Ballet Zorba is huge success at Cairo Opera House

Nihad Allam, Friday 27 Sep 2013

New ballet season begins with three performances of Zorba

Zorba by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company (Photo: Bassam Alzoghby)

On 24 September the new ballet season at Cairo Opera House kicked off, to the great relief of art lovers after several months of political turbulence.

The Cairo Opera Ballet Company gave three consecutive performances of Zorba, with music by Mikis Theodorakis.

For over a decade, Zorba has captivated audiences. This time it had a special flavour, being associated with artists’ struggle against obscurantism.

In June, before the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, Hany Hassan led his colleagues in performing dances from Zorba in the street in front of the Ministry of Culture where a month long sit-in was taking place in opposition to the minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz.

Mohamed Saber Arab, the new culture minister; Ines Abdel-Dayem, chairperson of Cairo Opera House, and many present and former ministers attended the ballet’s opening night on 24 September for a full house.

Just before the show, Hassan was offered a surprise gift - a statue depicting him dancing in the ballet.

The bronze statue, called "The Egyptian Zorba" was made by artist Ossama El-Serwi, arts counselor at the Egyptian embassy in Russia, in recognition of Hassan’s talent and patriotism.

Hassan for his part decided to loan the statue to the Opera House for public display.

Hassan has a natural affinity for the role of Zorba. His heartfelt and effortless performance in the role since 2002 have led to him becoming known as the “official” Zorba in Cairo. 

However, on the second night, Ahmed Yehia, who usually personifies the intellectual John, was in the title role. It was interesting to see the poised Yehia in the role of the boisterous and vigorous Zorba. He was back to John again in the third and last performance, showing real versatility.

On the first and second nights, Ahmed Nabil performed the role of John, and danced beautifully. Another standout was Amr Farouk shining as the jealous and aggressive Yorgos.

Zorba by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company (Photo: Bassam Alzoghby)

On the second night, Vera Krapivko gracefully interpreted Marina, the widow with whom John falls in love, to the displeasure of the Greek village.

In the other two performances, Marina was performed by Kateryna Ivanova and Anja Ahcin, first dancers of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company.

And let us not forget Zeinab Mohamed and Ragwa Hamed performing well in the challenging role of Madame Hortense.

Taking the current curfew into consideration, Erminia Kamel, the company’s artistic director, successfully trimmed the original choreography by Lorca Massine. Among the cuts was Zorba’s dream, but its absence did not affect the drama in any way, as it naturally forms a digression from the main plot. Equally, Madame Hortense’s death scene, originally very sad, was carefully abridged.

The length of the show was not the only challenge that Kamel has had to face. The departure of many dancers caused by the events of the last year, which saw replacement of senior staff members and subsequent protests, as well as a limited budget, all took their toll.

The loss of Abdel-Moneim Kamel, a former chairperson of the Cairo Opera House, former artistic director of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, and above all the troupe's "spiritual father,” has also affected the general mood of the dancers.

Despite the many obstacles, the performance was an undeniable success from all sides. The A Cappella choir, trained by choir master Maya Gvineria, sang beautifully. The settings by Richard Kaja along with the lighting effects created a delightful atmosphere.

The music was also responsible for much of the success of the performance. The Cairo Opera Orchestra, conducted by Hisham Gabr, played Theodorakis’ breathtaking score with sensitivity and finesse, and the conductor and musicians were warmly applauded at the end of the night.

The tragic moments of the plot were soothed by the beautiful lyrical music and voices. Romantic parts like Marina’s solo dance and the pas de deux of Marina and John enchanted the spectators.

Moreover, the final Sirtaki dance, with its famous catching tune, ended the show to the strong applause from the audience, particularly on the last night when Hany Hassan (Zorba) and Ahmed Yehia (John) thrilled the spectators with their flamboyant and enthusiastic dance.

The ballet is adapted from the novel Zorba the Greek (1946) by the Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis.

The score is by Mikis Theodorakis, one of Greece’s best-known composers. Born in 1925, he was an activist who fought for freedom, justice and peace and has been imprisoned for his political activities.

Zorba by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company (Photo: Bassam Alzoghby)


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