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The best and the worst of the 3rd annual experimental theater festival

The Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theater wrapped up on 20 October with the announcement of this year’s awards. Out of 26 performances representing 21 countries around the world, six received awards.

The award for best ensemble was given to the cast of The House of Bernard Alba, a theater troupe from Mexico. The play, which is based on the works of poet Federico Garcia Lorca, delves into the complexity of human emotions and the effects of gender-based oppression.

Boshra Ismail of Iraq won the best actress award for her role in Echo, a play that reflects the current Iraqi situation through its main character, a mother who awaits her long lost son to come to repent from his war crimes.

The best actor award went to Mohammed Fahim of the Egyptian performance I am Hamlet, a version of the Shakespeare classic that swings between classic and modern time to emphasize similarities between the two.

Best performance went to Korea’s Jaranda Project for their rendition of Macbeth. Osama Hallal of Syria won the award for best director for his rendition of Don Quixote. The best scenography award went to Façade, a Polish play.

Despite the fact that the festival kept Cairo theaters packed for the past ten days with audiences hungry for a taste of the global cultural fusion, most of the performances failed to measure up to the high expectations.

The Egyptian performance of Macbeth, a comic rendition of a archetypal tragedy, leaned toward classic rather than the experimental theater. Onstage battles stayed faithful to Shakespeare’s text, while also drawing on contemporary global politics. Yet the emphasis on international violence provided little in the way of fresh perspective.

The Lebanese production Wa Motasima’s attempt to portray the Palestinian crises was clichéd. From condemnation of massacres to the symbolic gestures and choreography the production offered none nothing exhausted tools to convey a preconceived message.

On the other hand, the Brazilian performance I Choose started with performers leading the audience into the theater while dancing to lively Brazilian music. After that, the first 20 minutes were quite chaotic as performers took part in an unexplained quarrel. The story then unfolded into a parody of Little Red Riding Hood. The play discussed the options that could make the girl fall for the wolf or beat him up, exploring the concept of choice and consequently the title of the performance. Despite their sincere attempts, the performance lacked depth due to the loose plot. The intervention of a narrator who invited the audience to pick their own ending broke the fourth wall.

Ketenang, from Singapore, used one actress to play five characters. It was a splendid sight. The simple storyline of a villager’s journey to the city where she works as a housekeeper included a genuine human touch. The use of video as a complementary means of storytelling helped break the monotony of the actress’s voice, which seldom matched the characters she impersonated. Moreover, the position of the translation, which was set on a wall far from the actress, distracted rather than clarified.

The Mawlawia of Egypt was an enchanting experience. Director and scenographer Intisar Abdel Fatah, managed to blend Sufi text, philosophy, and ancient Egyptian mystic thought with Coptic and Sufi inshad, or religious chanting. The Mawlawia, also often known as the whirling dervishes, is a Sufi order founded in 13th Century Turkey. The group started their dance set within the walls of the five-hundred year-old Ghouri palace. The ambience took one’s thoughts to a subliminal state of mind as an air of serenity prevailed.

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