Opera ballet

Zorba Online: Unique Story of One of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company’s Most Triumphant Works – Stage & Street – Arts & Culture

The release of Zorba performed by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company on the Ministry of Culture’s YouTube channel is not an event to go unnoticed. With viewers able to watch the classic from June 7 at 9 p.m., it’s also worth looking into the unique history of this ballet in Egypt.

Since 2001, the Zorba ballet has been performed almost every year on the stage of the main hall of the Cairo Opera House. The ballet is staged with choreography by Lorca Massine, costumes and sets by Richard Kaja, one of the biggest names in Polish scenography and posters.

The ballet is adapted from the novel Zorba the Greek (1946) by Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis.

Over the years, the music of Mikis Theodorakis, one of Greece’s best-known composers, has been performed by the Cairo Opera Orchestra under the direction of many conductors, including Nader Abbassi, Nayer Nagui, and before them Giorgio Croci from Italy and Ivan Filev from Bulgaria.

Theodorakis’ music extends to Greek folk elements and is filled with lovely bright patterns. The Sirtaki dance, performed at the end of the ballet, is one of the most vital elements of the whole work.

The choreography, simplicity and repetitive tableaus take on their own charm when accompanied by lyrically touching musical elements and folkloric coloring. In ballet, simplified dramaturgical elements allow direct human experience to emerge and capture the hearts of the audience again and again.

Ballet Zorba by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, staged at the Cairo Opera House (Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)

But the music isn’t the only reason Egyptian audiences admire Zorba, giving it more attention than other equally valuable works staged by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company.

Great credit goes to Hany Hassan, principal dancer of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company who, over the years, has given a unique touch to the lead role, hailed for his performance internationally.

For many years and throughout several seasons, Hassan’s ballet skills woven into a highly emotional approach to the ballet’s protagonist have earned him well-deserved recognition. He definitely left a significant imprint on the history of this ballet in Egypt.

As Nihad Allam put it in his 2013 review of one of Zorba’s productions: “Hassan has a natural affinity for the role of Zorba. His heartfelt and effortless performance in the role since 2002 has led him to be known as the “official” Zorba in Cairo.

It was before this performance that Hassan was given a surprise gift – a statue of him dancing in the ballet.

“The bronze statue, called ‘The Egyptian Zorba,’ was made by artist Ossama El-Serwi, artistic advisor to the Egyptian Embassy in Russia, in recognition of Hassan’s talent and patriotism,” continued Allam.

But if for many years Hassan was identified with Zorba, since 2013 the role has also been embodied by other skilled dancers: Ahmed Yehia and Amr Farouk, among others, who each gave a unique touch to the character, bringing new colors of the protagonist. in the foreground.

Another element highlighting Zorba in the history of classical dance in Egypt is the fact that in 2013 the ballet became associated with the artists’ struggles against obscurantism, an association sparked by nationwide protests against the president. of the time, Mohamed Morsi.

In May 2013, when artists stormed the Ministry of Culture, staging a sit-in and demanding the removal of then-Minister of Culture Alaa Abdel Aziz (Morsi appointee), Zorba was the highlight of the series of performances staged by the ballet troupe in front of the ministry building.

Commenting on these events, in September 2013, three months after Morsi’s removal from the presidency, Erminia Kamel, artistic director of the Egyptian ballet troupe, said: “Cairo Opera Ballet Company wanted to add its part street performances, against the minister and against the Muslim Brotherhood then in power. a great story and carries a lot of artistic value. In the afternoon they rehearsed at the Opera, and in the evening a few dancers went to dance in front of the ministry.

Naturally, Zorba opened the new 2013-2014 season of the Cairo Opera, following the withdrawal of Morsi. The show came at the special request of Mohamed Saber Arab, then the new Minister of Culture replacing Abdel-Aziz, and Ines Abdel Dayem, who later served as President of the Cairo Opera and now Minister of the culture.

For several seasons that followed, Zorba continued to return to the stage of the Cairo Opera House. Similarly, it was to be played this year, if the general shutdown of all social activities put in place on March 9, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, had not changed its fate.

In an interview with Erminia Kamel at the beginning of May, she revealed that “we were in the middle of final rehearsals for the ballet Zorba… The soloists were ready and the corps de ballet almost ready. It was March 9, I remember, while we were working on the sharpening (focus) in the main rehearsal hall of the Cairo Opera House, when we learned that all cultural activities were suspended.

Kamel went on to say that all the dancers were very excited to stage Zorba again, with the company putting together a new cast and also gearing up for their first big tour in Oman.

“We were supposed to have a few nights at the Opera House in Cairo and then go to the Royal Opera House in Muscat. It was a big thing because we weren’t just attending a bigger event; we were the event itself. It was the first time the company of more than 50 dancers had been invited to stage Zorba and El-Leila El-Kebira evenings in Oman, in a series of performances. We spent a year preparing for this tour.


Ballet Zorba by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, staged at the Cairo Opera House (Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)

Undeniably, Zorba has established itself as one of the most important works staged by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company.

With coronavirus precautionary measures, including a general cultural shutdown of all activities, for many members of the public, the ballet’s online release is one of the highlights of the Ministry of Culture’s YouTube uploads.

The release of Zorba online is part of the Ministry of Culture’s “Culture in Your Hands” initiative, which aims to bring theatrical performances, concerts and other cultural events to the public at home.

Launched in late March, the YouTube channel was filled with dozens of concerts featuring well-known Egyptian and Arab singers, plays and seminars, among other content.

According to data provided by the ministry in late May, the ministry’s channel saw 25 million visitors in two months. Viewers come from over 28 countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, USA, Canada, Iraq, Germany, England, Morocco and Jordan.

Watch Cairo Opera Ballet Company’s Zorba, staged in the main hall of the Cairo Opera House below, or follow this link to see it on the Ministry of Culture’s YouTube channel.

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