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Gilded Serpent presents...
Interview with
Mahmoud Reda
Part 3 of 3:
Film & Future
by Morocco (Rocky)
Transcribed by Karima
June 19, 2003
(Previously posted-Part 1 of 3-here)
(Previously posted-Part 2 of 3-here)

Rocky:  What inspired you to choreograph your “Sugar Dolls” tableau?

Reda:  This was one dance between a program that looks the same. You know, it’s not folkloric dance-

Rocky:  It’s theater.

Reda:  The Sugar Dolls exist.

Rocky:  Yes, from the Mulid?

Rocky's explanations:
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, CA
Horse 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...!)
Reda:  Yes, 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.

Rocky:  Did the audiences like it?  Did they understand it?

Reda:  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.

Rocky:  Your Raks al Balas: what inspired you to do a dance about it?

Reda:  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. 

And 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.

Rocky:  What movies have you been in?  I’ve seen 4 or 5, but how many movies have you made?

Reda:  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 things. 

But 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.

Rocky:  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.

Reda:  Yes.

Rocky:  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?

Reda:  Yes.  First of all, it’s very good for a choreographer to know about other arts, especially photography. 

If 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. 

They 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.

And 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 needs. 

You don’t 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 this.

But working 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 ideas.

Rocky:  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? 

Reda:  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.

GS is hoping for a copy of Rocky's photo here!
Rocky:  Yes, you did, you gave them a class.  I took pictures.

Reda:  This was very nice.

Rocky:  They were thrilled. 

We were 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. 

We really appreciated this.

Reda:  Yes, of course, why not?  This is normal.

Rocky:  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?

Reda:  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. 

And the number of students was so much!  I remember in Chicago there was 240 dancers. 

But this 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….

Rocky:  All in one day!

Reda:  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 America now, it could be 100 some places, but it’s between 50 and 100.

Rocky:  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 showing them.

Reda:  Yes, yes.  And I’m really proud of all this! America and other places, also now the whole world is doing this! 

I’m 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 and Australia.  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.

Rocky:  Yes, I was there.

Reda:  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 manyJust say a figure how many students in front of me in the class.

Rocky:  About 350?

Reda:  620!

Rocky:  Mish maoul!

Reda:  620 girls in the class! 

Rocky:  How big was the room?

Reda:  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.

Rocky:  Mabrouk!

Reda:  Last month I was in Brazil, 150.

Rocky:  Yes, when I was in Brazil, I had those kind of numbers.

Reda:  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 dancing anyway.

Rocky:  God forbid!  Yes, the whole world is dancing.

Reda:  How many groups do you think are dancing my choreographies in America alone?

Rocky:  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.

Reda:  I am so proud of this.

Rocky:  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.

Reda:  Very good.

Rocky:  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?

Reda:  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 of Culture.

Rocky:  Yes.

Reda:  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 strange.

I wrote 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 them. 

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?

Rocky:  Yes, because it has to come out or it dies.

Reda:  You start painting and drawing when you are a child because of what?

Rocky:  Because you love it!

Reda:  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? 

So we 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. 

We traveled 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 always say.

I don’t want anything more, I don’t want anything.  When I come I was watching the movie I did in Brazil 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. 

I don’t need.  I have enough love and enough appreciation.  So this 1 %, you can forget.

Rocky:  It’s their problem; it’s their jealousy.

Reda:  It’s their problem.

Rocky:  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!

Reda:  So what more you want.  I’m lucky, I’m lucky.

Rocky:  Exactly.  What a present!  What a wonderful thing to have. Thank you so much!

Reda:  Thank you very much.

Rocky:  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…

Reda:  Yes, goes back to a long time ago, not that we are old…

Rocky:  We were both children…

Reda:  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)

Rocky:  120 years old!  Exactly, exactly!

Reda:  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 feel 73…

Rocky:  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.

Reda:  Yes, yes.  We’re lucky people!

Rocky:  Yes, we are.  We’re really lucky!  Thank you so much!

Reda:  Thank you!

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