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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Origins of Reda Troupe Dances:
Part 8: Nubian

 

by Shira

 

 

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Table of Contents

 

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About the Interview

On July 31, 2006, Mahmoud Reda agreed to an interview to discuss the origins of the dances used in Reda Troupe. The purpose of this interview was to clarify which aspects of Reda Troupe's work were drawn from actual folk sources, versus which arose from other inspiration.

My objective for the interview was to document Mr. Reda's process and experiences that shaped the work he created. I wanted to provide a primary source that others could reference when performing their own research into Reda Troupe and its place in Egyptian theatrical history. For purposes of these articles, it is not in my scope to critique his work or provide my personal analysis.

Mr. Reda expressed a preference that I not record the interview. He said he would speak more freely if I didn't capture it on tape. For that reason, I opted to take written notes by hand instead of recording. To ensure I had accurately captured the conversation, I gave him the opportunity to review the articles I wrote describing what he said in the interview and correct any errors I had made. This final version has been approved by him as accurately representing what he told me.

Mahmoud Reda

 

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About Nubia

"Don't do a complicated pattern for simple people." - Mahmoud Reda, July 31, 2006.

In ancient times, the land of Nubia extended from around Aswan, Egypt on its northern end into Meroë, Sudan in the south. (See the shaded area on the map.)

Following Egypt's 1952 revolution, plans began to replace an older British dam with a new one, which came to be called Assad al-'Aly, the Aswan High Dam. Construction began in 1960, with the first stage completed in 1964. The final construction ended in 1970.

The environmental impact of the new dam was catastrophic to the Nubian culture. It flooded the entire country of Nubia, covering it with Lake Nasser. Some estimates say that 90,000 people were displaced. Although a forced relocation campaign resettled thousands of people, many nomadic tribes were not warned in advance of the expected inundation, and their routines in caring for their livestock were completely disrupted.

When Mahmoud Reda conducted his dance field research in the early 1960's, Nubia didn't exist any more because of the Aswan High Dam. He visited the Nubian settlement of Kom Ombo near Aswan, where approximately 45,000 Nubians resettled.

Culturally speaking, Reda observed that the resettled Nubians were very similar to the people of Aswan, because the northern edge of Nubia extended to the vicinity of Aswan.

ABOUT THE MAP: The map shows where the Nubian people lived before the building of the Aswan High Dam destroyed their homeland. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating these articles. Click the map to see more detail.

Egypt

When traveling south from the Mediterranean Sea, the region known as the Said ends north of Aswan. Around Aswan, the people, their movement, and their culture start looking more like Nubia and the Sudan.

Reda found the Nubians to be a very artistic culture. For example, they decorated the outside of their homes with drawings of camels and other locally-inspired artwork.

The Nubian people have different languages. One group speaks Fadidjah, another Kanzee. These groups don't understand each others' languages, and they speak classical Arabic when they need to communicate with each other.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo shows a Nubian home at Aswan, Egypt. I photographed it on one of my trips to Egypt. Click on it to see more details.

Nubian Home

 

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Nubian Dance

In contrast with Saidi dance, the Nubian style of dance Reda observed involved loose movement of the arms. Men and women did mostly the same movement. He noted that a visitor would never see 12 girls dancing together — it might be possible to see one.

The basic moves in Reda's Nubian choreography were based on real movements he observed. However, the formations that Reda employed in his choreography were his own invention for theatrical purposes. As he designed the formations for his Nubian dance, he thought in terms of movement that made sense with the daily lives of the people. Reda said, "You don't do a complicated pattern for simple people."

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The dancers create formations on stage as part of the Nubian section of a performance scene in the 1965 Egyptian movie Gharam fil Karnak. Click on the photo to see more detail.

Nubian

 

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Nubian Music

At the time Mahmoud Reda visited Kom Ombo for his field research, the village collected many men to sing for him. Their music contained complicated rhythms, some with 24 beats. The small tape recorder Reda had brought with him was broken, so he needed to retain the music by memory as best he could.

The song Reda selected to memorize was one that the locals were singing about Gamal Abdel Nasser. Reda's composer then rearranged it to create a version for stage.

Nasser was the Egyptian president at the time of the Aswan Dam's construction, and was responsible for the resettlement of the Nubian people. Nubians did not hold a favorable opinion of him.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Nubian musicians play the tamboura, which is a traditional Nubian instrument resembling a lyre. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating these articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Tamboura

 

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Nubian Costuming

Nubian women's dresses tend to be long and drag behind them. For dance purposes, it is necessary to leave the feet free to move. For this reason, the dresses worn by Reda Troupe for Nubian dance pieces are cut shorter in the front to make it easier to do the footwork involved in dance.

The costuming used for the men in Reda Troupe's presentation of Nubian dance looked like underwear. It consisted of trousers worn with a shirt. This is because Nubian men would typically remove their gallabiyas (long robes) when working in the fields. The shirts have triangles of color along the edge.

In the motion picture Gharam fi al-Karnak, the finale consisted of a suite of folkloric dances. For the Nubian portion, the singer Mohammed el-Ezabi and the male dancers wore blackface makeup.

According to Mahmoud Reda, Egyptians of the 1960's didn't see this as racist in the same way that Americans view blackface. Reda said that to the Egyptians who came to see his shows, there was no problem at all with doing this for theatrical purposes; it is merely an extension of the costuming.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy perform a duet as part of a Nubian dance sequence in the 1965 Egyptian movie Gharam fil Karnak. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating these articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Nubian

 

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Related Articles

Shira has written additional articles based on the interview. Some have not yet been posted online. This section will be updated once they are available.

 

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Mahmoud Reda for making himself available for the interview on which this article is based. He was most patient in answering my many questions and clarifying points for me when necessary.

I would like to thank Maleeha and Kahraman Near East Dance Ensemble for their important role in making this interview possible.

The material in this article originally appeared in print in Zaghareet Magazine, in 2007.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: I took this photo of Mahmoud Reda in July, 2006, the day of the interview.

Mahmoud Reda in 2006

 

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