Gilded Serpent presents...
Part 3 of 3: Film
Transcribed by Karima
(Previously posted-Part 1 of 3-here)
(Previously posted-Part 2 of 3-here)
What inspired you to choreograph your “Sugar Dolls”
This was one dance between a program that looks the same. You
know, it’s not folkloric dance-
The Sugar Dolls exist.
Yes, from the Mulid?
Mulids, religious festivities. I
did also the “Horse Dance.” No human being dances
like a horse. There
are mermaids also. There are dances around the same themes,
which are not folkloric dances but are folkloric items. One time,
I choose a particular 3 dances for my program, and I don’t
know from where. I remembered the horse dance. I was
at the sports club, and it was Easter, and people were eating eggs
and in the morning. I was watching from the balcony.
They had horsemen bringing the horses, and they were doing a performance.
So why not do this in human beings, not in horses? Regarding
Sugar Dolls: I must have been walking during the mulid,
and saw the dolls. I thought of a dance for that.
Sugar dolls: sugar candy made in the shape
of dolls, especially for the Eid al Nebbe (Prophet Mohammed's
birthday), to show children that God is sweet. They
are dressed in beautiful paper dresses. Reda's choreography
has 3 women dressed as the sugar dolls, moving in a
circle, very much like the classical Georgian dance
with the 3 queens ...
Shamira does a
camel variation in 1991 at a festival in Richmond,
dance: 2 guys play a horse, a girl plays a
girl who is the horse's "trainer", who dances
with her cane and the horse. A boy drummer comes in,
the horse gets jealous and tries to push the guy out
of the way ... VERY cute and comic. (Can you just see
the resume of the back guy in the horse suit? Reda Troupe,
roles played: horse's rear end...!)
Did the audiences like it? Did they understand it?
Yes, there’s nothing to understand. It’s Sugar Dolls.
They like it very much; the costumes looked nice, the music was
perfect. The dance was good.
Your Raks al Balas: what inspired you to do a dance about it?
I think this is the first thing you get inspired by: a fellaha
girl with the balas and she goes to the Nile to fill
the jar. And if you will look carefully you find that when
the balas or the jar is empty, they put it like this, the mouth
down, to the side, because it’s empty. But when it’s
full, you have to put it like this because it will spill.
then when the girls are by the Nile, filling the jars, they become heavy to carry. And some
boys go flirt and help at the same time.
So this is
normal to get inspired. First thing about the fellahin is
the woman with the jar.
What movies have you been in? I’ve seen 4 or 5, but
how many movies have you made?
There are different kind of movies. There are movies with
me alone, or with me and my group took part doing some dances,
1 or 2 dances. That’s before we did our own movies.
So I even don’t remember; sometimes I watch television and
I see, is me or not, or this is Ali? So I did a lot of these
as Reda Troupe, we did 3 movies: Mid-Week Holiday, Love at the Corner, The Thief of the Paper.
In The Thief
of the Paper, the paper is lottery paper and I was accused of
stealing this paper because I bought it from somebody, and the
story goes on like this. These are the 3 movies that I was
starring as an actor, dancer, choreographer and teacher.
3 whole big movies, feature movies. Other movies are just,
we took parts in.
OK, then I’m assuming, because it was you, you acted in
it and, in a way, directed it, that you were able to have your
dancers shown the way you wanted them to be seen. That they
were able to film them the way you wanted.
And what about the other movies. Did you ever have problems
where you want them to show the dance in one way but the director
wants to show it in another way?
Yes. First of all, it’s very good for a choreographer
to know about other arts, especially photography.
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.
talk together: I want the boys to be like this; I want the
shot to be from here; I want the lighting to be like this.
If you know about photography – cameras, lenses, lighting
and costumes – you can work with the choreographer.
So, lucky my hobby was photography so I know about cameras.
For example, when the director of photography says “bring
me the lens 50” and you don’t know what lens 50 is,
you don’t know what’s going on. If you know,
it helps. When you say “bring me 50” that means:
normal lens; 75: telephoto; 25: wide angle. You know
wide angle you’re going to have big place, so you know what
to do. So I knew about this because my hobby was photography.
then you must know that your work on theater on stage is different
than what the cinema wants, so you must respect the director’s
insist I must see the whole.” No, he wants close shots.
It is his work, so you must help. It’s not going to
be exactly what you choreographed. This you must know.
You don’t insist on having the full frame and all this;
you must respect the director’s needs. And then they
will cut and show the audience, for example, clapping, or somebody
talking, 2 people talking. It has to be this way.
It’s not like this on stage. So you have to expect
with my brother Ali, he was the director of these 3 movies.
We were stuck together. We talk about everything, not during
the work, but during the rest, at night, and when we were having
lunch and dinner, we talk about what we are going to do and exchanged
That’s a wonderful opportunity, actually. When I brought
my group to your rehearsal at the Balloon Theater in 1978, was
it a surprise for you? Were you surprised that there were
dancers, like say, from America,
that wanted to see what you were doing and came to Cairo
just to see it?
It was not as much a surprise as that I liked it. It was
very nice. It was very nice of you to bring them to me.
We had dance room there and they watched. I don’t
know if we took lessons or not.
you did, you gave them a class. I took pictures.
is hoping for a copy of Rocky's photo here!
This was very nice.
They were thrilled.
all thrilled that you were so kind as to let us come to the
rehearsal and that you even let them join in the class for your
troupe. This was very generous.
Yes, of course, why not? This is normal.
What were your impressions the first time that Dalilah
brought you to the US
to do a tour? Were you surprised that there were so many
people in America
that were interested in raqs sharqi and that knew who you are
and wanted to learn from you?
Very much, very much surprised. Because, you know, first
of all, I did 8 workshops in 2 months. 8 workshops!
Every week in a different place, either going by plane or by motorhome
because she and her husband had a motorhome. So we moved
with it and sometimes on an airplane.
the number of students was so much! I remember in Chicago there was 240 dancers.
was something new fashion. This was 1979. Was new
experience for them, and they all came, 240. And it was
between 240 and the minimum was 150 girls, all complete with belly
dance costume and the veil and the cane and the sagat and the
Arabic name! (broad smile) Yes, they didn’t know!
They expected, you know, me to teach the sagat and the cane and
the veil, and, and….
All in one day!
But it was a very, very, very good experience. Later
the number is not like this now. Because at the beginning,
they don’t know what it is. Some people think it is
good for the health, and some people are artists and they want
the art. And other people, it’s good for the husband,
and she can move and dance in front and make him happy.
And everyone has different reason. But then later, I think
the serious ones only stay. So if I go to
now, it could be 100 some places, but it’s between 50 and
Yes. But we have the serious people now. It’s
very interesting. What I have found is that when I started
in 1960, anybody who had a costume could dance – they didn’t
have to know how to dance, just have a costume. My joke
was if Godzilla had a costume she would have a job. Then.
But now, the standards are much higher because, you’re right,
the serious people stayed and the serious people studied with
people like you and others. And now, I think that when you
come, it may be easier to teach because they can do what you’re
Yes, yes. And I’m really proud of all this! America and other places,
also now the whole world is doing this!
really proud because people who study, they’re not all of
them professional dancers who are going to make money out of it,
no, but they spend money. Sometimes they come from other
states either by plane or by car, driving 6 hours. And they
pay hotels for like 2 nights. Some people came from Australia
when I was teaching in San Francisco.
People came from Canada
So they pay the flight, they pay the hotels, they buy costumes,
they pay the classes – all this and they are not professional
dancers. So I’m really proud of this, I admire this
very much, and then later, when 2 years ago in Los
Angeles when I went with Farida.
Yes, I was there.
There were 270 students in the class! 270! I want
to tell you something very strange also. Last year when
I went to Argentina,
in Buenos Aires, tell me how many. Just say
a figure how many students in front of me in the class.
620 girls in the class!
How big was the room?
It was a cultural center, very big room, but they stopped accepting
because there were more people. They said no, that’s
enough. And they are putting screens for video to show if
you don’t see good, and stage and microphones. The dancers
took 8 hours class every day. 4 hours from me, 2 from American
girl, and 2 from Argentinian boy. 8 hours class, 620.
Last month I was in Brazil,
Yes, when I was in Brazil,
I had those kind of numbers.
Even if we stop dancing in Egypt,
the whole world is dancing! If for any reason Egypt
stops dancing – I hope not! But the whole world is
God forbid! Yes, the whole world is dancing.
How many groups do you think are dancing my choreographies in
Hundreds. Hundreds and hundreds, and some are using the
music, and some are seeing the videos, and the films and being
inspired by it to try their own ideas.
I am so proud of this.
Yes, you should be. You’ve inspired so many people,
you’ve given such a gift to the world. It’s
just marvelous! Which is why we’re sitting here making
this interview today, because I want this to be in the Lincoln
Center Library so that years from now people who want to know
where and how, they can see this and understand maybe a little
bit more and appreciate it.
And I have a question that isn’t on here. Do you think
that the people in Egypt in the Ministry of Culture, that they
appreciate what you’ve done, what people like you have done,
or that they understand what is happening with this [Ahlan wa
Sahlan] Festival? Do you think that they understand that
without you, without people like Raquia [Hassan], there wouldn’t
be this interest in the dance in the rest of the world?
Well, I tell you something. 99 % of the Egyptian people
love us and appreciate what we do, and they understand what
we’re doing. Unlucky that the 1%, that it’s
not that they don’t understand. They have other
reasons. They’re against us and they are the Ministry
I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about this
because we had always problems with the Ministry of Culture when
we started and now. And anyway, I am out of working.
I am very lucky now because when we became government –
it was 1961, like after 2 years of being private, we became government.
We started good; everything was good. But now- we had ups
and downs- now it’s the big of being down. And
I left because when we joined the government we became government
employees. We are artists, yes, but without knowing, we
became government. And as a government employee, when you
are 60, you retire. So I retired 15 years ago. They have
kept my troupe, the Reda Troupe, the same name, the same
choreographies, and everything, but I am out and this is very
once in the newspaper, I said, you are taking the shadow and
leaving the original. They’re taking the shadow.
Because I am Mahmoud Reda. If I go to America and live there, I will have the Reda Troupe around me.
If I go to
Switzerland, I can make
the Reda Troupe in Switzerland.
But you’re having the shadow because I am the original.
But anyway, I’m happy because I was not happy working with
So I am happy
with what I did. And I tell you something, when an artist
does something, he doesn’t have at the beginning, big goals
and objectives, you do the thing because you love it. Eh?
Yes, because it has to come out or it dies.
You start painting and drawing when you are a child because of
Because you love it!
There is no objective or big goal, so you love it. Then
little by little, you find out that the people love what you do,
so you start thinking of the people when you do your work:
will they love this, will they not?
had a nice time. We loved what we were doing. We
lived in the best hotels, like Waldorf Astoria, and sometimes
we slept on the floor some places. We had good food; other
times we had nothing to eat.
the whole world more than 5 times. We performed with my
troupe, not as a teacher, at least 10 times in America,
and the whole world, Japan,
and Africa, and everything. We had a perfect
time; we had a lovely life with Farida and me
and the musicians and everybody.
Now, we feel
the appreciation of the people, like for example, if I walk in
the street and I meet an old lady passing me and then she recognize
me, she comes and shake hands. She says, “You don’t
know me, but we love you.” If I go with guests
and invite them to a restaurant, and we eat, all of us –
I remember once in Alexandria
in a fish restaurant, I had 7 people with me, and we ate a lot:
fish, shrimp, and more. Then I intended to pay them and
they didn’t want to take my money, saying, “No, It’s
enough when you did the stick like this in the television.”
They would not take money. When I arrive at the airport from abroad,
how the people, the immigration officers, customs, love me and
nobody opens my bags. “Welcome, please!” they
don’t want anything more, I don’t want anything.
When I come I was watching the movie I did in
and how the people loved me and received me and kissed me and
all this. I don’t want anything from the Ministry
of Culture, especially now.
need. I have enough love and enough appreciation.
So this 1 %, you can forget.
It’s their problem; it’s their jealousy.
It’s their problem.
This morning in the hotel when I called you, I was downstairs
by the telephone operators. They’re young girls,
they’re young enough to be my grandchildren. When
I called and asked, “Mumkin kelim Mahmoud Reda,”
they said, “You know Mahmoud Reda?” I said yes.
“You know Mahmoud Reda? Oh, we love him; we love him!”
The telephone operators in the Fundook Victoria, [hotel]
--they love you!
what more you want. I’m lucky, I’m lucky.
What a present! What a wonderful thing to have. Thank you
you very much.
What a pleasure! You’re a delight! In
addition, thank you for your kindness in giving this interview,
and I’m thrilled that I know you and that I have known you
for so many years…
Yes, goes back to a long time ago, not that we are old…
We were both children…
You know, funny. When I was younger, I loved to say jokes.
So when I say a joke about an old man, I say he must be 50:
50 years old is old man. So, I say the joke when I am 50,
so the old man in my joke must be 60 or 70. Now when I’m
73, how old should be the old man? (Chuckle)
120 years old! Exactly, exactly!
Anyway, I don’t feel that age. Eh? I still think
there is a mistake in the birth certificate. There is a
terrible 20 year mistake in my birth certificate! I don’t
But it’s also — When you have something you love,
and you can do what you love, then you never feel old because
it gives you energy. It gives you light. It makes
it worthwhile to wake up in the morning.
yes. We’re lucky people!
Yes, we are. We’re really lucky! Thank you so
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