The 20th Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre has ended after ten days and 83 shows, with the participation of 43 foreign and Arab countries.
Following the recent fire in the national theatre, several critics opposed holding this year’s theatre festival. In response, Culture Minister, Farouk Hosni assured audiences that the theatres were safe, and said the fire in the national theatre was caused by carelessness. Holding this year’s festival, Hosni added, was important to maintain Cairo’s image as a supporter of cultural activities. Had it been cancelled it might have led to doubts about the safety of Egyptian theatres.
The festival jury comprised 12 foreign and Arab critics, authors, and theatre directors. Among those honoured were Canadian director Oliver Kemeid, British writer Barrie Richard Kershow, Cuban director Rolando Hernandez Jaime, Polish actor Wojciech Wysocki, Italian actress Marilu Parti; American director Lee Breuer, French critic Michel Pruner, and from Egypt the late critic Sami Khashaba, writer Fathiya al-Assal and actor Mahmoud Azmi.
Political perspective was dominant in the performances, especially the war in Iraq and scandals of Abu-Ghreib prison—an offering from Spain—and the issue of refugees as victims of war, also a Spanish work. The international food crisis was the focus of a show from Brazil.
Among the Asian performances at the festival was Hero’s Legend performed by the National Theatre of China company. This traced the development of human society via an ambiguous spiritual journey through 2,000 years in which the memories and thoughts travel.
A joint Italian Egyptian production called Where Does the Phoenix Fly, tackled the merging between different cultures. In the show, the Italians and Egyptians spoke in one language.
Austria presented CopperCity1001 which depicts the story of the inhabitants of a town who are frozen overnight and turned into copper; this drives them to search for the reasons behind their misery.
War also was tackled in a Sweden show called Escape to Nowhere, which centred on the life of a people after a war which ruined towns, human values, and souls.
A Jordanian production Black and White tackled the seemingly endless military conflict in the Middle East. The show was a scream in the face of war in an attempt to put an end to the chaos in the region and realise peace.
The Blind from Lebanon tackled the story of 12 blinds—men, women, and one child—lead by a sick priest, who invited them to enjoy the last sunny day before the winter comes in. But in the middle of the forest, the priest has to leave.
African countries played an outstanding part in this year’s festival, with memorable contributions from Senegal and Malawi.
Egyptian productions included Puzzle One and Christmas Night, Dancing with Time, Betrayal and Fax, presented through the Youth Theatre, al-Ghad and al-Taleea theatres, the Theatre of the Cultural Development Fund and the Puppet Theatre.
On the sidelines of the festival a number of seminars were held to discuss theatre development. Some 18 publications were issued, tackling such diverse topics as women in Ibsen’s drama, theatre in Russia and Germany, women playwrights in North Africa, and body movement in theatrical performance.
In collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute, the Main Hall of the Cairo Opera House hosted the ballet Odysseus from 4 to 8 October performed by the Cairo Opera Ballet company. Last Monday and Tuesday the ballet was performed at the Sayed Darwish Theatre in Alexandria.
Renato Greco produced and directed Odysseus, Dino Scuderi composed the music of Odysseus and Stefano Curina wrote the lyrics. The ballet was choreographed by Maria Teresa Dal, Armenia Kamel is the current supervisor of the company.
Greco and Dal are well known for their proficiency in expressing inner feelings in a unified form through dance. The Odysseus legend centres on the value of love, which is stronger than any temptation and gives the hero the power to overwhelm difficulties.
As far as the choreography is concerned, every step was calculated, while the music succeeded in enriching the audience’s imagination about what was going on in the sea, wind, misery, loneliness, violence, and the sweetness of love. The legend ends with Odysseus returning to his wife and son, but in the meantime he goes through a series of battles and challenges against destiny.
The Cairo Opera Ballet was founded in 1966, and its members were trained by experts from the Soviet Union. The same year witnessed their first performance.
Samsara in Egypt
The Cairo Opera House in cooperation with the Embassy of Spain in Cairo and the cultural department of the Madrid autonomous region presented the internationally acclaimed Victor Ullate Ballet on its first visit to Egypt. The company performed in Cairo last week and performs in Alexandria tonight.
The great Spanish choreographer Victor Ullate presented Samsara, one of his most recent and innovative productions, with merging influences from Egypt, Iran and the Far East and his own tradition of classical ballet and contemporary dance. The result was a unique blend of extraordinary beauty that touches the heart of the audience with a message transcending cultural boundaries.
Victor Ullat worked with Maurice Bejart as a principal after joining the 20th Century Ballet, and achieved international fame with his autobiographical piece Gaîté Parisienne. In 1979 Victor returned to Spain where he created and directed the Classical Ballet Company, later founding the Víctor Ullate dance centre, his own school, from which Ballet Víctor Ullate was created. In 2000 he became chairman of the Fundación para la Danza Víctor Ullate, which supports the training of professional dancers and promotes dance and the arts. Ullate received the National Dance Award in 1989, the Golden Medal of Arts in 1996 and in 2003 he was awarded the Culture Award of Comunidad de Madrid.