Spirit of Egypt and Celebrating Dance

October was a busy month!

Early on this year I signed up for Spirit of Egypt, a show being produced by Yasmina of Cairo. The idea was that a small group of dancers would spend five days learning her choreographies, and then perform them in a show on Saturday night at Jewel of Yorkshire. When Kay of Farida Dance asked me if I would like to be part of this how could I possibly say no? So a few weeks ago I turned up at Victoria Hall in Saltaire with around 16 other dancers (including almost all of the Peacock Project!) to find out what we’d actually let ourselves in for. Our pre-course instructions had included requests to bring umbrellas, sun cream and jeans so it was all quite exciting!

We were going to perform four tracks from Yasmina’s latest album “Nawader”, which had been composed with the show in mind. A magency, an Oriental rumba, an Alexandrian beach tableau and a street tableau “Sharia el Fen” (the street of art) based on the idea of the famous Mohammed Ali street in Cairo where musicians and dancers lived.

Yasmina is a very creative and innovative choreographer and straight away we were into something I had never seen before – a wheel of veils! It took some practice to get used to spacing ourselves out and moving to see the wheel at its best without accidentally pulling it apart. It looked amazing in performance, the photos show all the glowing colours. The magency continued with more straightforward dancing, some saidi girls with sticks and a finale featuring all the dancers and props. The riot of colour and movment was followed by the more serene rumba, opening with a graceful solo by Natalie and some gorgeous partner dancing by three couples.

Then it was into the tableaus! The Alexandrian one was the one I had been most excited about after Zafirah told me about the sneak preview she had been given and we were shown our beach outfits. Cute tops and skirts all covered in polka dots! It was a shame to have to give them back. We entered the stage wrapped in brightly coloured melayas – dancers will know that there are two styles of melaya lef, from Cairo and Alexandria – which then became our beach towels! The middle section of the dance was a beautifully acted swimming scene followed by a dance with parasols. “Sharia el Fen” opened with a dance from the girls who lived there along with the local Ma’alima (boss lady – think Fifi Abdo!) played by Sandra, along with a pair of musicians who will have looked very familiar to anyone who has ever frequented the Farida stall… πŸ™‚ we had a short baladi interlude, a drum solo competition and finally everything was brought up to date with some shaabi.

The show was around 25 minutes long and I think we did really well to learn it! Of course it would have been nice to have a little more time to iron out the changeovers – things wereΒ  little frantic backstage at times – but I don’t think we had any major disasters. The missing umbrella came close πŸ™‚ but was found in time. It was hard work and sometimes we had to push on even though everyone was tired and not thinking straight in order to get through everything. Then in the evenings there was practice in our apartments and sewing to be getting on with. Kay and Yasmina had loaned us costumes but they all had to have minor alterations. It was a very useful experience for me and I’m glad I got to be part of such an exciting project. I hope that when Yasmina takes the show on tour the other groups who take part enjoy it just as much.

Two weeks after Jewel of Yorkshire I was off again, this time to Torquay for my second visit to Celebrating Dance run by Afra Al Kahira. Quite a few delegates remembered me from last time which was nice! Celebrating Dance is a very civilised festival. We all stay in the hotel, all the workshops and shows are there and we get breakfast and a three course meal each night. Meals are very important on a dance weekend! Everything kicked off on Friday night with a showcase by local dancers. It wasn’t a very late night because workshops started at nine the next morning and ran all day. I taught two workshops. The first was a choreography to “Ya Msafer Wahdak” which has little touches of flamenco. I was really pleased by how well the dancers picked it up, we learned the whole dance and even had time to do a little skirt work at the end. My second workshop was on Sunday morning and I had promised it would be nice and easy, all about moving slowly and taking your time but of course dancing is never that simple and actually there was a lot to think about! When I teach a new group I’m always nervous about asking them to improvise because it is a skill which still isn’t taught as widely or as well as it should be, but happily that was not a problem and they all took on board the ideas I gave them. In fact a lot of the dancers said how much they enjoyed it and they felt much more confident at the end.

There was a teachers showcase on Saturday night featuring (in alphabetical order for fairness!) Artemisia, Khalida, Kitty Kohl, Queenie, Sophie Armoza, Vashti and Zafirah. Sadly Nikki was unable to perform so I stepped in to open the first half in a costume which Vashti had very kindly let me borrow. It was lovely to be part of such a high quality show and see dancers in real life who I normally only see online. I rather lowered the tone with my shaabi, but you’ll all be used to that by now… πŸ™‚

Jewel of Yorkshire and Celebrating Dance are two excellent events which I thoroughly recommend. Next year JoY will be featuring Randa Kamel amongst others but you’ll have to act quickly, at the time of writing one of her workshops has already sold out and the others are very close. There will be plenty of other high quality teachers to learn from.

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