Christmas with the Nutcracker: Cairo Ballet Still Hopeful

For Christmas, a little girl named Clara receives a mechanical doll.  Since there is always something mysterious about Christmas, her magic dream begins with the clock striking midnight. Clara is transported to an imaginary world where she witnesses the battle between the King of Mice and the Nutcracker. When the Nutcracker wins, turning into a prince, he takes Clara on a journey to the Land of Snow and the Land of Sweets, inviting her to a variety of dances.

Every year in December, the Cairo Opera Ballet Company performs the Nutcracker ballet at the Cairo Opera House Main Hall.

Based on the story The Nutcracker and the King of Mice by E.T.A. Hoffman, revised by Dumas and set to the music of P.I. Tchaikovsky, the Nutcracker ballet uses  choreography by Pepita, Ivanov and Vaionine, with additional touches by Abdel Moneim Kamel.

This year the ballet will be performed eight times, including two matinee performances. Though the ticketing offices have promised that there will be an audience, taking into account the current circumstances and ongoing violence and demonstrations in Cairo, music lovers are raising questions regarding the validity of artistic events at present.

“The message we are sending to our audience is that we keep going and that we are stronger than ever,” Erminia Kamel, the Cairo Opera Ballet Company Artistic Director told Ahram Online. “As artists at the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, we have many worries. Yet so far we did not receive any direct threats from any parties, and there are neither limitations imposed nor cancellations; we continue our work as usual.”

This year, earlier than usual, a large poster announces the ballet at the entrance to the Cairo Opera House grounds. The poster designed by Karam Saad uses a photo by Sherif Sonbol showing Clara doing a split while standing, supported by Drosselmeyer, the mysterious magician.

Following the practice of previous years, a total of 140 tickets were distributed free of charge among the poorest schools. “When needed, the opera also supports schools by organising bus transportation,” Kamel explained. “We are not planning any cancellations and hopefully we’ll be able to stage all the performances as planned.” The gesture is important and timely, and with 1200 seats at the Opera House Main Hall, the management can afford it.

Hoping to see the families attending the show, Kamel underlines the fact that the time is not easy for anyone. With the rising power of Islamists and their influence in media, many artists are concerned about the future of the performing arts.

The Cairo Opera Ballet company did not see an easy year. Over the months of Egypt’s Revolution, a number of foreign dancers left the company, including one first dancer and one soloist; the company has since recruited a number of young dancers from the Cairo Ballet School.

Yet despite all the events taking place in the country, “there is an obvious rise of unity and desire to work among the young dancers.” Kamel praises the whole troupe for the commitment and serious attitude that they show towards their profession and towards art. “As we prepare for the Nutcracker, I feel great enthusiasm for the whole company, as if they want to show that they exist and underline that they cannot lose. There is a great mobilization within the team.”

According to Kamel, the dancers increasingly show an interest in taking new roles and contributing to every aspect of the ballet. “Today I work with 85 dancers. We have four and five casts for some roles in this year’s Nutcracker. The Chinese dance has six casts and all are good.” Though, as Kamel underlines, the multitude of casting comes as a response to the dancers’ will to take the challenge of new roles on board, it is also a step towards utilizing all the dancers in all the performances. “I see the enthusiasm and I owe them this opportunity; as long as we do not compromise our professionalism and artistic output, they all have a right to progress and to show their skills in individual numbers,” Kamel comments.

However, the future of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company does not depend on social and political pressures alone. “The term of the Cairo Opera House Chairman, Abdel Moneim Kamel, will be coming to an end soon; my contract ends in June, and of course this might mean changes within the ballet management,” Erminia Kamel mentions however that as long as the Cairo Opera Ballet Company is willing to cooperate with her, as long as the dancers express enthusiasm, she is not willing to give up her role as artistic director.

“Time will tell, I am not thinking about it. We all continue our work as usual,” Kamel asserts. After  the Christmas Nutcracker, the Cairo Opera Ballet Company will re-perform Swan Lake, as according to Kamel, there is a great demand for this ballet from the Egyptian audience. “I was considering going back to Aram Khachaturian’s Spartacus as well; however, nothing is clear regarding this specific ballet yet.”

Published on 21 December 2011 in Ahram Online

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