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Turning an ordinary plane ride into an enthralling experience
Published in Daily News Egypt on 30 - 06 - 2006

CAIRO: "Liberty of expression can come in the form of writing, film, from intellects or from body language. The body is a huge tool for reflecting social and political issues, says Walid Awni, pioneering choreographer of modern dance, an art often described as the most expressionistic form of dance.
On the stage of the Cairo Opera House earlier this week, Awni's students from the Modern Dance School put on an incredible performance entitled: "Life vest under your seat.
Each of the 17 dancers, comprised of two males and 15 females, were not in uniform costumes and each looked comfortable in their own style, making each dancer look unique. The stage featured no props, only chairs, but it was brought to life by the performers' strong energy that captured the audience.
The presentation is set on a plane, hence the name. It explores the different feelings one goes through while traveling (perhaps through life), as well as some social ruminations and philosophical manifestations.
Besides the modish movements of the dancers, the performance also has a dialogue, featuring singing and percussions. The show also includes a great deal of humor; one of the dancers performs a solo dance exaggerating the movement of a hostess giving the flying safety precautions. The dialogue is also quite witty, provoking a giggle from the audience every now and then.
The finale is lively and fun, as Awni enters onto the stage and the dance moves and music turns retro. He shows up with a vacuum cleaner, the plane is on the ground and he comes in to clean it. They all do a final dance together and Awni plays the vacuum cleaner like a saxophone, as they all dance around playfully.
The show was actually the students' end of year exam, as Awni feels that the best place to take it is on a real stage with a real audience. The performance brings together the seven subjects these dancers have been studying over a period of three years (some are first and second year students).
The subjects are percussions, solfège (a singing exercise using sol-fa syllables), modern dance, classical ballet, theater, open class (a workshop where different instructors come from Egypt or abroad), the master class and Martha Graham technique, one of the 20th century's most influential creators of modern dance famous for her contraction and release style.
Awny often gives the once a week master class an improvisation class. Sometimes they do exercises such as reading a newspaper and connect to an article with dance. He gets deeply involved with the students in the period before the final performance as he trains them in the full choreography.
This show is the fourth part of a series of performances with the same title. The first one was performed in 2001 at the Experimental Theater Festival.
The school is not to be taken lightly, as it is an institute that produces professional dancers, the classes are intense and long, so students must be passionate and determined. To graduate, one must pass all seven subjects for three years, and any failed courses must be repeated.
Sarah Helmy, a first year student who pulled off a graceful and powerful performance, feels that it is the best place in Egypt to learn dance. "In other places the classes may be good but they are not consistent, as they are drop-in and don't have attendance. You end up being pulled back and you don't improve. Here it is very intense but I love it and recommend it, she says.
The end product demonstrates the professionalism of the school. The show was well rounded and incredibly dynamic, squeezing all of the artistic talent out of each dancer. It exceeded the realm of simple dance and was more of an attractive musical theater performance with great motion and color.

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