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Credits: Tina, Kirstin, and Naziya of Dancers Bizarre joined Funoon for the Leeds show in 2014. Costumes and choreography by Dancers Bizarre. Photos: Jo Hirons
One of the unexpected after-effects of the Second World War was an upsurge of interest in what would go on to be called World Music, and in the traditional costumes and dances of other nations. People wanted to see and celebrate artists who had escaped persecution; to discover the different cultures they had only glimpsed on overseas deployments; to preserve what had come so close to being lost; and, in reasserting senses brutalised by war, to champion the arts of their own countries. Even the United Nations, begun in 1945 with high ideals of world peace and human rights and almost immediately beset by the paralysing agonies of developing nations and civil wars, found itself promoting harmony through music, dance, and cultural exchange. This was also the golden age of the touring ballet companies, where glamorous dance artists graced the covers of newspapers across the globe. And it had at last become acceptable for middle class families to approve of their children’s desire to dance. These new educated and well-spoken dancers had become a powerful symbol of a country’s pride: they moved in the highest circles of society, and had a ticket to travel the world.
This universal flowering of interest in the performing arts gave rise to Egypt’s Reda Troupe in 1958. Former gymnast, Mahmoud Reda, longed for his newly-independent country to literally join the global stage, and for its traditional arts to be recognised abroad and cherished at home. He was joined in this endeavour by his older brother Ali, a former champion ballroom dancer turned impresario and film-maker; by his artist wife Nadeeda Fahmy, who designed the costumes; by his mother-in-law Khadiga Fahmy, who took on the dual role of production manager and chaperone; and above all by his soon-to-be-famous sister-in-law and principal dancer, Farida Fahmy. Between them and their growing number of exactingly-trained dancers, musicians, and production staff, they created a dance phenomenon that gave back the old beloved countryside to modern city-dwelling Egyptians.
Drawing from regional costumes and traditions they created a series of gorgeously-costumed and exquisitely executed dance scenarios with recognisable dance archetypes suitable for soloists and supporting cast. Their new style, perfected for stage, movie-screen, and increasingly for TV, also drew heavily on existing folk ballet, particularly those established by the Russian companies, (whose rigorous training provided a working model for the Reda Troupe), and also on film dance mores already established both in Hollywood and Bollywood.
To Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy we owe much, not least the development of tableaux turning Hagalla, Bamboutiya, Melaya, Iskanderani, Muwashahat, Raqs el Balas, and others into structured performances. These are not true folk-dances, being a product of imaginative, educated, political, and above all commercial design, but for many Egyptians the Reda Troupe is as near to folk tradition as they will ever know, and since the Reda style will shortly be celebrating its 60th anniversary, that is a lifetime of powerful tradition.
Credits: THe Raqsettes brought their gloriously colourful Reda-styled prelude to Newcastle in 2015. Choreography by Kay Taylor. Costumes: Farida Dance. Photos: Jo Hirons