By Ahmed Maged | Photos by Reda Troupe ( Community Times)

"Twists, turns, jumps, bends and squats, are all intuitive human movements that make up part of the body language. But when performed to the sound of music by dancers clad in colorful clothes, they turn into gorgeous live depictions that would grab your attention for hours. This is, in a nutshell, a simple description that perfectly fits into world-famous Reda Troupe’s folklore shows.

The Reda Troupe is made of Egyptian dancers, musicians, composers and experts that have, over the years, sustained Egypt’s image of musical theatre and folklore art. In 2009, celebrations marked the golden anniversary of the Reda Troupe was featured at the Alexandria Library, where several troupes from France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Morocco and Finland participated. Despite their cultural diversities, each of these non-Egyptian troupes performed a typical Reda show, attesting to the influence the troupe has exerted worldwide over the years. The event was a tribute, which crowned the efforts and perseverance of an artistic organization that has changed taboos about dancing in a region where the art has always been associated with belly dancing, pubs and cabarets.

Brothers Ali and Mahmoud Reda took the initiative of launching the troupe in 1959, with the dream to revive the Egyptian folkloric traditions and make it part of mainstream art. Until the end of the 1950s, different types of Egyptian folklore could only be seen in the provinces, in which they evolved. From time to time, some of these flashed in musicals or were presented as part of tourists’ entertainment programs. With the assistance of folklore dancer Farida Fahmy and late composer Ali Ismail, Ali and Mahmoud Reda set up the troupe to bring Egyptian folklore into a true perspective. From the outset, the founders realized the revival of the art wouldn’t have been possible unless fresh representations were rendered of the songs, poetry, costumes and customs of each province respectively.

The beginning was a big success, but the troupe had found it difficult to press ahead with its activities due to several budget constraints. But the problem was soon overcome as the Ministry of Culture offered to take up the troupe’s finances, leaving the artistic aspects for the founders to deal with. This was a significant step in the troupe’s history, for at that time, the golden age of musicals in cinema, which boomed in the 1940s/50s had started to wane. Producers refused to risk sizeable budgets in movies that they suspected would generate any worthwhile returns. Also Naema Akef, an icon of folkloric dance, who was perhaps the only specialist in the Reda fashion, had passed away. The emergence of the Reda Troupe, therefore was timely, not only because it breathed life into folkloric traditions nationwide, but also due to the fact that it filled the dent that was left by dwindling musical productions in both cinema and theatre.

With the strength of some 26 dancers and musicians, the Reda Troupe began to tour a considerable part of the world to become the emissary of Egyptian art in places where it had hardly been known. So much so that their performances abroad fuelled a world interest in Egyptian folklore and by the year 1990, the troupe had toured 80 countries, gaining popularity that triggered a demand by non-Egyptian cultural authorities for Egyptian shows. Special workshops that were conducted by Mahmoud Reda and other Egyptian specialists were organized in several countries to instruct groups on the intricacies of Egyptian folklore. The experts traveled far and wide, laying the foundations of Egyptian folkloric heritage in many nations that now take pride in echoing the troupe’s performances on national and regional platforms.

In the 1960s, the troupe bet on cinematic success by starring in ‘Gharam Fe El Karnak’ (Love in El Karnak) and ‘Agazet Nos El Sana’ ( Mid-year Vacation), ‘Harami El Waraa’ (The Lottery Thief), which have all documented a significant aspect of the troupe’s diverse presentations in cinema.

“Today, the Reda Troupe employs 150 members including dancers, musicians and technicians,” says Ehab Hassan, the troupe’s director. Hassan, who joined the troupe in the 1970s as a dancer, was over the years promoted to a chief performer, instructor and eventually the troupe’s director. “With the shaping up of Reda Troupe the traditional perception about dancers also began to change. Mahmoud Reda has set certain standards for selecting candidates. They should have a university degree and pass a test in general knowledge. A satisfactory cultural-social background is also essential,” Hassan explains.

According to Hassan, the training of a dancer with a high potential would take one year. However, for him, what makes a difference today is the change marking the new generations’ aspirations and dedication. The Reda Troupe had first appeared on the scene amid an atmosphere marked by calm, stability and creativity, today each dancer is keen to romp to the top in the shortest time possible.

Having presented more than 300 shows over the last five decades, at present the troupe’s schedule is divided between local performances and others that are presented abroad. Performances in July and August of each year usually target summer entertainment in big cities. In each show, the troupe presents its highlights that people continue to admire, in addition to some new numbers that are intended to keep it updated with the scene."

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