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Theatre Journal 52.2 (2000) 283-286

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Performance Review

11Th Cairo International Festival For Experimental Theatre

11Th Cairo International Festival For Experimental Theatre. Cairo, Egypt. 1-11 September 1999.

IMAGE LINK= Two years ago Holly Hill reported in this journal on the ninth annual Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre. The Festival has continued to grow both in number of productions (seventy-three this year) and number of countries represented (this year forty-three). The pleasures of the Festival are many, but chief among them is the opportunity to visit and explore one of the world's most fascinating cities. Exploration is encouraged by the Festival itself, which utilizes not only many of the city's major theatre venues, but also locations [End Page 283] in fascinating historical sites, such as in the courtyards of recently restored eighteenth-century Ottoman merchant houses in the shadow of the famous Al-Azar University and Mosque. Another pleasure is the opportunity to see companies from countries not often represented in European festivals, especially those from the Middle East (Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Palestine, Quatar, Libya) and from the former Soviet Union (Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tatarstan). Companies from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America filled out the program. The Festival also included, for the first time, a company from the United States: the Joe Goode Dance Company, which offered an engaging meditation of Western, Country, and cult film cultures called Maverick Cowboy.

As is normally the case, there were also two days of symposia, one this year devoted to experimentation in Arab theatre and the other to the impact of Grotowski on world theatre. Dr. Hill remarked two years ago on the oddity of the symposium on Arab theatre composed only of male speakers, despite an announced festival attention to women in theatre. This year a few women were included, but otherwise the Arab panel was almost identical to that of previous years, composed of well-established middle-aged figures. This year, however, Mu'tazza, the daughter of the late dramatist Salah Abdel-Sabour challenged the right of this middle-aged panel to speak for her generation without deigning to listen to them. Others seconded her feelings and a normally rather banal and predictable session became a heated debate. Nahad Selaiha, a woman who is one of Egypt's leading dramatic critics, called the session "exhilarating, like a fairy tale come true." This confrontation came just a few days after the Minister of Culture announced a long-awaited and welcome series of grants to twelve young companies, all of whom have grown up with, or out of, the Festival, an indication of this event's importance to the emerging generation.

The Festival opened and closed at the elegant modern Opera House, the center of a beautiful cultural complex on a large island in the Nile. The opening production was a visually stunning offering from the Del Buratto troupe of Italy, Fly Butterfly. Against a background of music from Puccini, a Bunraku style doll moved through a dream landscape of colorful fans and parasols, all appearing, disappearing, or floating mysteriously in a black void. What seemed at first merely a charming Orientalist display took on a darker and more complex tone as the doll began to struggle for freedom against its increasingly visible manipulators, eventually becoming a living figure before being subdued and at last killed in a burst of red scarves.

Fly Butterfly was the first of twenty-one productions from twenty countries pre-selected by the Festival organizers to compete for Festival awards. That for best production went to a remarkable company from France, La Cirque Désaccordeé, whose appropriately named C'est pour toi que je fais ça offered a breath-taking mixture of circus acrobatics, tumbling, mock stage battles, tightrope walking, bits of choral dancing, and all manner of physical and vocal displays. It was like a continual three-ring circus, except that sometimes there were as many as five rings. In perhaps the most breathtaking routine, actors were catapulted from a...


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