x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sometimes, there is nothing left to do but dance

I like to think that I admire different types of art - dance, music, and visual arts - especially since I'm not a very artistic person, I really enjoy it when I can appreciate other people's work.

I like to think that I admire different types of art - dance, music, and visual arts - especially since I'm not a very artistic person, I really enjoy it when I can appreciate other people's work. Dance is a form of art I struggle with, mainly because I am co-ordination challenged but also because I am a little in awe of the ability of dancers to contort their bodies in such weird motions. It makes my knees hurt just watching them. The fact that they can give meaning to these movements I find incredible - when I get it, that is.

Determined to put more dance in my life, I dragged a friend downtown to the famous Gomhoria Theatre a few weeks ago to watch a young troupe perform a modern dance called It's Not Even Tuesday!, part of the Egyptian Dance Festival. The theatre is old but impressive, with beautifully ornate walls and a very high ceiling, gold detail and red seats. The audience slowly swelled with all sorts of people - a few foreigners on what seemed to be a very high-class tour and other dancers who all knew each other and looked excited. I really didn't know what to expect, but I had watched enough So You Think You Can Dance to know there would be some tight pants and wistful arm movements.

The curtain went up and on a dark stage a line of 11 people stood in front of a microphone. Each one took a turn telling a short but sad story. These were related in Egyptian dialect, and usually in a self-deprecating way. The rest of the performance was the stories retold in a series of vignettes of elaborate dance moves combined with either western or Arabic music. The dancers were varied in size and height, but were all talented, agile and able to bring us into their story.

I admit I didn't understand much. I am not very good at translating dance movements, but I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity and the realism of the small stories - a break-up, a couple falling in love, a woman having an abortion/losing a baby by popping a balloon inside her shirt - it was all very thought provoking. My favourite vignette involved two dancers dressed in black and seated side by side, speaking and moving in perfect unison. They were acting out the break-up of an engagement, and it was visually satisfying to see their movements mimic each other so finely, and to hear their voices in perfect unison. Needless to say they received much warm applause.

My only disappointment was that some of the dancing wasn't equally well co-ordinated. Performers who were supposed to be in sync were obviously a split-second off. Even though I can't dance, I know when dancers are supposed to move together. They also spoke a little too fast and the music tended to drown out their soliloquies. All was immediately forgiven, however, when the troupe came out to meet the audience and answer questions. Virtually all were under 25 and half had never performed in a major production like this on stage in front of a large audience before. Whatever minor movement "errors" there may have been melted away in my eyes when I heard this, In addition the dancers had all contributed to writing and choreographing the piece.

The group apparently met one day on the banks of the Nile and sat up late to discuss what they wanted to convey. They shared stories and from this came the idea of a series of break-ups, mixed with miserable school experiences and problems with parents and jobs. The troupe then simply turned these experiences into dance. The lead dancer and director later told me that they had all realised that each story they came up with had happened on a Tuesday. The piece is supposed to be set on a Sunday, hence the title - It's not even Tuesday! As each dancer talked about their experience learning the moves, it was refreshing to see young Arabs excelling at something they obviously love and to watch them use modern dance to express the everyday frustrations many members of the audience would be going through. As the director said, she just wanted everyone to leave thinking: "I am not alone!"

Hadeel al Shalchi is a writer for the Associated Press, based in Cairo