Gilded Serpent presents...
Part 1: The Beginning
June 19, 2003
Transcribed by Karima
note- "In June, 2003, I was privileged to assist Morocco
in the videotaping of the following interview with Mahmoud
founding director of the Reda Troupe.
arrived for the interview, Mahmoud Reda purposely
had on his computer screen one of his favorite all-time movie
segments to show us: a dance by Gene Kelley
and Fred Astaire in “On
The Town,” where they are dancing with Ann
Miller in a museum setting and doing a takeoff
on imagined Neanderthal cave-man dancing. It was clear that
his enthusiasm for one
of his original sources of inspiration, Hollywood musicals, had
not at all dimmed over the years. He seemed to want to make
sure that we understood how this early fascination with the American
musical form sustained and nurtured his desire to dance, and later
propelled him to want to present the essence of Egypt
in this way in theatrical form. Perhaps I should not have
been surprised. After all, his legacy is dance stars known for
their theatrically creative (rather than strictly traditional)
warm, enthusiastic, yet incredibly modest about his achievements,
Mr. Reda charmed us for over an hour with the story of how his
dance troupe began. He shared openly about the various inspirations
for his choreographies, and how he shaped and enhanced things
for the stage.
you will find this interview as delightful as I did.
I felt honored to be in the presence of a man of dance who brims
Did you dream about being a dancer as a young boy?
Maybe — yes and no. What I was interested in, what
took my activity, was sports at the beginning. Of
course, I went to school like everybody, primary school, secondary
school and university, and during this time I started with swimming.
Swimming was my passion. I never thought that I would stop
swimming but I stopped because I found it monotonous. The training
takes time. You go and come and go; you want to do like
2000 or 3000 meters, so it takes all day, and during practice
you think about — what? I found it monotonous.
However, I took championships under the age of 16 in Cairo
and all of Egypt.
Then I switched
to diving which I was also good at. My specialty was
10 meters, top from 10 meters, until I had an accident with my
back making 2 and one half somersaults. I hurt my back so
I had to stop.
I switched to gymnastics. During this time, I was also interested
in dancing; I happened to see that my brother Ali
the Second World War, we had many soldiers from different parts
of the world in Cairo, like Americans, English, Greeks and Australians,
and in their spare time they used to dance.
at this time was, you know, Rock ‘n Roll, Swing, Samba,
and Rhumba, and Ali was very good at these dances; so I watched.
I was young: --15 or 16. I admired what he was doing, but
I was busy with my sports and studies!
started dreaming of dancing, and it replaced the gymnastics.
Gymnastic also took a lot of my energy and thinking and dreams,
but during the gymnastic period we had a trainer from Switzerland,
and when he saw that I was dancing a little bit, he told me, why
don’t you put some of your dancing steps in the free exercise
of gymnastic. I was the first in Egypt
to do this, and he was very happy with this. Anyway, I started
dreaming about dancing when I stopped gymnastics.
Was all your training in Egypt?
My gymnastics training? Yes, it was in Egypt. I represented Egypt in the Olympic Games in 1952 in Helsinki.
Wonderful! When and why did you get your inspiration to
start your dance company?
Yes, that’s a big story! (Laughs)
first inspiration was my brother. Then came the time of
the American musicals; that was the 50’s: Fred
Astaire and Gene Kelly starred in these
movies. I used to see the same movie, maybe 30 times.
Every single night I went, even when I had exams, I’d take
my book and sit in the lounge of the Metro Cinema, for example,
and study during the first part – not the movie but the
cartoons and the news – but once I heard the movie start,
I’d close my book and go. If I learned something,
I’d try it on the street at night, in the dark street, like
this. I’d try before I could forget. So, Fred Astaire
and Gene Kelly were my inspiration. Really!
I learned from them, I didn’t use in my work. I
used the art, not specific steps,
doing Egyptian Folklore anyway. Then with my gymnastic ability,
(you know; I had fitness!) I could move very well. I discovered
I could learn from movies, although you have to reverse the moves
you see: left to right, and right to left.
was busy with my University studies and exams. On the last
year of my exams, there was a group from Argentina,
a dance group, performing someplace at the Pyramid
Street, I don’t know if it’s
now there or not, and I went to watch. I liked them very
much. They were very, very good! I went to shake
hands and congratulate Alario; he was called
Alfredo Alario. He asked me, “Do
you dance?” I said “Yes!” “Show
me.” So, I showed him a step from Fred Astaire, a
step from Ali Reda, a jump from gymnastic. They needed a dancer,
so they chose me.
with them in Cairo, Alexandria,
Rome and Paris.
Then the idea came to me: I’m dancing Argentinian folklore.
Why not dance Egyptian Folklore?
the idea started there in Paris, and then I left the Argentinean group. I came back to Cairo with the idea of starting my own folkloric troupe.
In what year did you start the company?
When I came back from Paris it
was 1955. I engaged; I was in love and, I felt, had to marry.
She was Farida’s older sister -- 5 years older than Farida.
At this time, (1955 means I was 25 years old) Farida was 15.
went like this: We were supposed to fall in love,
Farida and me, because everybody was asking “Is Mahmoud
However, as I told you, she was 15 and her sister was 20.
So Farida’s older sister was just suitable
for me – she was 20 and I was 25. We met in the
sporting club, and we fell in love; so when I went back from Paris,
I had a plan to marry. I could not wait to start the group,
but I had to work just anywhere to make some money. Being
married without money is not good. I worked as an accountant
at the Shell Petrol Company, and they transferred me to Suez,
so it took me a longer time to start my group. Anyway, when
I came back from Suez, I started,
and August 6, 1959, was our opening: The Reda Troupe.
Where did you open, at what theater?
That was a problem! The problems we had when we started,
and the problems we have now, funny enough, are with the Egyptian
Ministry of Culture. That shouldn’t happen.
The Ministry of Culture should be of help, not a source of problems.
But anyway, they had control of all the theaters, so to find
a theater we must go to them, but they gave us problems.
I don’t know why; maybe they were jealous!
is a private troupe, and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture wanted
to have its own troupe.
I think this
is it, because after our opening, a few years after, they started
their own troupe: The Kawmiyya Troupe. Anyway,
it was an open air theater, in August. It doesn’t
exist now; it was called Al Ezbekiyya Teatru, means “in
Al Ezbekiyya Gardens.” They gave us only 10 days,
and then when we were successful, we continued a month or so.
This was the beginning.
Did you do this alone or were there others who helped you organize
can never do a project like this like this alone. I knew
only how to dance, choreograph, and teach, but theater needs artists,
singers, musicians, and an organization, so one of the first people
who helped me – the pioneers of the Reda Troupe –
was Ali Reda, my brother, because at this time he was assistant
director in the movies.
he knew most of the artists through the movies, so he knows
the set designers, musicians, and nearly everybody, so
he helped bring me these people:
do the set, to design, somebody to do the lighting. I didn’t
know anything about lighting or design, or… Therefore,
it was Ali Reda first.
were as follows: Farida’s father helped a lot in his capacity
as a University professor. We learned from him. (He is a
professor anyway; we learned other things than the dance art.)
As a professor, he knew another professor in University of Engineering,
planning, and things like that, and being a professor (and the
father of the dancer) helped by giving importance to this kind
of art, because at this time, the reputation of art was not good;
and art is dance and dancers. We had problems! This
was one of our first problems. If we talk about problems
then we must talk about this.
musician, the composer, Ali Ismail… he
has since passed away. He was a genius, and he was introduced
to my brother, Ali Reda. He was a genius in composing and
directing and collecting the musicians.
sister, Nadida, (the sister I married) designed
the first costumes for our first performance. Nadida passed
away because she had a rheumatic heart. We were married
about 5 years; then she died. Our marriage was a mixture
of wonderful things and sad situations. All life was in our troupe.
Life is sad and happy.
Besides you and your brother Ali, were there any other people
in your family who had music or dance talent?
They all had talent, but as amateurs. My father was a religious
Muslim. He wrote many books about Islam, about the Prophet,
but he used to like to play the oud, and my sister played piano.
Two of my elder brothers played violin. My younger brother,
10 years younger, went to the music Institute and he graduated
as a composer.
I lived in a family of 12 people: father, mother, and 10 brothers
How wonderful; you always had playmates!
Yes, yes, this was good because I was near the middle, --nearer
to the end, actually. I learned from everybody, and I had help
from my brothers and sisters.
That’s wonderful! Who were your first dancers, aside
from Farida Fahmy, and where did you find them?
Because I married Farida’s sister, I became a member of
her family; and I actually lived with them in the beginning —
in the same house. Farida grew up – she was 15 when
I first met her, and then when she was 18 or 19, and she was going
to ballet school, children’s ballet schools, and she was
good. Farida was the first dancer.
dancers to start the troupe. We didn’t have dancers.
We had some dancers to work in the nightclubs or the movies, but
everyone was different. First of all older people and then
everyone has his own style, one doing acrobat, one doing tap dance,
one doing whatever. They are not the style of dancers that
you need to have in your group. You need dancers who look
the same, who have the same style and the same technique.
So, I brought
from the sports clubs male dancers whom I knew from there, like
for example, Mo Geddawi; you know about Mo Geddawi.
Like me, Mo was a diver, but younger. He had no idea about
dance, but as doing dance, and taking instructions: right and
left, or fast and slow. Therefore, we chose him. People
liked our choice. In the beginning, we had 7 men; we started
with 7 men and 7 women.
the women was a bigger problem, because of the (as I said) reputation
of the dance; what family will give you their daughters?
Once I was in a taxi, I ask the taxi driver, “What would
you do if your daughter wanted to join a dance troupe?”
He said, “I would kill her!”
this is a big problem; we were happy with any girl who
agrees to dance with us. We were not very choosy.
At the beginning, we were not very choosy. We accepted good
ones and half-half, just to start, to open. I started teaching
from scratch, from zero. So, apart from Farida, this is
when we had 7 men and 7 women.
8-19-05 Interview with Mahmoud Reda
Part 2: The Troupe by Morocco
what I call my choreography is not folkloric. It’s inspired by the
with Mahmoud Reda Part 3: Film & Future by Morocco
you know about photography, then it will help performing for the movies
or for television because usually the choreographer stands beside the
director of the movie.
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