Gilded Serpent presents...
wa Sahlan 2005:
First Impressions as of
Wednesday, June 29
Ahlan wa Sahlan Oriental Dance Festival in Egypt organized
by Raqia Hassan opened Monday, June 27 and runs
through Sunday, July 3.
pleased to report that in just the first couple of days it has
been a great experience, improved in many ways over 2004.
night gala the evening of Monday, June 27 was excellent. About
1,000 people attended (compared to about 750 in 2004). The outdoor
introductory show started shortly after 7:30 pm and was my favorite
of the three Ahlan wa Sahlan opening night outdoor shows I have
seen so far: Khairiyya Maazin and two assistant
dancers performed Ghawazee dancing on the landing of the outdoor
staircase outside the hotel, accompanied by music played by the
Musicians of the Nile, the prestigious Upper
Egypt band consisting of mizmars, rebabas, and traditional-style
drums. At times, the band played Saidi music, and others times
Ghawazee. At times, audience members were invited to join the
performers on the landing and dance with them. As the dancing
drew to a close, a dancing Arabian horse appeared, dancing to
the mesmerizing Saidi beat. Its rider, Samir Abo Basha,
guided it through its paces. I was sorry when the outdoor entertainment
ended and it was time to head inside.
took a while to clear the ticket line. Once inside the ballroom,
I was relieved to discover there were plenty of open seats still
available, and I was able to find the rest of Morocco’s
group and join them. As people continued to pour in, there were
plenty of tables available. On either side of the main stage,
projectors and screens were set up to show those sitting at the
tables farther out just what was happening on stage.
show started shortly after 8:30 pm. There was an incredible half-hour
tabla solo by Hamis Henkesh who is recognized
as one of Egypt’s leading tabla players and used to play
for Soheir Zaki. He was accompanied by a large
number of supporting percussion players on various types of drums.
This year’s fashion show featuring Amira al Kattan’s
designs seemed shorter than last year, which was welcome. During
the 30-minute fashion show, the waiters brought salads out to
all the tables, which helped keep our appetites under control
until supper time.
pm the fashion show ended and it was time to eat – another
improvement over 2004 when the buffet lines weren’t opened
until after 10:00 pm. This
year the experience was vastly improved over 2004. There was
plenty of food for everybody. For the most part people behaved
courteously and respectfully, and there was plenty of food to
go around. I had stayed behind to guard our table when most of
the group went to the buffet line, and I didn’t join the
line myself until my colleagues returned. So I was one of the
last people to head for the food, and I was still able to fill
my plate with many appetizing choices. There were some isolated
incidents of bad behavior. For example, a Canadian dancer from
our group had just placed some tasty morsels on her plate when
a rude male musician smashed into her so hard that her food went
flying. But this was the exception, and it’s not fair to
blame the organizers for the bad behavior of a few individuals.
In another improvement over 2004, the waiters replenished our
bottled water more frequently than they did before.
for the opening night show included Soraya, Randa
Kamel, and Dina. This too was an enhancement
over the 2004 show which had featured only two performers, Dahlia
and Dina. Soraya, the first dancer, started performing
about 11:00 pm. The show ended around 2:00 am.
on Tuesday, June 28. I elected to not take any classes this day,
instead going on a side trip to the step pyramid and tombs at
Saqqara with three other women from Morocco’s group. On
the way back, we stopped at a carpet-making school, and I acquired
a wool-and-silk treasure to bring home. In the evening, we attended
the first of the week’s summer parties. It opened with a
half-hour fashion show, but I must admit I didn’t figure
out which designer’s garb was featured this time. For the
performers, this evening’s theme was mostly to feature the
teachers who would be offering classes throughout the week. I
didn’t note the names of everyone, but there was someone
from Milan, the Algerian teacher, a Bollywood-style dancer, Tamalyn
Dallal doing a piece from China, and Morocco doing Oriental.
Although I was enjoying some fine dancers, I left at intermission,
deciding I needed a good night’s sleep.
June 29 I took Khairiyya Maazin’s Ghawazee workshop.
She was once again accompanied by the Musicians of the Nile. I’m
now resting a bit before dinner and the evening show and decided
to take the opportunity to send my first impressions to the Gilded
Ahlan wa Sahlan this year, there were many questions. One concern,
of course, was the question of whether the opening gala would
be as disastrous as the one in 2004 and whether the crowding in
the classes would be a problem. I’m so pleased that it went
so smoothly this year – it was a very positive experience,
and I would encourage everyone who was alienated by the 2004 feeding
frenzy to consider giving Ahlan wa Sahlan another chance. I’ve
only taken one class so far, so it’s too early to comment
on what the crowding levels in classes are like. The one I took
rival organization, the Nile Group, announced about 3 weeks
ago that they were organizing a rival festival at a hotel near
the one where Ahlan wa Sahlan was to be held.
chosen to have it on the exact same dates as Ahlan wa Sahlan,
and they had recruited away some of the popular instructors including
Aida Nour, Lubna, and Dandash.
This raised many questions over whether the existence of their
event would undermine the success of Ahlan wa Sahlan. From what
I’ve seen so far, however, that’s not the case. I
considered going over to take classes taught by Dandash and Lubna,
but they were scheduled opposite other classes at Ahlan wa Sahlan
that I wanted to take, so I stayed with the Ahlan wa Sahlan classes.
I’m still considering wandering over to see what’s
happening at some point.
night, at the Summer Party, Mo Geddawi announced that Raqia
will be holding a large festival with many leading Egyptian
instructors in Sweden in April. (In case you don’t see
the significance of this, Nile Group has been a leading organizer
of festivals in Sweden in the past, and it’s reasonable
to conclude this is Raqia’s way of “reciprocating”
their decision to hold a rival festival opposite hers.)
So, a couple
of days into the event, my first impressions of Ahlan wa Sahlan
2005 are very positive. Things have gone well so far. Now all
I have to do is figure out how on earth I’m going to transport
home the rebaba I bought from the Musicians of the Nile, the carpet
I bought near Saqqara, and the tabla I bought on Mohammed Ali
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