Zorba dances in Cairo

Jonathan Spollen
4 Min Read

Ballet returned to the Cairo Opera House with an unusually full program March 7 and 9, with a production of “Bolero in honor of the late dance-theater legend Maurice Bejart running alongside the main feature “Zorba.

Bejart passed away in November last year, and apart from his international renown for what he did to popularize dance in the 1960s and 70s, he is well-known in Egypt for his performance in “Pyramids of Light in 1990, which paid tribute to many of the country’s major historical figures from the Pharaohs to Om Kolthoum.

He likely would have been pleased with the Cairo Ballet’s more than competent performance of “Bolero Sunday evening, even if it did suffer slightly from the glare of the orchestra’s lights and some jittery spotlight work.

But both issues seemed to have been resolved by the time “Zorba began.

The ballet is originally based on the novel “Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis and, as it had been chopped and changed into musicals and plays over the years, was altered somewhat in content from the original version.

The tale begins when wide-eyed American tourist John, aptly played by Rafeek Abou Saree’a, visits a small Greek village, and unsuccessfully sets about befriending the locals.

If earning the villagers’ rejection was not enough, John falls for the local beauty Marina (Katia Ivanova) who is also the center of affection for the town’s favorite son Yorgos (Maged Hamdy).

While John and Marina’s blossoming love produces one of the notable dances of the evening midway through the ballet, fizzing with chemistry and executed fluidly, it also earns him the growing contempt of the locals.

Enter the charismatic blow-in Zorba – superbly played by the award-winning Hany Hassan – whose philosophy is to accept one’s fate and enjoy life to the full, and who strikes up a friendship with the abhorred John.

As the villagers’ dislike for John grows, the story’s simple message – suffer the slings and arrows and smile – as embodied by Zorba comes to the fore.

The tale climaxes as the villagers attempt to kill John, only for Zorba to intervene and save him in the ballet’s finest sequence, not only in terms of the dance, but in the ominous dusk orange lighting, dramatic music and choreography as well.

Despite saving John, Zorba has in the meantime neglected his own admirer Hortense who becomes heartbroken and dies, in a moving and artfully conjured sequence.

John is there to remind Zorba of his own message, which apparently is strong enough to include brushing off the deaths of loved ones!

Hany Hassan excels as Zorba – the clear pick of the performers – and overall, with the exception of a sprinkling of rigid movements and overly hasty maneuvers, “Zorba was an engaging and exciting performance.

Catch “Zorba tonight at 8 pm, Cairo Opera House, Main Hall, El Gezirah. Tel: (02) 2737 0603

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