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A blast from the past : Jerash Festival kicks off

Jerash to Jordanians is more than the ancient seven-theatre city. It is the scene where the Kingdom’s biggest annual cultural and leisure festivities take place, lasting for over two weeks. Under the patronage of Their Majesties King Abdallah and Queen Rania, Her Majesty Queen Noor on Wednesday inaugurated the Jerash Festival in a ritualistic opening ceremony. “This year’s festival, from July 21 to August 8, will revive the ancient city’s temples, isles and streets in the same way it bustled with life three thousand years ago,” stated Jeryes Samawi, the festival’s Director General.

As always, Jerash will be unlocking its ancient doors to the masses, who will be able to watch and experience all activities at its South Theatre (the Amphitheatre), North theatre, Artimes, in addition to the festivities to be held at the Royal Cultural Center and the Hussein Cultural center in Amman.

Jordan’s 20-year-old sensation, singer Diana Karazon, who is the crowned Super Star of the Arab World, initiated the festival with her mesmerizing voice at the Amphitheatre while accompanied by the National Jordanian Orchestra led by Haitham Sukkaria. “It is a historical place of great importance that adjoins different cultures together, a humane activity worth continuity because seclusion from other civilizations leads to death,” Samawi told The Star. “Jerash was one of the Decca Polis, the alliance of the ten cities at the time of Jesus Christ during the Roman rule. It was built with the hands and efforts of the locals, our ancestry that lived thousands of years ago, and whose blood trickled on its sands as they lifted thousands of boulders.”

Jerash Festival, throughout its 23 years of presenting to Jordanians the cultures of other civilizations in music, poetry, folkloric dances and plays, have became a multidimensional spectacle of visual knowledge. “All of the above is the message of Jerash the place, the festival’s continuity comes as an assurance to this message through attracting various innovative visions incarnate through the efforts of artists and groups from all over the world,” Samawi said.

On July 22 and 23, the prestigious South Theatre will be under the realm of Iraqi artist Kathem Al Saher. In addition to the Iraqi virtuoso, Jerash has attracted star performers from all over the world including neighboring countries.

Elissa and Nancy Ajram, who are currently regarded as two of the most recognized female vocalists in the Arab World will also figure highly. Classical music is also among the artistic folds of this year’s festival, especially on the fourth day when Petro Maskani’s Opera ‘Caaliera Rustikana’ will be performed by five soloists from the Bolshoi and the Royal Symphonic Orchestra of Morocco’s police. During this performance more than 120 performers will be present on stage. “Three days prior to the performance a number of experts… will arrive to make the final touches on stage; and if you notice, in the program, there’s a two-day break, in order to allow for changes,” Samawi revealed.

Being an interracial festival of cultures, Jordan has its fair share of live performances that include Jordanian women songs, performed by the Irbid Group for Arab music; Circassian folklore by Al Jeel Group; and a performance entitled Jordanian Night by the Jordanian Artists Association, with the participation of Moustafa Sha’sha’a, Rami Shafiq and Haitham Amer.

One of the latest editions to the festival’s ambiance is a Super DJ Night on August 2 and 8, which according to Samawi came upon the request of a group of young men who wanted to take part in Jerash. “This comes as part of a local contest that is taking place in Jordanian hotels as we speak; the top eight or ten DJs will be performing on the South Theatre where three finalists will be chosen as winners. This is a first time in the history of the festival and Jordan,” said Samawi, who added that the aim of this new addition to the festival’s agenda is to increase youth participation.

The North Theatre will offer Jordanians a more westernized approach, in addition to, a number of Arab performances by Farida and the Iraqi Maqam; a classical concert by the National Music Conservatory; a dance performance entitled Ala Bali by the Palestinian Salma Dancing Group and Shouyoukh Salatin Al Tarab from Syria. Foreign groups will come from Kazakhstan, France, Lithuania, the United States, the Czech Republic and two from Japan the first a Jazz performance by a band called Shionya Satoru Unit and the other a folkloric drum performance by Osaka Dadadadan Tenko.

A performance of William Shakespeare’s Othelo by the Iraqi group Mardoukh and a performance of Words in the Sand by the group Monodrama from Lithuania are among the plays that will be held in Jerash this year. Jordanians will also have the pleasure of watching Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake on July 26 performed by the Russian Moscow Grand Ballet group, in addition to a joint performance by Jordanian and French dancers. “There is also a child theatre which will allow children to enjoy Jerash’s activities, for it’s a very cultural investment to tend for their needs and give them an experience that will be instilled in their memories forever,” according to Samawi.

In addition to all those artistic activities poetry has become one of Jerash’s cornerstones. This year, poetry lovers on July 22 will experience an exquisite mixture of music and poetry by Palestinian poet Mahmood Darweesh and Jordanian Oud player Salah Hatar. Most of the Jerash poetry sessions will be held in Amman at the Cultural Palace, the Poetry House, and the Hussein Cultural Center. “One of the important activities for Jerash 2004 is the first World Qanoun Forum. We established the Oud Forum last year and this year we managed to establish one especially for qanoun,” added Samawi.

This year, unlike previous years, the coverage and broadcast of Jerash Festival’s activities have been purchased by Jordan Television, a step that allowed the organizing committee to arrange more freely the festival’s program, its broadcast and its promotion. “Jerash festival has two purposes: Educational and recreational roles; I believe that it has provided both roles ever since its establishment,” Samawi said.

Amman,07 27 2004
Mike Derderian
The Star
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