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Art of movement
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 25 - 06 - 2009

After last week's inauguration of the Cairo International Modern Dance Festival at the Opera House, Rania Khallaf interviews artistic director Walid
"Dance... the universe is dancing" were the words with which Walid , artistic director of the Cairo International Modern Dance Festival (CIMDF), started his speech at last week's inauguration at the Cairo Opera House. Now in its 10th year, quoted Galaleddin Al-Roumy, a 12th-century Islamic philosopher and Sufi, in his opening speech at this year's festival as a way of underlining the way in which dance has been seen as an art form and a way of communicating with God in Arab and Islamic culture.
founded the Egyptian Modern Dance Theatre Company (EMDTC) in 1993, the first and most professional of its kind in the Middle East. The company, affiliated to the Cairo Opera House, was intended to bring growing world interest in modern dance to Cairo, and six years later the Ministry of Culture decided to support 's initiative by establishing the Cairo International Festival, the first modern dance festival in the Middle East.
"The main aim of the festival is to invite international companies to present works of modern dance from different countries and to represent the trends that have appeared in Europe since the beginning of the 20th century, the most fruitful age for theatre and dance," said at this year's festival. "This unique mix of theatre and dance is a strong and unbreakable bond between people, with the body being a common concept in all languages."
The foundations of the EMDTC and the Cairo Festival have also had an impact on other Arab countries. In 2001, for example, the Casablanca Dance Festival was launched in Morocco, followed by other festivals in Tunisia, Beirut, Ramallah, Syria and Jordan. "Today we are witnessing a form of Arab solidarity through art," said.
At last week's inauguration, the opening performance was a dance production of Othello choreographed by Swedish choreographer Marie Broline-Tani. The performance was fascinating, and all the dancers were excellent in their roles. This was a dance adaptation of Shakespeare's play that received larger audiences than perhaps might have been expected in Cairo.
"The piece is all about jealousy -- a human instinct that is more dramatic than love, I believe," told the Weekly. "The significance of the play is that the action it describes could have taken place at any time and in any place in the world. Jealousy is still behind many conflicts, both on the local and international levels."
The number of small Egyptian independent companies participating in the festival, running from 16 June to 6 July, is also high this year. Around 15 performances by Egyptian companies are planned, among which particularly recommends Mirette Michael's It isn't even Tuesday and Mohamed Shafiq's Witness of the Body.
"This high number is a very positive sign," commented, "though not all the performances reach the same high professional standards. I even rejected some pieces this year on the grounds that they dealt with social problems like poverty, sexual harassment, lack of freedom, and so on. I always say to such people that they need to educate themselves and watch m ore performances. Dance theatre is not about social problems. It's about inventing new bodily movements and inserting them in a context that has its own appeal."
However, admits that trends in contemporary dance in Europe also favour politics, with war and conflict and the impact of these on everyday life being common themes. For 's own part, the first performance given by his company was The Fall of Icarus, followed by his masterpieces Excavation of Agatha in 1994, Elephants Hide to Die in 1995, and The Desert of Shadi Abdel-Salam, a tribute to the Egyptian filmmaker, in 1997, among others.
Though tends towards contemporary themes, he says that he is also fond of classical plays, such as those by Shakespeare, "if these are used to enrich contemporary dance. Everything in life changes very swiftly. Hence, it is movement that counts the most in modern dance."
This year's festival also features a new event in the shape of a screening of documentary films at the Artistic Creativity Centre in Cairo. These include pieces on the history of dance and on major world choreographers, such as Martha Graham, Alvin Alley, Maurice Bejart and Caroline Carlson.
"Ten years after the first festival, I believe that the audience for dance has now increased in Egypt," says, noting that the establishment of the Modern Dance School, attached to the Cultural Fund, has also contributed to increasing audiences.
"Nevertheless, some people, even well- educated people, still resist even the word dance, and consider modern dance to be a completely foreign form of art," says. "But to such people, I ask, what is the difference between modern dance and classical ballet? Both forms originated in the West, but modern dance is more related to our culture, as it deals with universal themes and depends on movement to translate them."
A cartoon published earlier this week in the Cairo newspaper Al-Gomhuriya criticised the entire concept of the festival, and for this was a sign of "a lack of freedom and growing conservative trends in Egyptian society". The modern dance repertoire is still very limited compared to that of the Cairo Opera Ballet, or the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, he says.
's next project is a dance piece based on the life of Qassem Amin, who called for the emancipation of Egyptian women in the early 20th century. is also dreaming about a large film production featuring dance and music, a huge project, in his words, and one which "will need a hell of work and a distinguished producer."
This year's CIMDF includes performances from countries as diverse as Turkey, India, Greece, Palestine and Russia, in addition to the performances by the Egyptian companies. Performances take place at the Cairo Opera House and Al-Gomhuriya Theatre and at the Sayed Darwish Theatre in Alexandria. Try not to miss out.

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