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Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2003 Closing

A video review by A'isha Azar

Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2003 is a video set that features the opening and closing events at the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival in Cairo, sponsored by Raqia Hassan. The videos can be purchased as a set or separately from Hala at www.haladance.com. I would definitely recommend getting the set. Both videos feature dancers that make them worth owning and watching more than once.

The OPENING video featured Soraya, Dandash and Randa, as well as folkloric performers of Sufi dance, and Ghawazis of the Banat Mazin. We also saw the singer Hassan Elasmar.

The CLOSING video features three dancers, two singers and lots of footage of the closing event and people who attended. This video has some really great elements and is every bit as good as the Opening. The filming is fine and the sound is great.

CLOSING presents Waffa Badr as the opening performer. I loved her "Do-wop guys"! (This is what I call those background dancers that often are a part of the show, enhancing the performances of the prima danseuse.) They were very good and worked with her beautifully. Waffa is a bit lazy compared to most of the dancers in this video set. She has just one dance on the video and it is good, but not up to the standards that are set by the others. Maybe she was having an off night, because it is obvious that she has talent. She is a pretty and feminine dancer.

Waffa wore a simple dress, in gold and some sheer material with sequin work. One of the things that I notice occasionally with the Egyptian dancers is that they seem to be attracted to a costume, but do not necessarily think about what it might look like on THEM!! Waffa had what I refer to as the "Egyptian line of demarcation", meaning panty lines for days!!! I have seen this same thing on Dina, Fifi and several others. My purpose in pointing this out is to show a difference in general attitudes about costuming between the western professional dancer who would expect every aspect of her costuming to be perfect in every way, (think Jillina), and the Egyptian professional (think Fifi) who might stuff herself into a dress that is too small and allows you to count the cellulite bumps on her tease (rear-end)!! It is a matter of attitude and is neither right nor wrong, but I think this same attitude is also reflected in the relaxed ease with which Egyptians do the dance, while westerners for the most part must struggle to get that "just right" Egyptian feel to their work.

Waffa did a good duet with a Sudani singer. ( He might be the same guy that we saw some years ago on one of Dina's videos.) This gentleman moves really well and they were great together. Waffa did some nice shoulder work that was shown to good advantage in the dance. She was accompanied by the Do-wop Guys and she got the audience involved. The Guys really broke loose and had a blast dancing with the crowd.

Randa was featured in both the OPENING and CLOSING videos and is well worth seeing twice. She is a wonderful artist and is very attached to her music both emotionally and technically. She uses her sense of drama beautifully and it serves well to emphasize her truly excellent technique. She moves so well; she is neither too clean nor too muddy, but presents the dance with that perfect Egyptian essence that is so difficult to describe in words, but so recognizable to any connoisseur of the style. One of my favorite movements on her is a way that she has of stretching herself to her fullest height on her toes and then executing perfect drops and lifts with her hips. This is no easy accomplishment.

A disconcerting thing in the video for me is a child shown dancing on a table. I asked Hala specifically about this since I do not believe that Raqs Sharghi is a dance that should be performed as a public entertainment by children. She said that the family of the girl sat in the back of the hall and that her dance was not as prominent as the photographer made it seem, for which I am thankful! The child is dressed in a skimpy band top and straight skirt in a dark color, and her movements are appropriate for a grown woman but not for a little girl. I have no problem with them learning the more folkloric styles, but little girls should not be dancing with this kind of sensuality. It is unhealthy for them because they have so little understanding of their own sexuality this early in life. There are those who will point out that kids at Arab parties dance all the time. However, I can say from my own experiences, the children are not doing anything nearly that sensual. And usually they, and everyone else who is not dancing as a professional entertainer, are not wearing costumes, but are in their party cloths. And, a private party is not a public event.

The video next featured a singer named ElShoky. The audience got up and danced during his performance. He is a pop singer and he and the band were quite good together. His performance reminded me very much of my nights spent in a certain infamous nightclub in Seattle with the MB Orchestra! I enjoyed the film footage of the crowd dancing and was particularly taken with a certain male participant on the dance floor. He had some fancy footwork and an interesting command of rhythm! He is wearing grey trousers, a black shirt or jacket with a white t-shirt beneath, black dress shoes and sunglasses flipped up on his forehead. Watch for him on the video!!

The last dancer on the CLOSING video is Asmahan. She is from South America. Asmahan is a good dancer, but an amazing entertainer. Her show has a lot of variety, including a little bit of cane dancing, a dance with melea and audience participation.

She made her entrance in a giant oil lamp, carried by four Do-wop Guys dressed almost in the Turkish Janissary style, including black shalwar and boots with long sleeved vests. She did a veil routine of sorts, with long strips of fabric attached to her waist, and the Guys holding the ends about eight feet away and manipulating the fabric in an imitation of veil work.

All of her costuming was very good, including one that was short strips of miniskirt with fringed go-go boots. Her opening number costume is worth a second look. It was orange, yellow and gold and, consisted of a harem style pant in yellow, cut in large strips. Beneath, she was wearing an orange tap pant. There was a brief belt in yellow fabric strips and jewels. The jewel motif was carried through on the orange bra and her heels completed the ensemble. When she executed spins, it looked like she could inadvertently lift off!

Asmahan is quite westernized in her dance style. Her general technique, timing, use of big deep undulations and use of movement in very balanced ways ( two locks to the left, two to the right), her use of her head and hair are all very much like one sees in the big names in the States.

Asmahan does a great and showy drum solo with one of her drummers. He is out on the floor with her and they work together very effectively. At one point he even does a summersault, drum in hand. Her shimmy work is good, though she is not as connected to the musical aspects of the drum solo as some dancers. She has amazing energy and keeps it up the whole time.

One of the most exciting features of this video set is the duet between Asmahan and the world's greatest cymbal player!!!!! This is an incredibly memorable performance. This man is totally intense and powerful with a set of sagat. He is absolutely amazing and he brings out the best in Asmahan as well. I have been dancing for thirty years and have never seen a more wonderful performance using sagat. This mans plays them as if they were a natural extension of his hands. If others in Egypt have anywhere near his expertise, it is no wonder that the Egyptian dancers leave the cymbal playing to the band!

Though there are better dancers on the technical and musical levels, I have to say that I would go and watch Asmahan live. She is a really fine entertainer.

Hassan Elasmar, the singer from the OPENING video followed Asmahan. The video closes with him performing and the audience getting up and dancing to his music. It is a fitting way to end the set because it reminds the viewer that these two shows were part of the larger atmosphere of the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival, which without the support of dancers from all over the world, would not have taken place.

As with the OPENING video, I would have had less footage of the audience, but this is the only fault that I can find in this set. The dancing is superb on both videos. The quality of the film is good, with the footage shot from near and far, and the music quality is wonderful! I am extremely pleased to add this set to my video collection and would recommend it highly to students and instructors who want to see quality dancing and great entertainment.

A'isha Azar is qualified to review this video set. She has studied, performed and taught the dances of the Middle East and North Africa since 1974. A'isha has studied with some of the finest Egyptian dancers, as well as other natives, both professional and non-professional, from various countries. She is primarily an Egyptian style dancer and also teaches and performs folkloric dances from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and other areas.