Dancers in opening ceremony. Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghny
Articles, Reviews, Volume 7

The 24th Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre

The 24th Cairo International Festival for Contemporary 
and Experimental Theatre
By Marvin Carlson
Arab Stages, Volume 7 (Fall, 2017) 
©2017 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Long-time observers of the Cairo Theatre scene will remember that in 2011, after more than two decades of operation (since 2008, when it was launched as the International Festival for Experimental Theatre) this important annual event disappeared. It was not until 2016 that it was revived by the Ministry of Culture with its new title. The new version of this festival, like the old, has many critics on both sides. Some consider it too conservative, too much under the control of a ministry that sees it more as a public relations event than as a truly artistic endeavor, while others object to its attempt to offer a variety of fashionable experimental styles most of them alien to regular Egyptian audiences. Whatever one’s views on these matters, one must respect the ambition and range of the festival, one of the largest and most international of the Arab world. Running this year from September 19 to the 27, it offered more than twenty productions, about half of them from the Arab world and half from other nations, from Mexico to China.

Three Sisters. Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghny

The opening ceremony on September 19 was one of the highlights of the festival. It began with a dazzling display of work derived from traditional dancing, especially the whirling movements of Sufi ritual, and virtuoso performances by various performers of wind and percussion instruments, all accompanied by dazzling displays of costume and lighting. After this came one of the most striking and innovative offerings of the festival, an interpretation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters by the Georgian Tbilisi company, headed by Konstantin Purtseladze. The production removed all dialogue, presenting the play through a series of choreographic movements which especially for those with a general knowledge of the play, captured exceedingly effectively its shifting emotional and physical relationships.

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