Theater All-Rounder Fadel On Art, Changing The World



Sun, 29 Nov 2015 - 12:03 GMT


Sun, 29 Nov 2015 - 12:03 GMT

Theater all-rounder Dalia Fadel talks to us about building an international career in musical theater, and about how performance art can change the world - one heart at a time. By Ahmed Mansour Photography courtesy of Dalia Fadel

Singer, actress and choreographer Dalia Fadel believes so much in the power of music to change the world that she is making an international career of it. Although she studied political science at AUC, she’s building up her repertoire of musical theater performances, convinced that she can give more to the world as an artist than as a politician. This is her story.

Many people classify you as an operatic performer. Is that how you would define yourself?

I’ve studied classical music but opera is not my main focus. It was a blessing to start my musical journey with opera as it gives you a great base for your voice, strengthens your vocal chords and teaches you to be disciplined with music. My specialization and dream, however, is musical theater.

Why musical theater?

I love the marriage of simplicity and sophistication found in musical theater. It is accessible and easy to understand while requiring rigorous artistry on the side of the artists — a performer has to be able sing, dance and act all at once. I believe I’m the first from the Middle East to do her masters in musical theater at the Royal Academy of Music. It’s my passion to tell stories through music, dance and drama in a way that is accessible for people of all ages and backgrounds. Of course I’m not a fan of all musicals out there, but as a genre, some of the best works of art that I’ve watched were musicals such as West Side Story, In the Heights, My Fair Lady, Les Miserables, Kiss Me Kate, Notre Dame de Paris, Guys and Dolls, Chicago, Once and so on.


But many Egyptians are not familiar with your genre...

I like to think that what we are currently doing is the continuation of where the golden age of Egyptian art left off. Everyone refers to the 40s and 50s as “elzaman el-gameel,” which is great! But it’s important for us to make sure that the current times we live in are also as beautiful as possible. Those black-and-white movies were full of songs; you could almost consider them musicals comparable to their counterparts in Hollywood at the time. What our team is in the process of doing is writing musicals in Arabic set in modern times.

We know you graduated with a political science degree from AUC, how did you end up being a performer?

I always tell the story of how every Tuesday during my senior year I taught a dance class from 6 to 7pm then rushed to a political science meeting from 7 to 9pm. Ironically, I was doing more good in the world through dance than the endless political debates we were having in the latter meeting. At 6pm I had women of all ages and backgrounds, some faculty, others hip girls, some freshmen and others foreign students, all coming together to forget their worries, get in touch with their bodies and have fun learning new routines. By contrast, political science meetings were consistently flooded with heated debates followed by little action. In a way there’s something special about the ability of art to touch hearts. It changes the world one heart at a time, while politics thinks of the world at a macro level. Art touches the deepest parts of the human soul.

But to be frank, I am very glad I studied politics and world systems, especially that I’m now a performer! We need to know how the world works in order to make pertinent, profound and powerful art. An artist is, of course, expected to be a dreamer as he/she is bringing into existence something of their imagination. But I believe it is equally important for an artist to be educated and have a thorough understanding of the world with whom he/she is communicating. For example, after the January 25 Revolution my professor Dr. Neveen Allouba had Les Miserables translated into Arabic and adjusted it to depict the Egyptian revolution. Because we did our research and chose our language carefully, the stories of Jean Valjean and Fantine and all the other characters really echoed in the hearts of our modern Egyptian audiences. Artists need to be able to tell stories of ordinary people living in different societies during different historical periods.

A few years ago, I was singing in an event in Budapest. After I finished, the director came to congratulate me and told me in private: “You see this man over there? He is one of Hungary’s biggest business tycoons. Tonight, you made him tear up.” This simply melted my heart and was a clear example of how heartfelt art could touch even the hardest person.


How has being a member of an artistic family influenced you?

I was very blessed to grow up in a musical home. My grandmother, Mary Fadel, still teaches piano until now! My father, Dr. Farid Fadel, is a true renaissance man: an artist, a poet, a violinist, pianist, a baritone and an ophthalmologist. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of my dad playing the piano and me singing and dancing in our salon to the tunes of the first animated Disney movie Snow White in the early 1990s.

But I must say the biggest blessing has been my mother’s support. It is said behind every great man is a great woman and this is certainly true of my parents. My mother, Dr. Mona Zaki, always believed in me and supported me every step of the way. She supported my father’s art when he was still starting. She has been doing the same with me, which is a true gift from God. In addition, my mother insisted that my sister Lily and I go to Ecole Oasis International since preschool, where we were also taught visual and performing arts. Thanks to my school, I had the privilege of learning from renowned choreographer Walid Aouni at the age of 8, and singing my first solo at the Cairo Opera House at the age of 7. Madam Esmat El Lamie, our school director, paid attention to the different talents of each student. When I was 14, she realized I have a passion for dance and she assigned me to teach dancing at school, which naturally also helped me develop.

Who’s your inspiration?

My inspiration for life is my mother. I’ve never met a more loving, perseverant, modest, wise, intelligent, hardworking, faithful, consistent, hopeful, beautiful woman - and the list goes on and on! She achieved a lot in her life and worked incredibly hard while retaining a smile on her face and so much gratitude to God in her heart. She is a fighter in every sense of the word and that never fails to inspire me daily.

On an artistic level, I love Audrey Hepburn’s natural, elegant, and girlish performances in musicals such as My Fair Lady and Funny Face. Anna Netrebko always amazes me with how she acts out opera with such freshness and credibility. Her ability to bring to life a piece that has been written hundreds of years ago to a modern audience really intrigues and inspires me. And finally I love Shadia! The combination of a tender velvety voice, a zealous performer and unapologetic femininity make her a true legend.

What inspires you during the music making process?

Different things inspire me, such as poetry for example. People like Nizar Qabbani and Salah Jahin are a joy to read. They’re intelligent and romantic, which leaves both your heart and mind nourished. This is important in an age where fast food has not only invaded our daily physical consumption but also our intellectual nourishment. It’s easy to get instant information through news and advertisements, but to feed your soul you need time, a great author and a good cup of coffee. I also love the Psalms and Proverbs found in the Old Testament of the Bible. They are timeless songs and words of wisdom that resonate with me and inspire me to be courageous and bold in my writing.


How did you career take off globally?

Getting an international education really helped. I learnt from wonderful professors who are also the top in the field like Jeremy Sams, Andrew Lippa, Mary Hammond and Tom Krause, all leading figures in West End, Broadway and the Opera world.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced on your musical journey?

First of all, being a student at the Royal Academy of Music was a very intense experience. A musical theater student’s day starts at 8am and ends at 11pm almost every day. We started dance at 8:30, followed by acting classes, signing classes, movement, voice, accent work, workshops, coaching and so on. Hence my masters year in London was very demanding on all levels but nonetheless worthwhile. I came back to Egypt with a solid understating of the science and art of musical shows. In Egypt the challenges are different, mainly administrative. While Egypt is flooded with talented people, the structure doesn’t help artists to grow. So raising awareness about the culture of theater and musical theater in particular and how to put together shows professionally has been the main struggle, but we’re hopeful.

Have you had any pleasant surprises along the way?

The biggest blessing and surprise has been meeting the incredible Noor Wal Amal blind girls’ orchestra. I was surprised to learn that Egypt has the only blind orchestra in the world. This year I’ve had the privilege and immense honor to sing with them. Each girl is a warrior in her own right, defying all barriers, be they social, physical or economic to play her instrument. They truly fill you with light and hope. What is more needed today than noor wi amal (light and hope)?

Which of your performances did you enjoy the most?

I have played roles in Dido and Aneas, Les Miserables, Lady in the Dark, Little Women, Badlat al-Barq wal Saqeea (Suit for the Cold and Lightning) and Ayam wi Layali alshagara al-qalb (Days and Nights, The Tree, The Heart). They are all wonderful, really! Each one is special in its own way. But I just loved Little Women, which sheds light on the lives of the young ambitious wonderful women of the March family. It is a beautifully written musical that tells the story of real women and their daily struggles and victories.

What are your upcoming projects?

I’m working on my debut album in Arabic and French, which will include different styles like jazz, folk, opera and Nubian music. In addition, a group of us are writing a musical set in modern Egypt.



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