Sunday, December 26, 2010

An Egyptian feast of culture

The El-Sharkeia troupe performed numerous traditional dances which enthralled an audience in Kochi recently

Photos: The Tanoura and The Horse dances

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the Tanoura dance, a broad-shouldered man, Tarek, comes onto the stage wearing a long multi-coloured skirt. He starts whirling around, at high speed, like a spinning top, and soon the skirt is swirling about. Tarek increases his speed and the skirt rises higher and higher. Behind him, standing in a semi circle, a few feet apart, are other dancers, in white gowns and green sashes, shaking doufs (Egyptian-style tambourines).

It is an amazing dance and requires plenty of physical strength. “The skirt weighs 30 kgs,” says Azza. The Tanoura dance, which is Sufi in origin, has an underlying meaning. “The universe is moving in a circle,” says Azza. “The dance shows that we start at one point and return to the beginning.”

After a while, a dancer presents Tarek with a folded Egyptian flag. The dancer unfurls it and spins around his head. Then he is given the Indian flag and he places it over the Egyptian flag and goes round and round, like a wild dervish. The audience claps enthusiastically.

“We did this to show the close relations between India and Egypt,” says Azza Abdelhafeez Mohamad, the director of the El Sharkeih troupe. “The Egyptians have a great affection for India,” says M.R. Krishnamoorthy, the regional officer of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), which organised the show at the Fine Arts hall in Kochi.

All the dances are accompanied by Arabic folk songs. A group of three men in grey gowns and white caps stand at one side of the stage. They play the tabla, the accordion, and the mezmar (an Arabic instrument, similar to a flute). Sayed, the lead singer, has a resonant voice, made powerful by its depth and clarity.

In the Al Hawaya dance, women, in orange gowns and red veils, fold a piece of cloth, called the Al Hawaya, and place it on their heads. Then they put a water pot on top of it, and balance it perfectly, as they sway their hips, hands and legs sensuously. “Through this dance, the women learn how to keep their balance,” says Azza. The dancers are fabulous-looking, and that adds to the charm.

In an item, called The Horse, two men wear the guise of a horse. Only the feet of the dancers are seen. They are brought in by the lead dancer, Naglaa, who acts like a trainer. Deftly, the horse moves forward, then it steps back. After a while, it lies down and the dancers raise their feet ceiling-wards. It gets up and staggers about. Naglaa kisses the nose. The horse shows its excitement by prancing about.

The troupe comes from Sharkia, which is a region famous throughout Egypt for its breeding of Arabian horses. “We wanted to show the dancing skills of the Arabian horse,” says Azza.

Interestingly, in all the dances the men and women wear long gowns. Unlike in modern Western dance, like in AXN’s popular television show, ‘So You Think You Can dance’, very little flesh is on display. Somehow, it looks sexier than when everything is exposed.

The El-Sharkeia troupe has come to India on a cultural exchange visit and has performed in Delhi, Kozhikode, Mallapuram, and Kochi.

Author K.P. Joseph, 80, who was in the Kochi audience, says, “There is a lot of similarity between Egyptian and Indian cultures. The rhythms and the body movements are similar to our dance styles. The show brought us closer to Egyptian traditions.”

Meanwhile, Azza was thrilled by the crowd’s response in Kochi. “The people instinctively caught the rhythms of the music and applauded in harmony with the beat,” she says. “Our dancers were encouraged to give off their best.”

A gregarious personality, Azza sat in the front row and laughed and clapped to show her appreciation at the dancers. They are a seasoned group, having performed all over the world. There are 17 dancers, comprising 11 men and six women. They range in age from 18 to 41. For all of them, including Azza, it is their first visit to Kerala.

“The hospitality shown by the people has been marvellous,” says Azza. “We feel at home. Egypt and India are ancient civilizations with similar traditions.”

And so, thanks to the ICCR, Kochiites were able to enjoy Egyptian culture first-hand and, for most, it was a memorable experience.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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