I breaking for the sake of breaking or to create something new and significant?”
Many of the performances included scenes that most Egyptian audiences would probably find provocative.
“Our culture tends to push us to translate anything involving our body into sex. One of the steps to freedom of thought is freedom of your body,” said Mohamed Foad. “The freedom to move and use your body isn’t just sexual. When you see the human body moving in a different way, it starts to break your boundaries on that.”
Audience member Nada El-Shazly commented: “In our culture, we’re very separated from our body. We think it’s just a tool. It was great to watch the human body in this new way. I think this is one of the important elements of this type of dance – to reconstruct your own idea of the human body and help you gain awareness of your own body.”
The second group of dance performances will be held on Thursday, 13 October, at 8:30pm.
The Rawabet Theatre
3 Hussein El-Meamar St., Downtown Cairo