Cairo Opera Ballet treats audience to dreamy Tango, witty dances and Bolero

Nihad Allam, Sunday 20 May 2012

The Cairo Opera Ballet Company presents three short modern ballets to music by Piazzolla, Brahms and Ravel. The première took place on Thursday May 17, attracting a large audience and will continue until 23 May

Bolero, photo by Sherif Sonbol

Between 17 and 23 May, the Cairo Opera Ballet Company performs three short ballets: Tango Dream to the music by Astor Piazzolla, Danses qu'on croise to Brahms' Hungarian Dances and Ravel's Bolero.

The first ballet performed is Tango Rêve (Tango Dream), choreography by American-born French-hearted Joseph Russillo, recently awarded the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French Ministry of Culture. He has often worked with Cairo Opera Ballet Company, since 2006, presenting The Rite of Spring, Tango Rêve and Chess, based on tales from Shakespeare.

Tango Rêve is set to selected music by the famous Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla (1912-1992), founder of Nuevo Tango, with whom Russillo collaborated in the past. Only two small fragments of music are borrowed from Massenet and from the Bronx Drummers.

A young man, featured on the opening night by principal dancer Ahmed Yehia, is sleeping on stage centre while Massenet’s Méditation from Thais is played by a violinist, also on stage. This initiates the dream in which a beautiful girl invites the young man to dance. The various scenes or visions with different characters unfold, going from romantic, violent, tender, sad, passionate, pathetic… with subtle evocative lighting on airy scenery.

Russilo’s technique reflects his sensitive imagination and openness to the world. He delicately merges different dance techniques (classical, jazz, modern) into tango.

The present choreography of Tango Dream bears some differences from the first one performed in 2007; however it still allows the dancers to show their individual talents. If the female dancers seemed a bit unsure at the very beginning, they regained their confidence soon enough. Being nervous on a première is not unusual and quite understandable. On the other hand, the soloists were at ease all throughout the performance.

Except for the dream-evoking violin part at the beginning and the end of the performance, in Tango Dream the music was from a recording. Perhaps because bandoneon players are not that easy to find and the bandoneon is crucial in Piazzolla’s tango.

The second part of the evening began with a warm welcome to conductor Hisham Gabr, under whose baton the Cairo Opera Orchestra rendered a lively, spirited and warm Hungarian Dances by Brahms followed by a stylish and well-balanced Bolero by Ravel accompanying the second and the third ballets, respectively: Danses qu’on croise and Bolero.

The title Danses qu’on croise meaning "encountered dances" is a play on words referring to both the music and the subject of the ballet. Danses qu'on croise also resembles the pronunciation of “danses Hongroises,” which simply means Hungarian dances in French.

Danses qu’on croise was was definitely the treat of the night. As a matter of fact, it has always been a success.

Four women and four men, with different characters (exuberant, shy, haughty, undecided…), meet in a sort of social club. Each one is looking for a suitable partner to dance with. Under the amusing and humorous appearance of Thierry Malandain’s choreography lies a deeper insight into human nature and behaviour and an analogy to universal situations.

The dancers: Katia Ivanova, Sahar Helmy, Vera Krapivko, Zeinab Mohamed, Hany Hassan along with other young men, were brilliant, perfectly incarnating the different characters with ease and aplomb.

Hard to decide: Watch the captivating performance on the stage or close one's eyes to be blown away by Brahms’ charming music coming out of the pit? Both were enchanting… Then came the delightful final note of Hope, relieving the perplexed young men after the ladies have gone.

The final piece was Maurice Béjart (1927-2007) choreography to Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) famous Bolero. The Bolero is one big crescendo, lasting almost 20 minutes, consisting of one theme with two melodies repeated 18 times over a stable, moderate and continuous rhythm. The crescendo is raised from pianissimo (very soft) to fortissimo possibile (loudest possible) by the interplay of the melody between the different instruments, which increasingly add to the mix until the sound is full.

Béjart’s choreography not only follows, but emphasizes Ravel’s purpose of increasing the tension of the persistent tune while sustaining the moderate rhythm. The performance is quite challenging for the female dancer, who leapt on a tavern-like table, responding to the dance appeal and inviting others to join. She follows the melody while maintaining a rocking motion. Her movements become more and more animated. More young men join gradually, following the rhythm.

On the first night, Anja Ahcin as Bolero protagonist was excellent, accompanied by skillful performance of the group of young men.

Bolero has been part of the Cairo Opera Ballet’s repertoire for years. Many ballerinas performed it, including former Prima Ballerina Erminia Kamel, whose flamboyant performance remains unforgettable.

No matter how many times you’ve watched the Bolero, the persisting theme, the increase of the intensity, the change to the minor mode and the dissonance before the end, are yet overwhelming. It concluded the evening with a blast of energy and enthusiasm.

Cairo Opera Ballet Company, Artistic Director Erminia Kamel and Artistic Supervisor Abdel Moneim Kamel. Cairo Opera Orchestra, conductor Hisham Gabr

20, 21, 22 and 23 May, 8:00pm
Cairo Opera House Main Hall

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