Every time I want to write about my most recent visit with Mahmoud Reda in Cairo this past Summer, I get paralyzed. Where to begin? It feels like a book needs to explode out of me, there is too much to say. "Where to begin" is an understatement. In order to allow myself to get started, I have decided to keep this short and simple. I will simply relay a few things he said that evening...or was it daytime?
It felt like a timeless place.
First, his lovely effervescent wife of 52 years, Rosa, greeted us at the door bubbling and super gracious. Mahmoud's health did not allow him to get up from the couch where he sat bright eyed and beaming rays of light. I will spare you all the tears and emotion I felt when I saw him and have ever since. Not ready for the book version yet, but suffice to say, I am holding back tears now.
One of the things I love about Mahmoud is the lack of small talk so I dove right in as usual asking about his artistic vision, his legacy, his creative process, etc. This time was a little different. There was no talk of the future. His thoughts were reflective and profound. When I asked how and where do his ideas come from? He answers with
I reminded him of the time he saw several pairs of feet running back and forth under the curtain on the stage at IBCC and later that evening he described a choreography telling a whole story that could be created from this idea of just watching feet. It was late at night after a long day of teaching and attending performances. He was 80 years old and Mahmoud was all lit up with this new creative idea, eager to try it out on some dancers and share with the world.
My own thoughts...that is the thing about art and the creative process; the artist never feels ownership of a creative idea but rather feels as if they have discovered something that has always existed and can not wait to share and bring it into the light for all to experience.
He then reminded me about another magical moment at the conference when he was talking about the Hagallah dance and Lynette (Gilded Serpent) was trying to be discreet with her camera by crawling like a snake on the ground. Mahmoud spotted her and made a funny comment and immediately connected it with part of the Hagallah tradition. He then said
"You see how everything is connected?"
His wife insisted he drink water. He wanted tea but she said he had drunk enough tea for today. He gave me a joking look implying he was being held captive against his will. The smile told of his frustration with aging but how lucky he was to have Rosa caring for him. He then asked me if I had seen a movie he loved.
It was about an elder man who had lost much of his health including the ability to walk. A young woman had befriended him and helped him from time to time. One day she was sorting through his mail and found a very important invitation to an awards dinner event with over 1000 people that was to honour and celebrate this man's life. She insisted he must go. He refused. He did not want to be seen in public in his bad health.
Eventually she convinces him to go with her. When they arrive at the building, there are stairs to climb. Instead of allowing himself to be carried, he pushes out of the wheelchair and very slowly and difficultly manages to climb five stairs. One thousand people congratulate him on all of his life's amazing accomplishments. When asked how he felt about all he had accomplished, he replied that he is more happy about the five stairs he just climbed.
Then Mahmoud leans over to me, looks me straight in the eye and says...
" You see, there is always hope".
Which leads me to his thoughts reflecting upon his life and why he believes his vision and dream came true and then some. He is happy, content and after all the examples he lists which I will relay in the next blog post, he says
"What more could I ask for?"
Note: I went with intention to videotape or audio record an interview. However, Mahmoud's health had caused him not to be able to articulate very well as he had lost the ability to say certain letters. I had to listen very carefully and write down what I could.