Archive for the ‘My Amman (Jordan)’ Category

Coppella Main

A Ballet with 75 Performers

By Mike V. Derderian

The hall was overflowing with people. Wherever one looked there was someone sitting on the footsteps of the carpeted aisles of the theatre at the Royal Cultural Centre.

It was a Saturday, and to be more specific the 25th of October, 2014.

A month later I decided to write a review of the wonderful ballet, choreographed by the ever glowing Rania Kamhawi; a review I was supposed to write the moment I’ve returned home.

I was there with my wife and daughter Amie and like anything you would expect from The King Hussein Foundation: The National Centre for Culture & Art it was an evening of enchantment.

If there was any shortcoming, and there was one, it was not the fault of the 75 performers, Miss Kamhawi and the artistic and technical team behind Coppélia as a production; it was that of the theatre itself: It was too small for such an unforgettable beautiful performance.

Coppélia, as a ballet transcended the boundaries of the narrow stage of the Royal Palace. It was genuine and heartfelt; performed and played out with fervor by all 75 dancers.

If it wasn’t, the theatre hall wouldn’t have been overflowing with attendees to a degree that made having such a crowd in one single space rather dangerous if a fire, God forbid, broke out.

An elderly lady and three others, younger in age, Lebanese judging by their accents, sat next to me on chairs that were placed at the last moment. Like everyone else present they were transfixed by the balanced blend of classical music, dance and acting.

Every few minutes and throughout the performance my daughter, who usually pulls a Footloose on us when we go through clothing departments in malls that play loud dance music, started swinging her arms and standing on one leg.

A sense of pride with some embarrassment swept over me as I watched her face light up to the tempo of the music to which the performers of Coppella danced.

If I was writing this piece for The Star Weekly, where I worked as a journalist for eight years, I wouldn’t have included some of the above paragraphs but since this is a personal blog I am sure you will forgive my transgression.

There are many elements that turned Coppella into a beautiful and enjoyable ballet, and as I have mentioned earlier the genuine delivery of dance and theatrics are among those elements.

Before we go into that let me list the creative team behind it:

Artistic Direction & Choregraphy …. Rania Kamhawi

Head Dance Instructors …. Rania Kamhawi & Svetlana Tahboub

Dance Instructors … Ruba Abu Sabha, Tamara Haddad and Natalie Salsa

Costume Design … Hind Dajani

Set Design … Hamada Shweini

Graphic Design … Ala Al Qaisi

Financial Administration … Mohamad Badran and Bana Wreikat

PR & Marketing … Randa Fakhoury and Nour Dirieh

Technical Staff … Jamal Masri, Mahmud Hamad, Mohannad Al-Tal, Mohammad Attiyeh, Fawaz Al Rawashdeh, Faisal Huneiti and Omar Rawashdeh

Volunteer … Zeinab Al Shrouf, Saba Obeidat, Suzan Al Banawi and Mohammed Zemirli.

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Anyone reading the program will come upon a special thanks to Ms. Lina Attel, Mr. Mohammad Abu Sumaqa, Firas Al Masri and the Royal Cutlural Center.

I would have loved to include the names of all 75 performers with the above credits but to be honest I could not for lack of time – sure if I wanted I would have asked for a soft copy of the program but I didn’t. Continue reading please!

The talented 75 performers had roles that ranged between feasting friends, giddy school children, exuberant butterfly catchers, anxious toy makers, lovely dolls, and energetic sickle dancers swaying and dancing during a wheat harvest dance.

The National Center for Culture and Art – King Hussein Foundation Coppélia is a ballet in three acts: Act I, A Ballet in Three Act; Act II, The Deception and Act III, The Wedding. It tells the story of a screwy doll maker, Coppelius, who lives in a village full of nosy life-loving people, who are constantly breaking into his toy shop out of curiosity and interest in his humanoid inventions.

Also living in the village are Swanilda and Franz, who are gradually falling in love with each other to the backdrop of a festive village.

The three main characters are performed by Natalie Salsa (Swanilda), Bijan Qutub (Franz) and Apo Yaghmourian (Coppelius).

The beautifully tailored costumes gave the performance a European production value. The set design was simple and practical – allowing quick shifts in between scenes without disrupting the flow of the story.

One of the most memorable scenes was the dolls ballet scene at Coppelius’ toy shop where the lead female character Swanilda and her friends decide to toy with the old recluse.

After breaking into the toy shop Swanilda and her friends find themselves facing colorful dolls by the dozen. The moment the eccentric toy maker walks into the room they all hide behind the dolls. A few seconds later the lifeless dolls, each representing a culture, come to life to the sound of gentle music and well-choreographed ballet movement.

The entire production seemed familiar and reminded me of a ballet performance that I saw on television 25 years ago. The distant memory of an old toy maker getting angry with young men and women, who snuck into his workshop came to my mind as the performance neared its finale.

Premiering on the 25th of May in 1870 Coppélia was choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon to a musical arrangement by of Léo Delibes. I still haven’t found the tele-ballet that I saw a couple of years ago but I will, and when I do I will share it.

What I loved most about the Coppélia choreographed by Miss Kamhawi was how all the performers, young and old, were really into their roles. The friendly smiles and the inviting hand gestures intermingled in the background adding to the movements of the graceful dancers floating in the foreground.

It was a magical night for this writer, his wife and his daughter, and I cannot wait to attend any upcoming performance by the National Center for Culture and Art – King Hussein Foundation for I know I will not be disappointed.

“Thank you for enduring with us especially with such a full stage. We truly apologize for that! Based on tonight’s attendance we are to perform the ballet for another night,” Miss Kamhawi, who was surrounded by her dancers at the end of the performance, announced to a cheering audience.

“I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart. It is of utmost importance to us that you attend our performances. Thank you for supporting us,” Miss Kamhawi concluded.

On a final note the next time you hear of such a performance that is choreographed by the ever-passionate and gentle Rania Kamhawi make sure you buy a ticket.

About the writer/blogger:

Mike V. Derderian is a writer, a disc-jockey at Radio Jordan 96.3 FM and a journalist with 13 years of experience. At the moment he is working as an illustrator and a street artist. For writing and illustration assignments e-mail mikevderderian@yahoo.com

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It has been a while since I paid Mike Midnight a visit.

As always he was at his old office in Al Balad’s Shabsough area. The above illustration is the result of an hour and a half meeting with him. Love him or hate him the man has stripped this concrete jungle down to its bare iron bones revealing an underground growth of human monsters accompanied by a host of vicious cockroaches intent on mischief.

If you want to get inside this Gumshoe’s head here is a useful entrance: https://brickinthehead.wordpress.com/category/the-diarrhea-of-a-midnight-crawler/

Mind you he has a vicious tongue and his words are not suitable for the faint of heart!

By Mike V. Derderian

October 20 2008

“We have died enough. We die on a daily basis but what enrages me most is that our death is still primitive and happens so easily, which affirms our inability to learn more about it. It is like dying for the first time,” Satirist Muhammad Tommaleih, wrote, foreshadowing but not fearing death that will one day consume all.

The above quote by Tommaleih was featured in an article written in Arabic by Muhammad Shamma, a Jordanian journalist and radio presenter, who mourned Tommaleih, Jordan’s first and foremost satirical writer, who passed away on Monday, October 13.

“To describe him as a cultural phenomenon is not easy but he is a phenomenon. Through his articles and writings Tommaleih gives you a dose of reality and sincerity—honest and blatant sincerity without courtesies or euphemisms. Through his writings he embodies social reality with all its aspects,” Shamma wrote.

“I think that Tomaleh’s death and absence from the literary arena will have an impact specifically among sarcastic writers because he is one of the most influential book cynics among the new generation of writers. Although there are many cynical writers but they are not a creative talent like Mohammed,” Shamma later told The Star, adding, “he has always been strong willed and had a zest for life in spite of his misery.”

Even when he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his tongue in 2004 Tommaleih stood up against life’s cruel judgment and disparaged his calamity in his daily writings in al-Arab al-Yawm newspaper. Still its impact was sensed in his writings whereby he started describing his mental and physical state after each and every chemotherapy session he underwent or a night spent in solitude at a hospital room.

His writings that mirrored life were doused with bouts of existentialism and his language was a hybrid of prose, poetry and everyman’s language, which would explain his appeal to Jordanians.

Born in Karak in 1957, Tommaleih wrote five books: Jawlet Arak (A Round of Aniseed liquor) (1980), al-Khaybah (The Disappointment) (1981), Molahazhat ala Qadia Assassiyah) (Notes on a Primary Case) (1981), al-Awghad al-Motahamsoon (The Enthusiastic Rascals) (1984), Elayha Betabi’at al-Hal (To Her Naturally) (2007) and Yahdoth Lee Duna Sa’er al-Nas (Happens to Me of All People) (2004)—in association with Emad Al-Hajjaj—in addition to the hundreds of pieces he wrote over a period of 20 years for local newspapers like ad-Dustour and al-Arab al-Yawm, where he continued to write since 1997 until his death.

Tommaleih had previously issued two satirical newspapers Qef (Stop) and al-Raseef (The Sidewalk) that he edited. He also worked for the satirical newspaper Abd Rabboh.

“We not only lost a special writer but also a literary figure with a unique creative output and a delicate personality,” ad-Dustour’s responsible editor-in-chief wrote in his editorial bidding farewell to Tommaleih, “Tommaleih always made sure to be a pioneer not an imitator. He was dubbed by many as the father of satirical writing, which is something he used to poke fun at as he only wanted a space, his thoughts and his style.”

Whether it was divine intervention or pure coincidence, I found Yousef Gheishan, a Jordanian satirical writer, standing outside Abu Ali’s Culture Kiosk in al-Balad (downtown Amman) where within its narrow space that was lined with books we talked about Tommaleih. “I wish there is a photocopier within reach so that I could give you a copy of a speech I am going to deliver about Tommaleih at a women’s,” Gheishan told The Star, as he rummaged through a folder he was holding.

“What can I say about Tommaleih except that he prodded us into thinking about life’s precious moments and constantly reminded us that we are alive! Our loss is great but we—his colleagues and readers—are still to feel the brunt of his death,” continued Gheishan, affirming Tommaleih’s title as the father of satire in Jordan, “he started a satirical column entitled Eyewitness at ad-Dustour in 1983 and its first piece was entitled The Sultans of Corridors. Tommaleih was also the first to launch satirical newspapers.”

Gheishan describes Tommaleih’s writing style as being unique and hard to imitate. “We always tried to imitate his style of writing but we never got close [referring to other Jordanian satirists] to his style that was closer to literary writing peppered with sarcasm,” Gheishan explained.

A day earlier Gheishan wrote in his column at ad-Dustour that he won’t request from the audience at a lecture he was holding on satirical writing to stand a moment of silence for Tommaleih. Why? “He most probably would laugh at us,” Gheishan laughingly stated before disappearing in a wave of people streaming by the kiosk.

What is bizarre is the disappearance of Tommaleih works from bookshops and book kiosks in al-Balad after his death was announced in local newspapers. “I don’t have a single volume. People probably are realizing the value of his words and writings, which would explain why there are no books left,” the Kiosk owner Abu Ali told The Star.

“I wept at his family home. His brother made me cry. Muhammad is part of me and it is hard to describe him. Mohammad is a playwright, a moviemaker, a poet and a storyteller. In my opinion he is the best there was in Jordan and the Arab world. He was an avid reader and a prolific writer,” Abu Ali, who knew Tommaleih since he was a student, said adding that he hopes that Tommaleih’s family would soon start reprinting his books that are now in demand as they were when he was alive. “There are no words to describe his words. He loved Jordan and he was loved by everyone, and I mean everyone.”

After my inquiry, Sami, another book kiosk owner, whipped out his mobile and called up his store so as to ask about books by Tommaleih. “Not a single copy. We have to re-order them,” he exclaimed before saying that many people have been asking for his books.

By Mike V. Derderian

March 3, 2010

Anyone turning the pages of a tourism guide would easily know that Amman is the capital city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

But to many Jordanians it is the city, where they were born and raised, where their lives thrive, and their stories are exchanged and written.

In the past few years a new term was coined to describe the dwellers of Amman, which has always been the center of unity for many Jordanians, including the one who is writing this piece.

The term is: Ammanites. Those are the brave men and women of the city, where they live, happy or sad, earn a living after shedding many a blood and sweat, experience their own colorful culture with a mix of Western influence, and eventually like everyone else raise their own offspring within its mountainous boundaries.

But what can a person visiting Amman for a few days or more do? Easy, when in Amman do as the Ammanites would do: visit all the places they grew up around and that they cherished over the years; and most importantly mingle with them.

The first place that one should visit in Amman is Al Balad (down town). There you must visit Hashem’s, where a hot Fava beans plate along with Homous and a platter of chopped tomatoes, onions and mint, would most certainly tickle your palate. There you can also read the dozen framed articles hanging on its walls, and that describe its unique place in the hearts of people passing through Al Balad.

Just across the street from the postal office one can visit Al Istiklal Bookshop, where time old notebooks, pens, erasers, rulers and drawing pads—my favorite buy—are found. Next to the bookshop’s steep staircase lies Jafra, a cultural café frequented by Jordanians seeking good food, hot drinks, nargiles and a shelter from the hustle and bustle of Down Town Amman.

Search the Greater Amman Municipality’s website, http://www.ammancity.gov.jo, and you will find out that Jordanians used to refer to Amman as Al Madinah, which is one of the twenty-seven regions constituting Jordan.

Amman has always been a center for arts, culture and literature. It is now filled with over 30 cultural venues, ranging between art galleries, cultural centers and art-house-cum-cafes. The new generation is more and more realizing the necessity of chronicling the tales of its old inhabitants and examining its unique architecture.

Now back to our walk through the crowded streets of Al Balad. Traveling Al Balad should be done on foot so park your car somewhere between the 1st circle, Rainbow Street and Jabal Amman and start walking downwards.

Once you get there you will be amazed how the old embraces the new. There you will see people from all walks of life crowding its streets. Some are there to do business and shop, while, others are there to enjoy what a simple walk in the street has to offer: A crowded sanctuary amidst faded facades that surround old streets, where the scent of vegetables, spices and Jordanian air greet one’s sense of smell.

If you find yourself facing an ancient Roman edifice surrounded by haphazard buildings then you have reached the Roman Amphitheater. Mind you it is not the only one as Amman, and its surrounding areas, was an ancient Roman colony. If you have the time you must visit Jerash, and of course the non-Roman historical and archeological wonder Petra.

After ascending the steps of the Roman Amphitheater in Al Balad a person can visit the Folklore Museum, where one can learn about the old faces and traditions of Amman’s people. I remember visiting it back in the 80s part of a school trip. It is until this day unchanged; even the artifacts and the wax puppets are still the same. Sadly the museum lost its past glamor and is almost forgotten.

Facing the silent stones of the Roman Amphitheater that echo of voices, whenever a concert or a festival is held there, is the Citadel. Perched over a flat hill the white stones of this area can be seen from anyplace in Amman. Artificial lights accentuate the whiteness of its stones no sooner darkness spreads its cool blanket over our skies.

The Citadel is a magical place, where one can stand and gaze in bewilderment at the cascading edifices of Amman’s asymmetrical buildings. There Amin Matalaqa’s Captain Abu Raed, the main character in his celebrated 2007 movie, sat on a large wall to tell his fascinating stories to enthused children, who were eager to grow up and travel the world the same way he did, and become accomplished storytellers as he was.

From a distance Jordan’s largest flag can be seen moving to the voiceless tempo of the wind that sweeps through our nights. Since its erection it became part of a fascinating ancient background.

Now, what really amazes me is how some Jordanians storytellers fail to acknowledge Ashrafia, and other areas around Amman, as a center of fascinating stories. Maybe they just haven’t lived there to know any story. For me this area holds Hay Al Arman (the Armenian neighborhood), where Armenians lived upon arriving to Jordan after their Diaspora back in 1915. It is also the area where the first Armenian church and school were built.

Every Friday my parents used to send me and my sister to one of the Armenian clubs that exist there to be part of the Armenian scouts. I remember the warm Friday afternoons that I’ve spent there playing basketball and buying ice-cream from Abu Majdee’s grocery store that now evolved into a supermarket.

There we used to have verbal fights with neighborhood boys, who came for a friendly game of football and basketball. Losers simply cannot tolerate the bragging of winners. Why brag winning when you commend a good game. I cannot remember how many games I lost but to tell you the truth it never irked me as I always had more fun playing basketball than actually wining; still that doesn’t mean I didn’t block people thanks to my good jump. Gone are those days.

If you are passing by Wadi Abdoun on a Friday just take a look to the overhanging facades that are built on cascading cliffs and you’ll see a dozen or more kites adorning the clear blue skies. Children living in areas like Al Ashrafia, and who haven’t forgotten the taste of handmade toys, go through a lot to get these colorful kites, made out of paper, wooden reeds and strings, up in the air.

Why am I not referring to the so called divide between Eastern and Western Amman that so many Jordanian storytellers refer to in their stories? Well, that’s another story but I’ll tell you this: I did not live under a tin roof like so many veteran Jordanian writers claim. I grew up in an apartment situated in a building on the first leg of Wadi Abdoun and I used to fly kites like any other Jordanian kid from Eastern Amman. Does that make me any less of an Ammanite or a storyteller for that matter? No…

Now Al Ashrafia is hardly a walking area as its steep serpentine streets would tire the most experienced pedestrians and walking enthusiasts. Ever tried walking uphill from Ra’s Al Ein to Abu Darweesh mosque? I remember a boy, who didn’t want to spend his allowance on a taxi fare, so instead he went uphill and enjoyed a very grueling climb.

Our Amman was originally built on seven hills, but it now spans an area of over nineteen hills, each known as a Jabal meaning mountain.

Speaking of Jabals, if you don’t visit Jabal Amman then you have hardly visited any place in Amman especially Rainbow Street. Around each corner in Jabal Amman you will find an art gallery or a café adorned with paintings.

Back in the 80’s Rainbow Street was the place to be. There you can have an enjoyable stroll through its narrow, very recently cobbled, streets. If you smell something good on your way then it must be the smell of Falafel Al Quds. All you have to do is buy a sandwich or two and continue walking in any direction as on your way you will stumble upon an array of cafes and interesting hangouts like Books@cafe.

One should not forget to visit Souk Jara, which must be the niftiest flea market in the world, on Thursdays and Fridays. If you want another flea market, with a different feel, go to Souk (market) Al Abdali or Al Joura, which translates to The Pit, on a Friday morning.

Now let us move on from familiar places to familiar faces: Ours. If people want a Jordanian character study they must see Emad Hajjaj’s caricatures that will assist them in knowing more about us.

Hajjaj’s work tackles everything from daily life, social norms, art, government performance, parliament, love and hate, taboos, the do’s and don’ts, and of course what it is like to be a Jordanian.

His main and loud mouthed character Abu Mahjoub is most certainly one of us but as they say in Arabic not all your fingers are the same. To the chagrin of foreigners Hajjaj’s work is in Arabic but maybe one day he will eventually translate his valuable canon into English.

Over the years the Jordanian cartooning scene witnessed the emergence of amazing Jordanian caricaturists and cartoonist like Omar Al Abdallat, Mahmoud Hindawi, Mahmoud Al Rifai and Osama Hajjaj with works that also reflect our inherent nature.

It is hard to sum up all the places, alleys and neighborhoods that you have to visit in Amman. Whenever I have the chance to do so you will come across a blog post here.

What you can do until then is to allow your eyes and ears to guide you through our streets. If you are not able to do so ask a friend, who knows the city by heart, to show you around. Wish I had the time to accompany you but I walk alone; sometimes accompanied by my Canon AV- 1, which is hanging from my shoulder, waiting for “the” right photograph and its elements to fall into place, the same way the right words find their way into a paragraph.

If you are here, and most probably reading this, why don’t you celebrate Amman’s coming of age with us by reading its stories and of course creating your own the same way I am doing.

Amman is my New York evermore… I am one of its children and no more…

Photograph taken by a CANON AV-1 by Mike V. Derderian