East-west bonanza

On 7 and 8 December, the Cairo Opera Ballet Company presented Ballet Lorkiana with El Leila El Kebira at the Main Hall — something of a minor tradition of the Cairo Opera House by now.

Published on15 Dec 2011 in Ahram Online and Al Ahram Weekly

Lorkiana is based on choreography by Mark Minatskanian, who was inspired by Federico Garcia Lorca (hence the name): that passion for revolution, love, the gypsies and flamenco; Lorca was after all as friendly with the composer Manuel de Falla, who specialised in Andalusian folklore, as he was with Salvador Dali. Lorca’s poems and plays have inspired directors and choreographers-alike. No wonder Minatskanian reached out to him when he set out to tell the story of Soledad, the protagonist who finds it hard to overcome the death of her beloved.

The passion of story resonates in music by Edward B. Marks and B. Marquina, based on a Malaguena by a Cuban composer, Ernesto Lecuona. Flamenco makes sense in the context of Lorca’s admiration for Andalusian culture. Topped with inserts from fandango, the music sets a perfect background for the strong emotions of love and grief expressed in Lorkiana.

On 7 December Sahar Helmy gave much edge to Soledad and on 8 December Ahmed Yehia’s clear lines embellished Metador. No doubt the second evening took a stronger definition since, technically speaking, everything seemed to fall into place; the first day lighting pitfalls were not repeated. However, at the level of choreography, the ballet still needed more rehearsal time, the better to give spark to the material performed.

Spain, flamenco, Lorca’s passion could have come to the surface more effectively had all the dancers mastered the numbers to perfection; and this is particularly of the scenes which require perfect coordination. At the same time, replacing recorded music with live orchestra would have definitely added an important dimension to the show.


El-Leila El-Kebira (The Grand Night), one of the most important musical works of the Arab world, was performed in the second half of the evening. With music by Sayed Mekkawy and poetry by Salah Jahin, El-Leila El-Kebira saw many adaptations — the best known being the puppet theatre show. The Cairo Opera Ballet Company performs a version created by Abdel Moneim Kamel in 2001, in which the puppets turn into live dancers.

With all the cultural elements close to Egyptian hearts, El-Leila El-Kebira is the guaranteed audience magnet. The joy of the audience reminds us of the golden age of music and culture of 1960s, when Egypt’s art scene flourished and each night theatres and concert halls were fully sold out.

So it was El-Leila El-Kebira that made the audience, on both days, ecstatic.

Though Lorkiana, performed during the first half of the evening, did not receive the applause it deserved as obviously most of the audience came to enjoy El-Leila El-Kebira, it was a happy opportunity for making the acquaintance of the art of a different culture.

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