(Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)
Music scenes across the world celebrate the holiday season with numerous concerts bringing the public closer to the festive spirit. Egypt is no exception, with December already boasting performances by soloists, orchestras and smaller ensembles.
This is topped with the quintessential Christmas ballet: The Nutcracker, an everlasting magnet attracting whole families to the Cairo Opera.
This year the iconic ballet will be performed between 27-30 December at the main hall of the Cairo Opera House at 8pm, with an additional matinee performance on 30 December.
Throughout the years, the Egyptian version of Nutcracker has featured scores of soloists. This year, the cast of 27 and 29 December show will include Honoka Yokomizo, Mamduh Hassan, Hani Hassan and Nadia Lycenko.
The 28 December show will feature Mariam Karapetian, Hassan El-Tabai, Islam Desouki and Satzuki Matzumoto. The 29 December show will include Islam El-Desouki in the role of the Prince as well as Mariam Karapetian. The 30 December matinee performance will include Mariam Karapetian, Hassan El-Tabai, Ahmed Ali and Nadia Lycenko.
All performances will have live orchestra and the Cairo Opera Ballet Company will be accompanied by the Cairo Opera Orchestra conducted by Nader Abbassi.
Based on the story The Nutcracker and the King of Mice by ETA. Hoffman, the magical performance with music by Tchaikovsky opens with the clock striking midnight on Christmas Eve. This is obviously why the ballet is usually performed around Christmas time.
Even though the story diverts a little from Hoffman’s text (as Pepita, the choreographer, used Dumas’ revised version of The Nutcracker), the basic plot line remains the same. It follows Clara, a girl dreaming of a Nutcracker Prince battling against a Mouse King with seven heads.
Filled with captivating melodies and dances, The Nutcracker has its own Egyptian history which goes back to the Khedivial Opera House (known as Old Opera House).
In 1971, the Egyptian ballet company presented “Kingdom of Sweets,” a segment from The Nutcracker which includes several iconic dances: Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian, and the “Waltz of the Flowers.” The performance staged at the old opera was put together by artistic director Anatoly Kuznetsov.
With the burning of the Khedivial Opera House in October 1971, the entire ballet company, and hundreds of other artists, lost their home. It was not until the opening of the new opera in 1988 that the Ballet Company, founded by the “spiritual father of the Egyptian ballet,” Abdel Moneim Kamel, and operating under the Academy of Arts, was moved to the new stage, becoming the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, the name we know it by today.
In fact, The Nutcracker was among the first complete works performed by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company when it premiered in 1993. While working on the ballet, Kamel added his creative touches to the iconic work and enriched the characters. It is this version that continues to be performed through the years, incorporating creative ideas and a few segments by Kamel into the well known choreography of Marius and Lev Ivanov Pepita.
On its premiere at the Cairo Opera, the role of Clara was given to Erminia Kamel (today the artistic director of the troupe), while Lamia Mohamed took the role of a younger Clara. The Nutcracker performances have been duly repeated on an annual basis, each time featuring dancers who grew artistically, and with time, were replaced by the troupe’s younger stars.