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Ragaey in Hagallah costume with Debbie
and Nasreen's daughter Farah

Gilded Serpent presents...
Backstage with
The Reda Troupe
December 2007

by Debbie Smith

[Author’s note: this is not intended as a review, just a few notes on what I saw and some casual photographs from backstage and the rehearsal hall. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take any photographs or video during the shows.]
 
On my most recent visit to Egypt, I was fortunate enough to see six performances by Egypt’s world-famous Reda Troupe, all at the Balloon Theater in Cairo’s Agouza district, where the Troupe’s rehearsal hall and offices are located. This was a dream come true, after having seen the Reda Troupe on videotape so many times (mostly from the era when Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy were still active). I am familiar with the Reda style from years of study with former and current Reda Troupe dancers and trainers, but seeing the dances in a professional theatrical setting brought them to life for me.

I was dazzled by the precision and clarity of the dancer’s movements, the beauty and elegance of the costuming, and especially by the masterful way that the choreographies have been staged for theatrical presentation in a way that makes use of a variety of lines, patterns, and groupings of dancers to make the dances very dynamic.

Seeing the company in performance six times was truly a wonderful experience, because each time I saw some new detail or subtlety in the movements, the costuming, the structure of the dances, and in individual performer’s presences on stage.

As a guest in the home of Atef Farag and Magda Ibrahim, who are the head trainers of the Reda Troupe, I had many opportunities to spend time with the dancers before and after the shows. I was very impressed by their professionalism and level of skill. Several changes were made in the show order and lineup due to illness or injury while I was there, and the dancers were able to change parts on a moment’s notice because they are all trained to do every part in a dance.  On stage, they are fully present and committed.


ballots for the "dance-off"

The first two nights I saw their full evening concert, which included 12 pieces and was just over two hours long. It included repertory mainstays such as the Haggalah, Iskandarani (Alexandrian dance with the melaya), two Saidi pieces, an Oriental veil piece just called Sharqi, a Shamadan (candelabra) piece, a Fellahin dance and more, closing with a Nubian suite. I counted about 25 performers altogether, about 15 men and 10 women. Depending on the piece, there were as many as 20 or as few as three dancers on stage. There were 8-10 who seemed to be core performers who did the solos and more complicated parts, these were the more experienced dancers who have been with the Reda Troupe for longer. Some newer dancers only performed in one or two pieces. The troupe has its own orchestra, with what looked like at least twenty musicians and singers, and several pieces had a vocalist joining the group for part of the time onstage.

After a day off for the Eid el-Adha, there were four more nights of performance, but the program was different. The show was split, between the Reda Troupe and the National Folkloric Troupe (both groups are in residence at the Balloon Theater, and are both government-funded under the Ministry of Culture). Each troupe performed for over an hour, and alternated over the four days who went first and who closed the show. Members of the audience were given a ballot at the beginning of each evening so they could vote on who was the best, and these were collected at the end of the night. Apparently this is a new idea, tested during last year’s Ramadan performance season, and maybe it is an effort to attract audiences to the shows.

In any case, one of the dancers told me “the troupe that closes the show on a given night always wins, because they are fresh in the minds of the audience.” That turned out to be the case while I was there, with each group winning two out of four nights.

The Reda Troupe is now in its fourth decade of existence, and this historic ensemble forms a very special cultural inheritance of movement and music. The repertory is kept alive through the efforts of successive generations of dancers, trainers, administrators, costumers, musicians and more. It is a beautiful cultural legacy that I encourage every dancer to try and see when in Egypt.

 


Women of the Reda Troupe
Nasreen, Riham, Hadir (with son Ziad), center, Aida

 


Ahmed dancing with the assaya

 

 

Backstage: Sayyed Antar, Doaa, Atef Farag, Magda Ibrahim and daughter Shereen

 

Rehearsing the one of the Saidi pieces.
Dancers in front: Mona Farouk and Sayyed Antar

Rehearsing the Hagallah: l-r
Sayyed Antar, Ragaey, Mohamed Salah, Nasreen, Ibrahim el Suez, Mansy

Click for larger photo.
Notice poster in the mirror.
Ragaey's son Ahmad dances with Mohamed and Mahmoud in the rehearsal hall
This is where they rehearse and have company class.

The musicians and singers in the orchestra pit

Mohamed Faramawy adjusts his headpiece for the Fellahin dance
Unknown dancer and Tareq in Noba costume

Kids of the Reda Troupe
with dancer Mohamed and assistant Karam:
l-r: Ziad, Sama, Farah

 

 


Caption Ziad, son of Mohamed and Hadir Salah, with assaya

 

 

 
Dancers waiting onstage for a television interview


click for larger photo

Mona Farouk backstage dressed for the Fellahin dance

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