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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Swan Lake: Timeless Ballet Comes to Cairo Opera House
Let’s say you’re a swan. And a charming prince professes his eternal affections for you, only then to stray with another swan who he swears – despite having an entirely different complexion – looks just like you. Would you forgive him?
Since the 1877 production of Peter Illyich Tchaikovky’s Swan Lake, ballet companies have presented different interpretations of the classic libretto; from its original happy-ever-after conclusion to a soap-opera tragedy – usually in the form of a watery grave.
Powdered tutus, a lake for a backdrop and a romantic ending; traditions were held high at the opening night of Swan Lake at the Cairo Opera House. In a six-show engagement, under the direction of Abdel Moneim Kamel, the Cairo Opera Ballet Company staged the four-act ballet more or less true to the original scenario; employing choreography from an 1895 revival by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.
In a story inspired by German folktale, archetypes reign in a hero-damsel-villain trifecta: Odette, a princess cursed by the sorcerer von Rothbart, transforms into a white cygnet by day. But when the bachelor Prince Siegfried falls for her feathers, von Rothbart succeeds in a ruse to break the prince’s oath of devotion by seducing him with Odillia – a black swan resembling the ill-fated princess. After a decisive battle between good and evil; the witch dies and true love is victor, the spell is broken and all is forgiven.
Aside from a few opening-night jitters, false steps and a flying tambourine; the batterie of levitated foot switches – or ‘changements’, and the quick leaps and turns – or ‘fouettés’, by the cast were impressive.
Noteworthy performances included Hazam Zakaria as the court jester, Anja Ahcin as Odette and Kateryna Ivanova as Odillia. Ivanova’s thirty-two-fouetté footwork in the black swan’s final appearance held the audience in mid-breath.
At the heart of the ballet was the timeless music performed by the Cairo Opera Orchestra, conducted by Nayer Nagui. Solos on the oboe, clarinet, harp and violin struck a cord during the ballet's popular leitmotif, Song of the Swans; while the drum roll and brass carried a majestic and noble overtone. With full views of the stage and orchestra pit, loge and balcony seats, one can easily follow the on-and-off-stage ensemble.
Apart from the fancy pirouettes and the awe-inspiring music, the scenery also merits a ticket. Creative license comes through in the use of a diaphanous screen, unconventional set design and the superb use of lighting in the final act – a treat worth discovering.
Keep in mind that tickets are available for purchase only at the Opera box office. Attire is strictly formal; jackets for men are preferred. Before curtain call at opening night, a premature drama played out in the main lobby when security chased and shoved a member of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra - who was about to attend the show without a tie. But don’t be deterred, the information desk happily loans them out.
After the 5th April showing, performances of Swan Lake will be held nightly at the Main Hall from the 8th to 11th of April 2012.
An influx of touring dance performances has recently come to the Cairo Opera House, enlarging the pool of attendees to include non-opera goers and fans of classics and musicals. The most recent of these phenomena is Show Dance, an exciting two-act performance at the Opera House from Monday, January 3rd until Sunday, January 9th.
Show Dance is an energetic, fast-paced dance performance choreographed by former French dance champions Marc Barbieri and his wife Agnes Morin, who lead the dance troupe with a charismatic stage presence.
Although Show Dance includes a number of former dance champions, the show itself lacks an overall conceptual cohesion. The program includes songs by Michael Jackson, Edit Piaf and Gotan Project as well as Celine Dion, Nina Simone and Tina Turner, in addition to the soundtracks of Moulin Rouge and the Matrix.
Highlights of the show include the couple performance of ‘Your Song’ from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, which was delivered with figure skater grace and agility, and the group jazz performance of ‘Sing, Sing, Sing,’ which was one of the few times that both the theatre and dancers came to life.
Transitions between performances were seamless and costume changes were intelligently worked into the choreography at times. A projector screen acted as the set of the performance, allowing for quick shifts of locale and atmospheres: whereas some of these experiments enhanced the mood, others detracted from the dancers and their performances.
While some of the musical selections were adventurous, the quick transitions revealed the dancers’ varying levels of mastery and the heavy reliance on Latin dance styles. Couple performances allowed the dancers to display their skills more than group performances due to their lack of synchronisation as a group.
Sound and light – essential
components in creating the spectacular in the world of music and dance – could
have been better utilised for this type of show. With few exceptions, the light
design was very basic and would have benefited from a more intricate approach.
All-around sound would have created an atmospheric mood and perhaps help the
audience move more in their seats.
Nonetheless, this is a performance worth checking out, even if only for the few memorable highlights.