Two Ahmeds, two Saids

A quick note about a fun and filled Saturday. It began with my hightailing it up to Prenzlauer Berg to attend two workshops by Ahmed Said. Now, I was a bit early, so I treated myself to a really convincing cappuccino and a good-enough croissant before going in search of the dance studio at the Kulturbrauerei.

I finally made it, and was in for more than five hours of energetic dance. The first workshop was on Egyptian folkloric dances, namely Nubian and Debke. I had no experience with either. I adoooored the playfulness of Nubian, the groovyness of it, to say nothing of the music. Debke was more challenging. By that point, I was really feeling the impact in my feet and knees, and it made it hard to keep up. I think I could learn to like it if I got the basic step down, but for now I’m happy to leave it to the menfolk.

The second workshop was devoted to a shaabi choreography. It seems like every dancer who’s coming through Berlin these days is offering a shaabi choreo. And this is a Good Thing. I love the peppiness of the shaabi music I’ve heard so far, for starters. And Ahmed mixed up bellydance steps with some moves that were practically out of the disco, which I especially loved because it reminds me that this dance is, ultimately, about joy in movement and music. You can’t take yourself that seriously when you’re pretending to stab yourself out of heartache.

I had just enough time to jump on the subway — no doubt grossing out my fellow passengers — go home and take a shower before it came time to… go to the ballet! At that point I couldn’t even walk anymore, so hubby and I got a taxi to see La Péri at the Staatsballet Berlin. In a way, it was incredibly fitting. A nineteenth-century “hijinks in the harem” ballet newly choreographed by Vladimir Malakhov, it was the most unapologetically orientalist production of, well, anything I’ve ever seen. In it, Achmed — the second Ahmed of the day — is tired of all the available ladies and romantically dreams of the pure and eternal love of a supernatural Peri.

The second Said of the day had to be Edward Said, who was no doubt doing pirouettes in his grave. I mean, at one point Achmed is in prison, and while the previous backdrops had suggested his harem was in Istanbul, the prison has giant, Pergammon-style Mesopotamian wall carvings.

The production was gorgeous — although one of the poor little corps Peris did accidentally run into Achmed at one point — and the costuming was enough to make any bellydancer swoon. (Nourmahal, Achmed’s former favourite, had on a tribal kind of look — I had to wonder if that was on purpose.) But it also made me realise that if it hadn’t been for Balanchine, I would never have fallen in love with ballet. It’s the modern take on the dance that draws me, as well as the athleticism.

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