I. July 23rd 1952
III. The Death of Nasser/ The Leader
V. The Day The Leader Was Killed
Snapshots from the extraordinary life of the late Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, are the basis for this ballet for percussion and chamber orchestra. Sadat was a controversial figure during his lifetime and his legacy has been complex both in the Arab World and beyond. Choosing from an abundance of materials, I selected five iconic scenes to capture in this work.
The first scene, July 23rd 1952, is cast against the backdrop of the Egyptian revolution that occurred on that date. Anwar Sadat, together with such legendary figures as Mohammed Naguib and Gamal Abdel-Nasser was a member of the Free Officers Movement, a group of Army officers who lead the coup against the British-installed King Farouk and brought an end of colonial rule in Egypt.
Anwar Sadat was notably the first voice of the revolution, announcing it on the radio stations since the other officers admired his command of the Arabic Language.
The overall tone of this scene is conspiratorial with the xylophone vaguely resembling electronic communications. There are also passages of music that express newfound national aspiration and joy. The newly adopted Egyptian National Anthem is embedded under layers of activity.
Piercing xylophone turns to a mellower marimba in the second movement named for Sadat’s wife-to-be: Jehan. The scene is a lyrical pas-de-duex in tone with sinewy love duets. The marimba carries “Jehan’s theme” and interweaves with a baritone-like cello.
The pitched instruments give way to somber tenor drum which leads a deeply-felt funeral march marking the death of the president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. It captures the immense anguish felt across the Arab World at the death of the great pan-Arab leader. The scene gives way to a softer end as Jehan’s theme reemerges as though urging Sadat into leadership.
A sounding shofar begins the fourth scene which marks Sadat’s arrival in Jerusalem, the start of his monumental journey to address the Israeli Knesset and finally bring decades of war between the Arabs and Israelis to an end. The Jewish shofar intermingles with the sounds of Jerusalem’s church bells and finally the mosque’s azan (call to prayer). The sounds of the three religions (in musical order that resembles their entrances into the world) form a tapestry of counterpoint followed by impassioned writing in the strings resembling the soaring tones of Sadat’s incredible speech to the Israeli Knesset. The brief flash-forward to the final scene anticipates the consequences for Sadat of his courageous journey.
The Day the Leader Was Killed is the final scene. It takes its title from Naguib Mahfouz’s book on the assassination of Anwar Sadat. There’s a general sense of anxiety in the music and a return to the shrill sound of the xylophone. This time it leads the terrible repetition of a military parade. Sadat’s economic policies are wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary Egyptians but the military parade continues with overstated brightness and exuberance. The 1981 parade is abruptly destroyed by the assassination of the leader by the Muslim Brotherhood. The moment of horror is captured in musical slow-motion with the relentless xylophone attacks sounding like the attacks of bullets. The ballet ends with the joining of all the themes together in a large outcry. Jehan’s theme joins with the theme of Anwar Sadat, both looming larger than life.
The moral in the life-story of this complex leader is as relevant now as it was at the start of his journey in 1952.
In Sadat, I use two of the oldest forms of human expression, percussion and dance, to retell aspects of his story to a new world.