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most suitable as a setting for a fantasy. toms, the Nubians have their indeWhile we were considering the merit of pendent views. However, Allah does ochre-gingerbread men versus blue. not recognize this laxity, for as we spotted gazelles, a muezzin called us to approached the mosque of this village the mosque — in this case an open only the masculine elect dared doff court where all the men of the village their shoes and enter. For two reasons squatted at prayer. A minaret rising to we were admitted: first, because of our the sky, the figure of the sheik at the nationality, and secondly, because the top of a winding staircase, silhouetted Professor felt in need of midday prayers. against the blue, added a more serious His preparations were elaborate, his note to the modernist scene. The libations almost a complete bath, while women of the village gathered around, we in our religious fervor stood in offering their armlet cases for baksheesh, stockinged feet on uncovered dust and but we galloped on, our Professor luring dirt, and would have preferred our us away with the hint of a howling- libations after prayer. We were glad, dervish service in the offing.
however, to see this simple, devout By the time we reached the next service, for we, as women, had been village — due to the Professor's ex- proscribed in Cairo from treading the traordinary educational methods — we holy ground during the ritual service. were prepared for an examination in After a hurried lunch we exchanged the manners and customs of the Nubi. our 'subway donkeys' for the 'elevated ans and, having added this new race to camels' and were admitted to a new our museum of nationalist problems, we experience — the Bisharin. Here we felt qualified to mix socially with the touched nearest to Nature. Huts of elect of the tribe. We left our gallant matted grass provide shelter for little donkeys at the doorstep of the this amazing tribe of Bedouin camelBodagdi ménage and were welcomed breeders, who wander all through the by Madame Bodagdi into the Nubian Arabian desert. They are absolutely household. In striking contrast to unique in type, and we felt we had other Egyptian domiciles, this court- been whisked away to the South Seas. yard and interior were clean and Almost naked black bodies and limbs, orderly. The women unveiled, revealed heads well set and formed, but dwarfed their dusky charms enhanced by the under mats of bushy hair, set a new tattoo and the gold nose-ring. The standard for workshop wigs and an idea sleeping-quarters showed a built-in bed to be achieved by the flapper of 1944. of the same earth that formed the floor, An unbleached cotton cloth was wound the rugs and mats rolled up in Japanese in curious drapery round the loins and fashion. The family wardrobe, gayly over one shoulder, on men and women displayed, furnished the 'sky borders' alike; but the latter were more heavily of the room. The walls were decorated clad with silver amulets and bracelets. with everything from Sudanese baskets The oldest and most shrunken grayto lurid colored-supplement 'ads. bearded Bisharin squatted on a small
Cocoa and Nubian dates, a Euro- mat surrounded by a row of miniature pean table, Vienna chairs, were presided cobblestones. This isolation proclaimed over with charm and savoir faire by the 'holy ground,' a sacred place of Madame. We were almost shocked prayer or mosque. by this radical defiance of ‘woman's At our Professor's suggestion the perplace,' but were assured by the Pro- formance began. Out of the mud fessor that in this, as in other cus- hovels dashed the men of the tribe,
overdame. We defiance by the Prom hovels
brandishing long swords and round cast a spell of theatre magic round us. leather-and-metal shields. They leaped In one corner, huddled on a wooden at one another in so fearsome a way bench, lay what seemed to be a heap of that it seemed more than a game, when old rags, but which later proved to be they had to be separated by the sedate a child. On the floor a great hulking umpires. Meanwhile the pacifists on form crouched, warming a large tamthe box-seats of cameldom became so bura over the burning coals. This thrilled and excited that they dis- we have observed is the tuning mounted and cheered the combatants ritual of the orchestras of Egypt. Cold on to greater frenzy. The repertoire of and lack of food there may be, but simple leaping-games and war dances always glow enough to warm rhythm is short but violent, and so primitively and melody into life. picturesque that it would satisfy the We were ushered to the only seats, ultra-æsthete who cries, ‘Back to our Nubian escort sharing what later nature.' The Bisharin orchestra seemed appeared to be the community bed, to our ears less crude — or at least less and we once more experienced the strident — than other Arab music. thrill of personal rapport between audi. Vocal in part, it was accompanied by a ence and performers. This is the Little lyre-shaped instrument with five strings, Theatre rarefied to its ultimate purpose. mellow in tone.
First, the audience is sharing directly Back through the bazaars we can with the performers in the creation of tered, the narrow streets forming the production; secondly, there is no roofed vistas and lined with the usual physical convention of proscenium or open shops gayly decorated with every- setting to separate the audience from thing from Sudanese armor to Ameri- the stage; thirdly, and most important, can wheat.
there is the rare and personal sensation
that the moment belongs to you alone Stars, donkeys, and a kufiehed guard – that for you alone the gate of illusion fore and aft, long twisting alleys, is momentarily opened. shadowed hovels, the silent and stark One by one the ladies of the ballet, Nubian desert, an oasis of mud huts, who had retired for the night but had soundless and motionless in the night, been roused by a flying messenger, apand we passing as silently, expectant, peared and were presented with all the tense, confident that our Nubian escort ceremony of hand-kissing. The cosand our donkeys were leading us to the tume: a printed cotton of Mother magic and mystery of the theatre of the Hubbard cut, a probable survival of an race of Ham. Or were we already early missionary period; a gold nosecaught in its hoodoo spell?
ring as a chic and individual touch; Our caravan stopped before a mud make-up of charcoal number 3, rewall. Dusky shadows began to move; lieved by decorative patterns of tattooa penetrating voice broke the silence. work; a coiffure beyond the skill of any There was a fumbling of wooden latches wig-maker — a multitude of tight ringand the glow of a charcoal brazier as lets of wool in even rows, suspended a door opened and we were ushered from a smooth oiled surface, which we through a mud courtyard into the recognized at once as a survival of the Little Theatre of Sudan.
ancient tomb-paintings. The fashions A low square chamber where one of their headgear, the pride of the tiny wall-wick, combined with the glow Sudanese flapper, accounted for the of the brazier on the floor, immediately fields of castor oil plant through which VOL. 134 — NO. 1
we passed earlier in the day. Bracelets, "To make the dirt fly'— and it flew! necklets, anklets of heavy silver set off Producing a psychological cough, we the dusky features and massive limbs. fled to the door and watched what
The performance began with the probably was a relic of a spirit dance: customary salutation; then the first a semicircle of black forms, more motive of the movement — the sway- dusky than the night, gleaming eyes ing of the body for the complicated and whitened teeth half shrouded in a flexibility of head, neck, shoulders, gauze of dust, shuffling, stamping, leaparms, torso, and so on, every muscle ing, crying, that revealed to us an coming into play in anatomical succes orgiastic ritual of black magic. sion. Romance, as with us, forms the The stars and the cool fragrant night plot of these dramas of the East, and and the stretches of the desert sands the happy ending is also demanded. seemed homey and familiar after the The heroine, a dusky ingénue who scene so remote from us in tradition, in would have captivated Gauguin, development, so close to a savage life impersonated the bride, and one of beyond our ken. the dark-veiled matrons impersonated the mother of the tribe. The panto. Even the most insatiable first-nighter mime suggested the conferring of the might have paused for breath and repowers of motherhood and the pass- tired to the realities of bed and the ing on of the tribal line.
relaxing influence of a hot-water bottle The première danseuse arrived. Every after this seriesof the season'sopenings; muscle heaved in amazing gyrations but the Nubian constitution is no more and the syncopations of the bare feet enduring than that of Grand Street and continued as the body bent back in a we revived at the idea of another Salome-like attitude. The abandon of divertisement suggested by our rethe movement was in strange contrast sourceful Professor. On we cantered to to the missionary cut of the trailing a Nubian village where we were welMother Hubbard. Not only was this comed with customary grace. The setaccompanied by the rhythmic beating ting for this performance was an exof the tabla and by hand-clapping, but, terior: an alley-way bounded by newly at intervals, the most arresting cli- built mud-houses formed a background maxes were induced by a sudden call, for two rows of dervishes, squatting piercing and vibrant as the call of a cross-legged on the braided groundwild creature to its mate in the jungle. cloth used for the ceremony, lit by a So close to the primitive world was the hive-shaped light that shed its beams unhuman cry that it would take cen- on the faces of the performers. The turies for a less savage race to acquire 'overheads' twinkled with brilliant the technique of this coloratura of the star-effects. jungle. The movement, meanwhile, It was an interlude in the prenuptial grew more and more primitively sensu- festivities of a young Nubian felláheen. ous, the danseuse directing her charms Contrary to Western traditions, the from one to another of the gentlemen hero of the occasion was not the bridepresent, until, at its most seductive groom, but his mother's second husmoment, each in turn jumped up and band, a gentleman of great dignity and passionately beat the air with his stick repose, robed in handsome galabya or fist, to acknowledge her conquest and kufieh. No women, of course, were and incite her to further triumphs. present, but on inquiry we learned
The next number explained itself: that the bride was making the most of the last moments of her childhood toned reiteration continued faster and in a final Aling with her pals.
yet faster, until both lines swayed themFamiliar trays of what we thought selves into an ecstasy of the infinite the inevitable brewed Nile were served spiral rhythm of ‘Allah — Akbar.'
This was merely one incident in the drink of distilled annis, that was a munificence of a pre-nuptial fête. We strain on our crude Occidental palates. were next ushered through dark court
The howling dervish ceremony be- yards and corridors to still another gan. Two sheiks, leading the service in scene of praise and prayer. The brazier high-keyed voices of brilliant quality, was this time the central point, around intoned the praise of the Prophet, and which squatted another company chantthe two lines swaying in opposition, ing the words of the Koran. Sandalpendulum-like in rhythm but moving wood, incense, and burnt annis, minin ever-enlarging spirals, chanted the gling with the natural perfume of the responses. From the most subtle Nubian, filled the windowless, airless movement of the heads the relaxed bod- chamber. The pale-faced audience was ies swayed in ever-increasing tempo soon surfeited with atmosphere and until, with simultaneous impulse, all religion, and cantering back to Assuan, rose to their feet. Without a pause or welcomed the waning stars and the loss of a beat, the movement and in- chilling approach of dawn.
AFTER various changes we finally twinkling with star-effects, was seen transferred at the corner of the Pyra- through a low proscenium. The mids and cameled across the desert orchestra for this important opening sands, while the moonlight played in was conducted by the Barrère of Mena fantastic shadows on the distant hills, village, a sofara player of great distincand our luggage followed in rope tion in the Bedouin tribe. As in other 'prop' bags on Sambo's humped back. Little Theatres, percussion was the
When we reached the tent flap of the accompaniment, and Gamma, a young desert theatre, Machmud — producer, prodigy of twelve years, performed on manager, impresario — greeted us the tabla, with fingers and wrists movwith desert courtesy. Instead of the ing in rhythmic skill comparable only drab canvas effect we anticipated, to the intricacies of Pavlowa's toes in what was our amazement to find our- her most technical ballet. Voices in selves 'magicked' into the setting of strange minor intervals came in, in the paladins! Luckily, we remembered complicated rhythms. And then one that we had brought our dress clothes, figure after another rose spontane- abayas, kufiehs, and burnous, — or ously, and began to move in subtle we should have felt as painfully con- rhythm — the feet first, then the spicuous as if we had been in overalls movement of the body surged upward at the opera. The other guests arrived with the melody of the reed pipe, until on gray Arab steeds, accompanied by the neck, and then the head itself, was a claque of Bedouin jackal dogs. moving in curious syncopations. The
The curtain rose. The 'back drop' tempo increased as the mood grew
north the delicacy of a
rose to the finishedeing eye and helping
dant, yet napping, that
more and more excited, with the clap- The morning bath in a glassful of ping of hands from the audience and muddy Nile. ... Breakfast coffee of performers who found themselves swept the same complexion, with bread and into the spell of the reiterated call of treacle from the fresh sugar-cane, were the desert. The stick of the camel-driver tempting hors d'ouvres to caravan life. now came into play as the most im. As we did not belong to the Arab portant‘prop.' Such grace and subtlety Union, ‘striking' gave us an opportuof the wrist, such sinuous litheness of nity to observe the cast of ten of the each muscle defies western imitation. night before, who were now transformed Next the kufieh or headkerchief caught into the crew. Each seemed to head his the night air with the delicacy of a own department efficiently but never chiffon scarf. A deliciously floating rose to the finished standard of Machrhythm combined with a sudden pause mud with the all-seeing eye and helping told the story of the baking of the hand! Sardi, the poet and slave of bread, and then came the final dramatic Sarifa, the dromedary; Hamid, the climax of capturing the kufieh in the tribe's strong man, tossing the heavy teeth of the performer amid the wild water-tanks on to the groaning camel's acclaim of the syncopated orchestra – back; Ali, the dervish, saddling ‘Mary drums, flute, voices, hand-clapping, that Anderson' and 'Gazelle,' who brayed was at once discordant, yet harmonious. their morning antiphon; Byume, caging
Our guests departed on their Arab the cackling fowls that formed part of steeds and we, already adopted by our commissary. Even we, hardened the Machmud tribe, had our first initia- to orchestral rehearsals, were slightly tion into the mysteries of the Dervish. unnerved by the caravan method of Ali, our irrepressible donkey-boy, was harmonics. Only after each tent peg suddenly swayed by a religious im- had been checked up and every prop pulse and began to move in a slow was in its balanced position on the minor rhythm as he gradually hyp- camel's back, did Machmud give word notized himself by the repetition of the to start. It was interesting to find how Prophet's name. Faster and faster like the technique of the static theatre until, loosened by the spiral abandon, our caravan methods were. the kufieh unwound and floated in white Thrilling to new experiences, the waves about his head and body. He Caravan Road Company began its rose, still swirling, and was joined by route across the yellow sands. The the whole clan until there were two dignified pace and the solemn mien of lines in orthodox dervish fashion. So Sambo and his followers could not hypnotized were they by their own dampen the gay spirits of the company. impetus,— not, alas, by religious frenzy, On they danced and on and on, the - that finally their relaxed bodies col. tabla and the sofara lightening the way lapsed utterly with exhaustion, and Ali of this barefooted ballet; there was in particular had so completely sur- standing room only for all but the rendered his senses to the abandon of audience and impresario in this travelrhythm that he had to be revived to a ing show. And how analogous the life, waking state.
with its intricacies, its adventure, its So successful was this opening that camaraderie, its absorbing interest in the the management rejoiced and the perfection of one vanishing moment, traveling audience's dreams became its demands on the vitality of the that night a fantastic mirage, in producer and his staff! anticipation of the first day on the road. But, on the other hand, what a