Posts Tagged ‘Love’

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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Consumed by emptiness I am,
A hallow man,

Awakened from life’s dream,
A sleepless man,

Burned by our eternal condition,
A mortal man,

Angered by God’s silence,
A soulless man,

Engrossed by earthly pleasures,
A sad man,

Silenced by the vicious howling,
A silent man,

Who shall save this damned soul?

Illustration, “Pan my love show thyself”, by Mike V. Derderian

 

Light somehow found its way through the cracked edges. His eye lids shrank for a few seconds. A rock blocked a guarded entrance.

“So long ago,” he thought removing the covers that enshrined him. He softly rose out of bed. Night runaway but the day decided to stay. The sounds of happy children greeted him. The city was alive with familiar sounds. Thoughts of ancient Jerusalem flashed through his already crowded mind. Good morning and Happy Easter he said to his lovely wife and lovelier children.

Good morning and Happy Easter he says to you.

A few centuries ago, they say, a tomb was pushed open and a man from morbid death rose giving life hope. Today we all rose from our nightly death and into the arms of our loved ones ourselves found.

If that’s not a blessing I don’t know what is!

Apologies for not just saying a simple Happy Easter :-})

By Mike V. Derderian

Written for On Campus‘ 2011 December issue

Writer’s Note: With all the fanaticism out nowadays I wanted to share with you what I think of this amazing movie that decries religious fanaticism in favor of a humanitarian approach to life.  

Lebanon will be submitting it to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 84th Academy Awards in 2012; it premiered in Cannes Film Festival section Un Certain Regard and won the Cadillac People’s Choice Award in the Toronto International Film Festival this year, so will anything I write about Nadine Labaki’s masterpiece, O’ Hala La Wein? (And Where Do We Go Now?), add to this amazing piece of cinema?

I just said masterpiece and amazing so that must tell you something.

O’ Hala La Wein? stars Claude Moussawbaa, Layla Hakim, Antoinette Noufily, Yvonne Maalouf, Adel Karam and Nadine Labaki as Amal, a Christian woman who has feelings for a Muslim man Rabih (Julian Farhat), both of whom live in a secluded village inhabited by Christians and Muslims.

This 110 minute cinematic caramel sticks to one’s mouth long after the credits end. Every word of dialogue spoken resonates like a gunshot, every single body gesture shakes the earth upon which it stands within the frame of the camera, and every scene takes you to the other with a flow that matches that of a river.

Not a single frame is a waste; you just sit there waiting for the next epiphany to come out of the mouths of the village elders and youngsters.

To say that this film that titillates the imagination and astounds the heart with the bravery with which Labaki attacks sectarianism—a better verb would be maul—is faultless might be deemed an overstatement by some but it is; it is faultless, enjoyable and most of all memorable.

Labaki leaves no stone unturned: Sectarianism, religion, war, sexism, brainwashing, drugs and love. She takes all of the above and blends it into a well constructed work of cinema that will be much talked about and inspire future generations of young filmmakers.

Viewers will find themselves fully immersed in the lives of villagers living in this out of time and out of place Lebanese village that can only be reached by going through a land mine and a narrow passage over a deep ravine.

How do they survive in such a secluded village? Everyone sends their produce of vegetables and homemade products like conserves with Naseem and Rowkus, the village’s chivalrous errand boys, who ride out into the unknown on their tricycle. They also bring back the villagers their supplies of cigarettes, newspaper, pantyhoses and hair coloring products.

The women of the village, along with Amal, who owns a café, try hard to keep the men in the dark so as to keep the embers of sectarian strife away. They, Muslims and Christians, are at peace with each other, unlike the men, who are constantly looking for an excuse to bludgeon each other.

Mild spoiler ahead!

The lengths that these women, from both sides, many of which are widowed, and have lost loved ones to sectarian violence, go to preserve peace are immeasurable: They fabricate a religious miracle, bring Ukranian showgirls to preoccupy the men’s minds and even resort to drugs. They even sabotaged the village television set that the Naseem, Rawkus with the help of other boys fixed and readied for village evenings, cut the radio wires and started burning the newspapers.

These moments of feminine solidarity and attempts to stay in the past without touching on the present remind us of Wolfgang Becker’s 2003 Good Bye Lenin! in which a young man tries to keep his mother, who just woke up from a prolonged coma, under the illusion that her East Germany is still strong so as to not traumatize her.

A few minutes into the film that started with a very strong scene –will leave that for you to find out—the lovelorn Amal and Rabih perform an imaginary tango in their heads that reflects their yearning and inability to connect because of their religious difference.

Listening to Khaled Mouzannar original music one cannot but drift away especially with the sing and dance scenes that are reminiscent of great Hollywood musicals in the vein of Carol Reeds’ 1968 Oliver.

Christophe Offenstein’s lush cinematography and the natural acting of the cast, a well balanced blend of comedy and tragedy, accentuate the story written by Labaki, Thomas Bidegain and Rodney Al Haddid.

Of course religious fanatics from both sides of the fences will have a bitter after taste from Labaki’s in-your-face moralization and that comes out as a condemnation of the process of politicizing religion more than religion itself.

In simple Where O’ Hala La Wein? deserves to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Great job Nadine Labaki and everyone who worked on this unforgettable film!

Must-See-Scene: 

A mental tango that takes place in the head of two people, who cannot touch or speak out their love in public, is but one scene that will blow your mind with the smoothness with which it runs on the screen.

Nadine Labaki and Julian Farhat break into the sensual dance at her café where he is helping her paint and renovate. He is a Muslim and she is a Christian and sparks are bound to happen and I am not talking love sparks.

Will love conquer all? O’ Hala La Wein? opens with a visually strong scene and ends with a stronger one that will turn your mind around; or so Labaki hopes after you watch her film.

It is packed with scenes that are worth watching: Scenes of villagers watching a newly connected television set while women try to drown the news of sectarian strife by picking up a fight, scenes of a clergy and a man of the cloth who find harmony in order to save their village.

Yet another spoiler ahead!

My favorite scene is the one in which the women decide to bake drugs into food so that they can intoxicate their men into religious coexistence.

Labaki and the female cast break into a jolly sing along that sarcastically glorifying yet another ancient weapon: Drugs. Composed by Labaki’s brilliant composer, Khaled Mouzanar the film’s original music is being lauded by everyone who watched the film. Just try to watch it at the movies!

Most Memorable Line:

Yep! This month’s Cutting Celluloid is dedicated to one of the best Arabian films you will ever see.

Nadine Labaki’s brilliant film comes out as a bitter-sweet morality play that rips sectarianism apart as it did to Beirut times and again. You will leave the theatre remembering every single word of dialogue that reminds you of your one week long stay in Beirut, where cussing is like saying hello.

The Lebanese people aren’t shy about cussing, and neither are some of the first time actresses in this movie. To be honest that’s an aspect I very much admire as it is very real and reflective of life.

Upon realizing that their village will fall into the clutches of sectarianism the women of the village resort to sex to preoccupy their men. Spoiler ahead! Sex has been the weapon of both genders since the dawn of man and the women of the village very well know that so they end up asking Rawkus and Naseem to hire the services of Ukrainian showgirls to the chagrin of the Mayor’s hot tempered wife Yvonne (Yvonne Maalouf).

The following line spoken when Afaf, the village women and the Ukrainian showgirls take a swim in the village’s water reservoir is but one of hundreds spoken throughout the duration of this beautiful film.

She is poking fun at the skeletal frames of the European women, who start to empathize with the women’s ordeal.

Cast:

Laila Hakim … Afaf

Dialogue:

Afaf :

The smallest breast in our village would feed half of Ukraine!

P.S: In addition to writing the Cutting Celluloid page for On Campus Magazine Mike (ana/I/moi/yes) is also the writer of Go Out and Go Home pages for Go Magazine. He has been reviewing cinema professionally since 2002 through Cinerama, a movie column that he wrote for The Star Weekly until 2009. It all started when his mother found the ideal babysitter for him: Films, both technicolor and black and white, on television.  

Their innocent faces and miniscule bodies became part of the photographs in the photo book that I’ve been carrying around in my shoulder bag for the past few days. I needed the book to remind myself that I had a video interview to edit and finish.

Every single page in the book had a child, or two and more, huddled together, innocently smiling or gawking at the camera in bewilderment. Like an eye catching detail, painted with vivid colors in the edge, center or upper right or lower left of a painting, the Palestinian children standing next to graffiti art produced by the Hamas and Fatah artists give Mia Gröndahl’s Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics a humanitarian aspect.

Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics is more than a photo archive of the graffiti art movement in Gaza that according to the book started in 1987; it is a book reflective of a photojournalist’s journey; a photojournalist who was intent on capturing the bigger picture but found herself capturing pictures that came with smaller pictures within: The children of Gaza.

Gröndahl, who was born in 1951, and lives in Cairo and Southern Sweden, is a photojournalist and the author of another photo book In Hope and Despair: Life in the Palestinian Refugee Camp (AUC Press, 2003).

She was aided by Sami Abu Salem, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza, who eventually became her eyes and ears (her guide and interpreter).

Children with glittering eyes and friendly smiles peer into our own eyes through Gröndahl’s lens that also caught, as she puts it in the first pages of her book, the gray walls of Gaza that were heavily splashed with the spray paint colors of graffiti artists from Hamas and Fatah. The majority of graffiti pieces in this amazing book were produced part of an unofficial graffiti war between the two warring factions.

In Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics you will find politicised graffiti art, slogans and murals of Palestinian martyrs from both sides of the Palestinian political spectrum. Some are amazing and some are simple; and you can also go as far as saying childish.  You will also spot congratulatory letters of Hajj, marriage and other social occasions worth celebrating with a graffiti.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gröndahl and Abu Salem during the launch and signing of her book part of The Festival of Alternative Arts: Urban Expressions in 2010. Prior to our interview at books@café I interviewed Miss Gröndahl and Her Excellency Mrs. Charlotta Sparre on my morning radio show on 96.3 FM, Radio Jordan.

You can find the video interview that I conducted, shot and edited here. Just click on this link Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics, The Interview

Blog post photo by Mia Gröndahl from Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics

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