Saturday, July 10, 2010

Madame Freiz, Shareen El Safy, Karim Nagi, and Randa Kamel... (part 2)

So with now 10 days and counting left in Caro, here's my experiences with Karim Nagi and Randa Kamel:

Karim Nagi:
I've run into Karim a couple times before around the globe in the past couple of years, the last time in San Francisco.  He's getting a lot of good work and publicity lately, and thus traveling tons to teach and perform so we never have spent much time face-to-face as he's a super busy guy.  I bugged him to let me know when he would be in Cairo so we could hang out or do a low-key "lesson" and he indeed rolled in during Ahlan Wa Sahlan time to teach at the festival.  I caught his excellent performance during the teachers' show too, of which Hallah said, "He's crazy! But I highly recommend his kind of crazy."  Finally, I did manage to snag him for a half day of casual shop-talk and hanging out last week!

While waiting for his arrival, I found myself thinking back to Ozma of Japan's experiences she wrote about on her own blog and which you can (and should, because she goes in to much more detail than I will) read here:

Entries from 2008: 1, 2
Entries from 2009: 1, 2

Her experience as described is spot-on in her assessment of Karim's skill as a teacher and his excellent understanding of the relationship between music and dance which he is quite eloquent about. I completely relate to her talking about "teacher smitteness!" I think Ozma illustrated that in her writing much better than I can in my frantic pre-leaving state right now.  The man is smart, articulate, and has a lot to offer dancers. I came out of our "hanging out"/"lesson" session full of food for thought and lots of notes.

We started off just talking about the community, Egypt, and the festivals for awhile.  He asked me what I'd like to work on and I mentioned that I had danced to Lissa Fakker the previous week at Nile Group and been unsatisfied with it.  I also explained that, having gone to the teacher's night at Ahlan Wa Sahlan and seen lots of good-but-not-amazing, and a few real star dancers, I was wondering what really made a real star dancer stand out from the pack.  All the teachers at AWS were good, many were definitely considered "masters" in their home country, but only a couple really stood out to me.  He said it came down to musical interpretation and charisma so, remembering Ozma's blog posts, I asked him to speak to me a bit about interpreting Oum Kulthoum and if we could use Lissa Fakker as an example.

I won't go into a huge amount of detail, because I do think people should give their time and money to study with him, but suffice to say it was illuminating.  I came out of the experience with lots of new ways to look at music and many levels to draw from in my dancing from the octaves, tempo, maqam, emotional intensity, and so forth.  It was a bit freeing after sitting through a week of Nile Group evening parties beset by people showing very similar interpretations of popular classic songs.  There are some standard ways of interpreting classic songs that become quite stale and may not actually be executed according to what the music is telling the dancer to do.

I also came out of the experience with an even greater appreciation of the classic music like Oum Kulthoum.  I've always preferred music my Egyptian friends seem to think of as "old fashioned," but the fact of the matter is that there is a lot more dynamics, sophistication, and subtlety going on than with pop music.  It's been difficult for me to put my finger on why Oum Kulthoum is intriguing to me, but I always felt that there was a lot more depth and richness there.  What I realized through Karim's explanations is that the music is cleverly crafted so that the words, mood, maqam, tempo, etc. do tell a story and work to support eachother to build up into that story.  Great stuff, and invaluable to understand from a dance point of view.

I just wish we had both had enough free time to meet again before he left town, and we were intending to so, so I could interview him for Gilded Serpent, but we both went to Alexandria back-to-back and his time ran out before he had to run off to Rome.  The poor, poor guy!  Therefore, the interview will be coming out later, probably next month, and I will have to wait to really wrack his brains about other subjects I wanted to go over with him from folkloric dance to drum solo technique.  So much knowledge to be shared, so little time!  He's excellent though and I would highly recommend him for workshops or privates!

Check out one of his latest pieces which I like to think of as Mozart reimagined and to use his term, "arabized."  Normally, I don't much care for fusion, but this was pulled off intelligently to produce something fresh, catchy, and different so I enjoyed it.

Randa Kamel:
Well I hate to carry on with the gushing over various teachers, but apparently I have to continue with Randa!
Here's a clip of her from Nile Maxim, when Shareen and I came to see her last month.  I've seen her twice on the Maxim before but this time I felt she was particularly on this night and I liked the costumes a lot more than before.

After that, Shareen and I popped down to her dressing-room to say hi and get her card.  She was cute, grinning while, hanging out and having a snack in-between the early and late sailing while re-curling her bangs using a round brush.  As a side note, I happened to notice her fabulous nails--quite long, squared-off with big holographic glitter over lavender polish.  Talk about bling!  We talked a bit, me mostly smiling and nodding since Shareen was the one who actually knows Randa, but I managed to blurt out a request for a lesson on our way out the door which was rewarded with a big smile and, "of course, Habibi! Just call me!"

That was how, the following week, Shareen and I found ourselves trekking out to her villa near the pyramids (she has a school on Faisal street but wanted us to visit her at home) for some more shop talk and a short lesson.  We spent most of the time discussing community politics and why she hadn't ended up teaching at Ahlan Wa Sahlan this year and so forth.  Eventually we retired to her small home dance studio to do a swift half hour lesson, which actually proved to be enough for two me and Shareen who were still exhausted from Nile Group.

Randa gave us basically the introduction to a choreography set to a popular current pop music tune.  It's not a song I particularly like, actually, so I was wondering how she was going to make it special, because whenever I see Randa dance she really brings something extra.  This was no exception, as she took a song I barely liked and showed us a choreography that made it interesting.

I was particularly struck by the way she uses her arms, which was totally foreign for me.  Shareen was joking that for Randa the arms are almost as important as the hips, which I agree with.  She uses very unusual postures, and for the choreography she always made sure we knew which arm movements she wanted. It was difficult for me since I usually go for fairly casual, relaxed (but with proper technique) arm styling with occasional dynamic accents.  I felt like I came out of the experience though thinking of my arm usage as LAZY.  Randa's usage of her arms and her dynamic arm movements really make her look professional, polished, and like her entire body is engaged with the music, which I love.  She just looks so alive and her movements are clearly very practiced and crisp.  I remember her mentioning she spends hours a day in the dance studio working, and it definitely shows.

It was something to see and I love being pushed out of my comfort zone in dance when I feel the teacher has something relevant to share.  In this case I think it was particularly necessary as I realized an important area I need to focus on.  Of course now I'm seeking her out for a few more lessons before I leave!

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