Like many artistic and cultural institutions, the Cairo Contemporary Dance Center is facing closure. We talk to Artistic Director Karima Mansour about the importance of the art form and what we can do to help...
Graduating with both a B.A and a Masters degree in Contemporary Dance from the London Contemporary Dance School, Karima Mansour founded MAAT for Contemporary Dance in 1999 and established it as first Independent dance company in Egypt. She's since been appointed as Artistic Director for the Cairo Contemporary Dance Center (CCDC) where eager performers can engage in a three year program dedicated to training dancers and choreographers and building a community for the art-form. Since the new Minister of Culture has taken his position, CCDC now is facing a fight to survive under the scrutiny of new government policies and, as such, has been taking part in the daily sit-ins at the Cairo Opera House. We spoke to Karima about the role CCDC has to play in keeping the arts alive in Cairo and how they've been affected by the current war against culture...
Has CCDC faced direct problems since the new Minister of Culture has been in office?
I have been facing problems long before the start of the CCDC in January 2012. I always will be an independent artist but after the revolution I felt, like many others, there might be some hope and movement towards change. The former Minister of Culture, Emad Abou Ghazy, was really trying to change matters from inside and listening to the art scene but unfortunately, due to his resignation, things didn't last. Or rather, the vision wasn't fully implemented. The clash between artists and bureaucracy, corruption and ignorance is immense and it made me realise, after an attempt at dismantling the CCDC, that the problem is not about the minister but a whole system that is corrupt, decaying and operating like a police state.There is no regard to quality or understanding that real art needs time.
How did you get involved in the strikes at the Cairo Opera house?
I got involved since I consider myself part of all this, I don't feel I really have a choice!
The CCDC is on the Opera’s property and we were already facing our own current issue of the government wanting to close the CCDC. It’s is not related to the current minister but the timing is the same. I see all these problems as part of a whole and that's how all artists should see them. Therefore, I decided with the students to present a flash mob that they had already been working on to show in the streets of Cairo with choreographer Florence Moutin. We had planned to perform on the streets on the same day the Opera protests took place and I felt it would be madness not to protest using our art, our language and with a theme the students were already working on with Florence, titled '3awa2eq' or Obstacles.
How many dancers do you have currently enrolled at CCDC?
We started out with 28 dancers and now (one year later) they are 20. Not everybody was able to put up with five hours a day, five days a week. It's a three year professional training program offering serious, good quality, solid training that can't happen over a year, let alone a few workshops here and there...
And what kind of opportunities become available to those students who wish to pursue a career in dance?
The kind of opportunities I would like to offer to the CCDC students after their completion of the full program is to become some of the best trained dancers/performers in Egypt.
Others will be on a good path to becoming choreographers if they wish to pursue this career, and they can also be well-trained dance teachers that know what they're doing and not experimenting on others as they go along. We have a problem in Egypt due to the fact that Contemporary Dance is a new art form and we lack the know-how still. Those who want to pursue a real career in it need to travel, just like I did, but I believe it's about time we create a scene in Egypt, emphasising dance education to find our own voice on the way.
Do you feel dance still has a place in modern popular culture?
I feel dance and more specifically Contemporary Dance is a very important art form for our current time and especially in Egypt. It is ‘contemporary’, thus continuously in motion and of our time. It is a language that belongs to its environment if well understood and used. It doesn't rely on spoken word and gives the spectator room to think and makes the audience active rather than passive.
How can people who appreciate the arts help out CCDC?
By following our activities, talking about our activities, supporting us in our fight to exist and our right to finish what we started, especially since it is of good quality and the first project of its kind in Egypt and the Middle East. We want you to voice your opinion as loud as possible. Finally, all those who wish to help and have ideas or suggestions, to please contact us and share with us any ideas or volunteer work, and be part in building, creating and supporting this project that deserves to grow.
Keep up-to-date and get in touch with with CCDC on their Facebook page here.