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

Origins of Reda Troupe Dances:
Part 10: Qalb fil Robabikia

 

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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Introduction

"What shall I do with this poor heart? Nobody wants it." - the fisherman's daughter in Reda's full length dance production, Qalb fil Robabikia, 2001.

Although Reda Troupe originated as a private venture, Mahmoud Reda realized that he needed the sponsorship of the government to attain the resources needed to support ongoing operations. So, in 1962 Reda Troupe became employees of the Egyptian government.

When Mahmoud Reda turned 60 in 1990, he was required to retire. It was the policy of the Egyptian government that employees retire at age 60, and they were not willing to make an exception for him. Reda Troupe continued on without him, continuing to perform the repertoire he had built in his 30 years of creating art. It was strange for Reda to see the group continuing to operate without being a part of it any more.

Ten years later, he pushed the Egyptian government to bring him back to lead Reda Troupe in the creation of an entirely new full-length show. They agreed to this, and the result was Qalb fil-Robabikia.

Mahmoud Reda felt that this show was the culmination of his life's work.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo shows Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy with the pyramids in the background. It was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating the articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Reda and Farida

Qalb fil-Robabikia is a full-length story told through dance, similar to the tradition of fairy tales told by Russian ballet. Brought to stage in 2001, this choreographed fantasy by Mahmoud Reda is the tale of a fisherman and a mermaid. The title means "The Heart in the Peddler".

In Egypt, there were people who served the function that thrift shops in the U.S. serve today. They would collect used goods such as old plates, then resell them at an affordable price. A man in this profession is known as a "robabikia". The word "alb" (sometimes spelled "qalb" with a q that is mostly silent in Egyptian dialect of Arabic) is the Arabic word for "heart".

The story provides a framework for its characters to travel from one part of Egypt to another in search of something. As they arrive at each part of Egypt, a dance representing that region is performed.

ABOUT THE MAP: This map of Egypt shows some of the areas that Reda Troupe covered with their body of work. Click on it to see more detail.

Egypt

 

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The Story

The daughter of a village's head fisherman falls in love with a boy that works for her father. It is a forbidden love in a society that uses arranged marriages. The fishermen prepare to go to sea, and a dance choreography tells of the preparations. Wives bring food to their husbands, and the girl brings a shawl to her boyfriend.

The next dance depicts the waves of the sea by using long pieces of fabric in shades of blue. The fishermen enter in a dance, and the fish dance around them. The boy is bewitched by a beautiful mermaid dancing among the fish, and jumps into the water to be with her.

The dance then shows what is happening under the sea. The boy nearly drowns. His fellow fishermen rescue him, but he remains under the spell of the mermaid. The fishermen return home, and are welcomed with a party. The boy remains so bewitched by the sea and the mermaid that he ignores the girl he loves.

Her friends do a dance of rumors, speculating about his behavior. Her father, the head fisherman, overhears the rumors and announces that his daughter must marry her farmer cousin. This allows a transition to the fellahin style of dance.

The girl's cousin uses dance to portray his negative reaction to the news that his uncle the fisherman expects him to marry his daughter.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Women of Reda Troupe perform a fellahin dance. It was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating the articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Reda Troupe

The story moves on to show the daughter's unhappy reaction to the news. A robabek comes along, and she gives him her heart. He replies, "What do I want with this poor heart? Nobody wants it."

Eventually the girl's boyfriend casts off the mermaid's enchantment and goes back to her. She tells him that she no longer has her heart. The two of them seek out the robabikia in hopes of retrieving her heart from him. Alas, the man says he sold her heart to a Saidi. The boy goes to the Said to retrieve it for her, providing an opportunity to showcase a Saidi dance.

The Saidi man says he has given her heart to a Bedouin. Once again, there is an opportunity for a dance representing one of the folk cultures of Egypt. The story continues in this way, with the boy from the fisher folk traveling throughout Egypt trying to find his girlfriend's heart, each time arriving after the heart has already been passed on to someone else. Eventually, he is able to find it and recover it for himself.

The boy returns to his own village and jumps into the sea. His girlfriend's heart starts to beat again. She follows him into the water. Her father the fisherman helps rescue the boy, and comes to realize that she must marry the man she loves.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: In a dance scene from the 1965 Egyptian movie Gharam fil Karnak, Mahmoud Reda performs a Saidi stick dance. Click on the image to see more detail.

Mahmoud Reda

 

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No Official Video Made

Unfortunately, the official attempts to videotape this culmination of Reda's life's work were not successful. A problem with the equipment resulted in the loss of the footage, and therefore it has never been released to the public on video.

Reda himself videotaped it on his personal camera, edited it, and put it on DVD for his students.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Mahmoud Reda takes a flying leap on the set of the 1965 Egyptian movie, Gharam fil Karnak. It was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating the articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Mahmoud Reda

 

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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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