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Ghawazee dancers with Musicians of the Nile
Gilded Serpent presents...
Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2005, Cairo
a review and diary by Leyla Lanty

On July 18th, I boarded a plane at San Francisco International airport to begin my annual visit to my home away from home, Cairo, Egypt.  Many of my friends and relatives wonder why I go to a hot country in the summer.  My dancer friends, however, understand why when I tell them that the 2005 Ahlan Wa Sahlan Oriental Dance Festival, organized by Raqia Hassan, would run from Monday, June 27th, through Sunday, July 3rd.  To me, it's an event not to be missed.

On Monday night, the opening gala was a great success in all senses of the word!  It was one of the best large scale events I've attended.  By all estimates, there were about one thousand people attending from Egypt and all parts of the world. 


Khaireya Maazin, right, and her two colleagues, resting after their show

As in last year's opening gala, the outdoor pre-show, began with an Egyptian dance troupe performing a Pharaonic tableaux.  Then Khaireyya Maazen, the last actively performing Ghawazee, with two other ghawazeeyas performed with the Musicians on the Nile from Luxor.  Last to arrive on this scene was the dancing horse with its rider.  I arrived a bit late and missed the Pharoanic show, which I'd seen in 2004, and only saw the end of the Ghawazee performance.  When the horse arrived, I went inside.  I've seen plenty of dancing horses and, beautiful as the horse was and skillful as its rider was, I did not need to see another one.  Besides, I was anxious to find a place to sit in the ballroom for the rest of the evening.

To my great satisfaction, I found the ballroom set up with enough tables and chairs for everyone.  After the show started, the dozen or so waiters served an appetizer salad while the festival band played and a movie with clips of "old time" dancers, such as Tahia Carioca, Samia Gamal, et al, and a tribute to Raqia Hassan was shown.  When the dinner buffet was announced, we found several complete buffet tables and at least two dessert tables. Because almost everyone had eaten the appetizer, there were virtually no overly hungry and anxious people poised to attack the buffet tables as in some previous opening night shows.  Most people waited in line to obtain their food in an orderly fashion.  As far as I could tell, everyone was able to get the food they wanted with few, if any, problems.  This was a great accomplishment for Raqia, her son Yasser, and her staff of organizers.  


World famous drummer Khamis Henkesh, at far R, and his percussion section
The show started with a percussion ensemble formed by Khamis Henkesh, the world-famous Egyptian drummer who played for Soheir Zaki, Negwa Fu'ad, and many other stars.  He played about half an hour of amazing drum solos with his ensemble, which included several members of his family, backing him up on other percussion.  Then the Ahlan wa Sahlan band, formed by Mr. Henkesh for Raqia, played a few numbers while people were getting their dinners.

The first dancer was Soroya, Raqia's Brazilian protege who performs professionally in Cairo.  She's an accomplished dancer who has hit her stride as a professional.  While most of her costumes were lovely, the one she wore for her first number made me want to update my "Cairo's Costume Disasters" article published in The Gilded Serpent in September, 2000. 

It was a bedla made of white knit fabric for bra cover and skirt, printed with blue sketches of cowboys, horses, etc., and in 4 inch high letters the English words "Texas" and "Western" here and there at varying angles to the images.  The belt and bra decoration was black chains with black metal 3 or 4-inch horseshoes, stars, and crescent moons.  The only thing missing was the lasso!  "Ride 'em Soroya!" 

The strictly enforced "no cameras" rule prevented my having a photo.  In one section of her performance, she showed us the Brazilian-Sharqi fusion style which she was going to teach later in the week. Another of her costumes was a bedla of black fabric, covered with sequin flowers on both bra and straight power-net skirt.  The floral design on the skirt didn't quit go all the way around, leaving most of her left side covered only by black power-net.  The jury is still out on her underwear.  Hers was an enjoyable, entertaining show.

Randa Kamel was next with some of the best "squishy" moves and shimmies I've ever seen, both done "solo" and in many layered combinations!  She always performs with grace and style along with a good dollop of sauciness.  She is one of my favorite Egyptian dancers. One her costumes was royal blue bra partially covered by royal blue thule choli, thule pants with royal blue satiny blue godets flaring out from the knees down.  The "panty", which substituted for a belt, was royal blue sequins with abstract design in silver, decorated with large turquoise scarabs with silver crystal beads and sequins.  The "panty" legs were cut a bit high in the back ... sort of a "boy leg" style.  The pant legs had a crisscross design of sequins, beads. I was so busy watching Randa dance that I forgot to write any notes about her costumes.  I wish I could have taken pictures so I could remember her other costumes, but cameras were forbidden. 

Then, last but NEVER least, Dina!  She did the same show that Zohra and Nashwa Ahlam and I saw in March with some different costumes.  I found it as enjoyable this time.  I won't go to great lengths to describe her show except to say that I loved it!  Her entrance piece, which had many tantalizing rhythm changes, was a showcase for her ability to combine movements in surprising ways, always true to the music.  The other numbers showed her range of performance style and technique.  Her appearance closed the Opening Night Gala.

Workshops
Of the classes I took, first came Dina's on Wednesday afternoon, Randa's and Magdi el Leithy's over the next two days, then Raqia's on Sunday.  All four classes were full of fine choreography, interesting combinations and basic principles.  I took a lot of notes!   There were many, many more teachers offering a plethora of technique, style, choreography, ethnic dance, music interpretation and drumming.  However, paying attention to both my capabilities and budget, I chose to enroll in only four.

In the largest classes, such as Dina's and Randa's, there were larger than life projection screens located on either side of the stage. 

The camera was mounted on a platform on the opposite side of the room from the stage so that its view of the teacher was unobstructed.  As a result, students could watch the instructor on one of the screens if it was not possible or convenient to watch her/him directly.  I found this helpful because I often found myself on the side of the room which gave me only a profile view of the instructor.  When I wanted to see the instructor in a front view, I just looked up at the screen nearest me.


First nightly party, Mona Said center with microphone along with other festival teachers who'd been invited to the stage
Summer Parties
The "summer parties" as the nightly open stage parties are called, are a great  opportunity to watch the festival participants and some of the teachers perform.  When registering for the festival, one can sign up to dance at one of the parties to CD or with the Ahlan Wa Sahlan band, for a small fee.  At each party there was a broad range of performance styles in both solo artists and troupes.  Some of the dancers decided to participate in a dance contest, the prizes for which were lovely dance costumes from one of the vendors.  Others, including me, performed only for the joy of it!

Mona Said danced at Tuesday night's summer party. She was "pure Mona", very emotional and engaging.

She is another one of my favorite Egyptian dancers.  Not long ago, she retired from performing so I was thrilled to see her.  Many of the other teachers, including Americans Morocco, Jehan Gamal, Jehan Kamal, Tamalyn Dahlal, Cassandra, Brazilians Lulu Sabongi and Hayat el Helwa, many Egyptians and teachers from elsewhere.  It was wonderful to see such a huge amount of talent from all over the world.


Princess Banu in Snake Costume and in mesh costume below

On another evening, we saw Princess Banu from Turkey.  She was fun to watch. Her Turkish style, although a little "toned down" from what we see on a lot of the videos on the market, was unique at the festival.  As far as I know, no one else performed that style of dance.  Her costumes were remarkable.  One featured appliqued green snakes with red tongues and the other featured a lot of black beaded fishnet with BIG mesh exposing a lot of skin.

Leyla performing with that wonderful band at Saturday night's party

Saturday evening I performed with the eleven-piece Ahlan Wa Sahlan band with Khamis Henkesh as the "iqa-a" (lead drummer).  It was heavenly to dance with such a fine group of talented Egyptian musicians for such a large supportive audience. 

Closing Gala
The Closing Gala was as exciting as the Opening Gala.  The food service situation was calm and orderly just like the opening night.  Everyone seemed satisfied with the food, its quality and quantity.

Starting the show was the Mitqal familyHagazi Metqal, the son of the singer Metqal Qanawi, is continuing his father's tradition of singing folkloric songs, mostly from the south. Musically taking us to the countryside of southern Egypt, he sang his father's best-known songs while his large ensemble played traditional instruments.  Several times he toured through the audience with his tabl balady (large bass drum, played on both sides with sticks) player pulling audience members up from their chairs to dance while he sang. 

Hanadi, a rising star in Cairo, was the first dancer of the evening.  With her energy, grace, and precise technique, she is definitely one to watch as she comes into her own as one of the top performers.

Mona Said danced beautifully at the first summer party, but she was even better when she danced, again informally, in her evening outfit, an assuit skirt slit up one side with an assuit top, when the popular Egyptian singer Rico invited her to the stage.  Rico proved he can really excite a crowd with his singing and dancing and Mona showed the technique and emotional qualities which make her a star.

We found that Lucy was the first big surprise of the evening when we saw her name on a bulletin board at the entrance announcing her performance.  The other big surprise was her inviting the retired singing star Ahmed Adaweya to the stage to sing for her.  He is one of my favorite Egyptian singers so it was a treat to hear him in person.  Because of an injury he has retired from singing, so this was a rare treat.


Lucy and Leyla after the Closing Gala

Lucy danced with musicality and lovely technique, as usual, ending with a bit of humor.  Lucy's last number was a balady number, the entrance for which was a tour through the audience with her tabl balady and mizmar players.  She wore a black balady dress with black hip and head scarves decorated with silver paillettes and beads.  On stage, toward the end of her number, she took off the head scarf, tossed it to a band member and started to toss her waist length hair from side to side and then around in circles, stopping while bent over forward, allowing her hair to hang in front of her body.  While still bent forward, she grabbed her hair, making a ponytail, and twirled it as if she were stirring a large imaginary pot of soup!  The crowd was beginning to laugh at this point.  She released her hair and stood up straight, allowing it to hang in front of her face, danced for a few seconds, then flipped it back to hang down her back. 

At this point, she moved both hands up to her head as if to frame her head while she shimmied, pulled off the wig and twirled it high above her head, in time to the music, of course, then tossed it to a band member.  By this time everyone around me was laughing loudly and I was laughing so hard I almost cried

She put her shoulder length real hair into a bun on top of her head and finished her show.  When I saw her after the show in the lobby and told her how much I enjoyed it and how I loved the "wig thing", she exclaimed "But of course I play with the wig.  It's only part of my costume!" 

There were more performers after Lucy, but by the end of her show, I was exhausted and didn't stay to see Katia and Kosoumi.

I'm happy that I went to the Ahlan wa Sahlan 2005 festival.  I saw Dina, Lucy, Mona Said, Randa, and many other wonderful dancers both Egyptian and non-Egyptian, took classes with Dina, Randa, Magdi el Leithy, and Raqia.   I came home with wonderful memories ... the shows, the people I met, the beautiful dancing I saw, the stars, the crowds, the excitement!  Dr. Mo Geddawy announced at the closing that there were more than 840 festival participants!  I'm planning on returning next year

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4-18-02 Egyptian Travels after 9/11 by Scheherezade
I feel safer there on the streets than any place in the U.S.

3-3-01 Giza Academy Awards of Middle Eastern Dance Video 2000 by Leyla Lanty
And the winners are.... Photos added on 5-1-01 take another look!


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