Anna & Aya's experience in Cairo

Anna writes a beautiful blog of her experience teaching and choreographing with Aya, for D-Caf, a contemporary arts festival in Cairo, Egypt…

“Mafīsh fakka! mafīsh fakka!”, the man at the small shop says to us repeatedly, becoming increasingly irate, as Aya and I stand there bemused and unsure whether or not to be offended…
We later find out that what he was saying means “I’m sorry, there’s no change!”, which is why we’d ended up paying over the Egyptian Pound odds for two bottles of water, a story that was met with much hilarity from our bilingual colleagues…

A lesson learned, certainly, and just one of the myriad of cultural, social, political and life lessons I learned over ten days choreographing for Stopgap in Cairo.

Every year Cairo delivers the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-Caf), a three week festival showcasing work from around the globe at theatres, galleries, universities and homes throughout the hot, dusty, bright and beepy Downtown district of Cairo. D-Caf demonstrates the strength of the small but fiercely vibrant arts community in Cairo, and the group of dancers that had been invited to work with us proved just as fierce and ready to be challenged.

Integration of people with disabilities in any setting is a difficult thing in Egypt; both practically and in mindset, and even more so in the arts. Our task was to choreograph a piece of outdoor performance work on a group of eleven dancers, both disabled and non, some of whom had never met before, let alone danced. No small task, indeed; a feeling of ‘take a deep breath and take the plunge’ definitely took hold in the days before. But what we were met with was one of the most hard working, generously spirited, open hearted groups of people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of dancing with.

As is always the way with such a project, and the reason I find constant inspiration in this work, is that what unfolded over the ten days we worked together came totally from the individual personalities and bodies, and the relationships that they formed. These are relationships that I feel sure will continue beyond this project, and to witness and help to facilitate these was a complete pleasure.

The shared passion of the group we worked with I think demonstrates a microcosm of the Egyptian people and their resilient spirit in light of difficult political times since the revolution in 2011. Their stories are unimaginable, difficult to hear, and incredibly humbling. Yet the creativity that bubbles away constantly within Cairo is a testament to how artistic experiences can transcend these difficult political times. I wish that in the recent coverage of the riots in Cairo the journalist had looked a little deeper and included details of D-Caf’s performances, including our group, which were continuing throughout Downtown at the same time as the protests.

This navigation of recent history coupled with the ancient, awe-inspiring Pyramids of Giza (which Aya and I took the obligatory tour of on our day off) right on Cairo’s doorstep, make this city an overwhelming and stimulating place to spend time, made even more so by the energy of our group of dancers.

Another overruling lesson learnt, was how best to cross maybe the busiest roads I’ve ever seen, where red lights don’t mean much; “You have to stride out, confidently, and know that they will stop! You have to walk like an Egyptian”. It’s been a pleasure to do so.

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