Sunday, April 29, 2012

Writers on Dance: Sonallah Ibrahim's "The Committee"

from Syracuse University Press
After reading and hearing many recommendations for this Kafka-esque novel, Sonallah Ibrahim's The Committee (translated by Charlene Constable and Mary St. Germain). I wasn't expecting, right there on page 12, to see the protagonist, a man, be forced to perform a belly dance during an interrogation/interview before a mysterious audience in an unnamed country.  I'm still reading the book and can't  project how the dance fits into the overall novel, but this troubling scene comes just as the questioning begins and is immediately followed abruptly by an invasive strip search.  His dance, though described in a straightforward, humorous, and even knowledgeable manner, is painfully disturbing.  This is a valuable and very different take from the other dance excerpts from other writers included in this blog:

One of the ladies, elderly and dignified, spoke.  She was seated at the far left, near an obese man wearing a white jacket, his legs crossed, his head thrown back, gazing at the ceiling as though he were not with us.  She asked me, "Do you know how to dance?"

"Yes, indeed . Of course."

Stubby butted in, "Show us then."

"What sort of dancing?"

I realized this question was a mistake.  What sort of dancing, indeed!  As if there were any other.

Without hesitation I acted, hoping speed and finesse would testify on my behalf.  Finding nothing else, I took my necktie and wound it around my waist just above my hip bones, right where it would emphasize the body's flexibility.  I made a point of putting the knot on the side, as professional belly dancers do.  I soon discovered that worn this way, it had a great feature: it separates the belly from the backside, allowing each independent movement.

I began to undulate, lifting my ankles a little off the ground.  Glancing down at them over my shoulder, I raised my arms above my head and twined my fingers, framing my face with my arms.  I danced energetically for a little while, making an effort to snap my fingers, even after linking my index fingers.  I was so absorbed I didn't notice the impression I made on the members.

The chairman, who heard not and saw not, spoke suddenly, motioning with his hand, "Enough."

More on this book soon....

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Saidi Cocktail" on Leila's Helwa Album

Leila's "Helwa" CD.  See post for ordering info.
In searching for the musical source of our current choreography to "Saidi Cocktail," I've found the album Helwa, produced by Leila of Cairo.  Unfortunately, the track isn't on Itunes, so I can't promise it is the exact recording.  But....Leila has written several interesting articles on Gilded Serpent about dancing in Cairo that are very worth reading as one dancer's experience.  See "Facing Truth: Working as a Dancer in Egypt."  To order the CD, see her website or and find the listed vendors including: or Also....there is a fun video of a different live version on YouTube.  This video was filmed at the Semiramis Nightclub on the Nile in Cairo and includes a talented cane dancer at the beginning of the show:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Elias Khoury: A Writer's Journey"

Khoury's newly translated As Though She Were Sleeping
Lebanese writer Elias Khoury gave a keynote address at Queens College's Symposium on Middle Eastern Literature.  Khoury's address focused on his approach to writing, his compassion for his subjects, overcoming orientalist cliches, and how his writing has informed his life in turn: "life imitates fiction."  The full post "Elias Khoury: A Writer's Journey" is on M. Lynx Qualey's  Arabic Literature (in English).   Khoury's new novel, As Though She Were Sleeping is just out from Archipelago Press, translated by Marilyn Booth.
Photo by Katrina Weber Ashour

Friday, April 13, 2012

Orientalism, Politics of Publishing Arabic Lit., and Challenges of Arabic Language

Photo by Katrina Weber Ashour: Ammiel Alcalay, Murat
Nemet-Nejat, Sinan Antoon  and Susan Bernofsky
My write up of Queens College's Symposium Celebrating the Literature of the Middle East is on M. Lynx-Qualey's Arabic Literature (in English).  
Among presenters at this event were Sinan Antoon, Elias Khoury, Ammiel Alacalay, Aron Aji, Murat Nemet-Nejat, and so many others.  Each panel left off in middle of conversation, it seemed, as there was so much to be said on each topic.  Panels included: "The Politics of Translation," "The Writer as Translator," and Elias Khoury's final address: "A Writer's Journey."

"Picture an Arab Man" in the Egypt Daily News

Picture an Arab man a book review in The Egypt Daily News considers Western stereotypes of Middle Eastern men through photographs of different eras. While much has been made in paintings and books (and currently Western media), of the role and stereotype of their female counterparts, often assumed or presented as being the victim, this book, Picture an Arab Man by Iraqi Canadian photojournalist Tamara Abdul Hadi, focuses on men.  She began her travels in 2009 and sought to photograph the men stripped of clothing, (some semi-nude), jewelry, and accessories; they are "unburdened of hyper-masculine cliches."  According to reporter Nada Akl, the portraits are a challenge to everyone about how identity markers such as gender, culture, religion, affect each one of us.  She finishes: "A flag, a Qur’an, a suit or a keffiyeh would perhaps help you know more, but in Abdul Hadi’s portraits, these guys could be anything. They’re dreaming, laughing and pouting – and you only get to know their first name and nationality. To know more you would need to chat with these men. And maybe you’d talk about paragliding . . ."  

The video came from a blog post on the same book:


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Stranger Orientalism": A Review on Bookslut

Craig Thompson's Habibi
Bookslut's Daisy Rockwell posted a review,"Stranger Orientalism" of two books: Craig Thompson's Habibi and Marina Warner's Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights.  The issues Rockwell discusses intrigue me; she looks at both writers'stated intentions, asks whether or not such stated intentions excuse the overall material, and harps about the overwhelming amount of "kitsch" or accouterments that keeps such Orientalist stereotyping alive. (Accouterments, orientalist stereotyping, hello belly dance.) All this in addition to a discussion of the more troubling and larger reality that our media has not revived but re-invented a new form of Orientalism to reinforce the stereotypes of "the mysterious other" and to justify warring motives. Amazing when a book review of a graphic novel and an academic study gets downright frightening. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Egypt Explored in Upcoming Panels

Two panels on the ongoing changes in Egypt are coming up, both sponsored by the New School.  First, on Thursday, April 12, the New School presents a full day of talks titled "Egypt in Transition."  At 10 a.m. is "Roots and Character of the Egyptian Revolution" with speakers including Cairo journalist Yasmine El-Rashidi who impressed me last September at the Brooklyn Book Festival;  at 2:30 p.m., "Possible Outcomes of the Egyptian Revolution"; and, at 6:30 p.m., a keynote lecture on Egypt's future will be presented by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies.  The event is free but registration is required at the Center for Public Scholarship's registration website or by writing

Mona Eltahawy
On May 3, at 8 p.m. Mona Eltahawy and other guests will give an update  in "Understanding Egypt."  This event also takes place at The New School, Tishman Auditorium, 66 W. 12th Street in Manhattan.  Tickets are $15; 866-811-4111. This event is part of PEN World Voices, an exploration of international literature that happens every spring.  

Simon Shaheen's "The Call" on April 10

 Simon Shaheen performs with his ensemble on Tuesday with a special guest appearance by dancer Elena Lentini.  From the program: "Marking the first anniversary of the Arab Spring, the impeccably creative oud and violin virtuoso and composer Simon Shaheen will perform an evening of songs and freedom anthems of the 1950s that have found new resonance in the recent Middle Eastern and North African revolutions."  (NYU class: you performed to his piece "Ibnil Balad" at the Kimmel Center in February!  Come see his group live!)

The venue is small; get tickets now: