February 2013
In Her Father’s Steps

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’We call it ’Style Caracalla’’ proudly explains Alissar Caracalla, the only daughter of the man who founded one of the most renowned dance companies in the region. in That style, ’folkloric, rooted in modern,’ Caracalla embodies the second part

By Daria El Samad

A lissar Caracalla, choreographer of one of the Middle East’s most renowned dance companies, surprises me a few times during our conversation when she refers to one of the reasons she stopped performing a few years ago: ’You can’t do everything,’ she says repeatedly. But it seems to me that she is close to doing everything, from overseeing all the ’tedious’ office work, teaching dance classes, occasionally working on TV productions and handling choreography for Caracalla Dance Theatre, which her father, Abdel Halim Caracalla, founded in 1968. ’He throws everything on me,’ she says jokingly about her father, Abdel Halim Caracalla, whose ’genius’ she admires. ’I’m ready to inherit his genius along with his bad allergies and crazy character.’ Alissar admits that her younger self had been intimidated by working under her father, especially since the company had already established a certain style. But now it challenges her. ’He’s tested me out, I try to fill his shoes,’ she says.

To avoid putting too much pressure on her, Alissar explains that her father didn’t want to push her toward studying dance exclusively. But as Alissar realized how much she loved to dance, she decided to study the subject alongside getting her degree in international relations.

Although she is still reluctant to admit that she has filled her father’s shoes entirely, Alissar excels at what she does. She attributes a large part of her education to the work in progress with the company, as she was still a student, traveling and witnessing how productions come together, helping her develop her skills as a choreographer.

While at the start her father was ’tough, now it’s much easier, we understand each other... He’s my biggest influence,’ she says. ’Not because he’s my father, but because he says something and I’ll write it down. He’s a genius.’

What Alissar has undoubtedly inherited from her father is his drive, the same drive she refers to while describing how her father started the company 44 years ago. ’If you had interviewed me 10 years ago, I would have told you I’m just going to dance, dance and choreograph,’ she says. Now she runs a school that has grown from 50 to more than 1,300 students, ranging from 5 to 50 years old, offering courses in a variety of styles.

One of her plans is to expand dance education in Lebanon, where she will be part of a new kids center called Origami in Naccache, so that she can cater to people all over Lebanon. Alissar aims to achieve a certain standard of dance in the Middle East with her schools.

’Dance is discipline, dance is not jumping up and down,’ she says. She goes on to explain that to dance - to practice daily and regularly, to perfect your technique, to force your body when it thinks it has had enough - trains you mentally and physically. But discipline is not all it takes to become a great dancer. Alissar believes that it’s ’something that I think you’re born with.’ She goes on to explain that if someone is talented, that person needs to develop their skills through practice, but if he practices without having any talent, it’s unlikely that he will get anywhere.

’Even if you’re talented, if you stop researching, stop training, stop feeding your mind with creativity, you rust,’ she says. If Alissar spots talent in any of the classes in her school, she encourages them to work with her in the Caracalla Dance Company.

To join the company as a professional dancer means to be part of the productions, which typically take two years of preparation. It starts with the elder Caracalla, who creates the scenario and sets the theme, and then unfolds as a collaboration between him as artistic director - responsible for costume design and script - Alissar’s brother Ivan as director and Alissar as choreographer.

’It’s great working with family because we love what we do, it makes you not have work hours,’ she says.

Alissar’s role runs simultaneously with the musical research that begins once the theme is decided upon. She explains that once you come up with the theme, you have different departments. It starts with the music, then the costumes, choreography, and the set. Once these elements are ready, everything is put together, and then you have the direction. ’It’s a collage.’

She goes on to explain that it doesn’t always work, of course. If the dance doesn’t work on stage with all the elements, then Alissar changes her choreography.

’And that’s the power of a dancer, a dancer has complete control of his or her body so they can adapt,’ she says. ’Our style is theatrical, that speaks a story. We’re not a cabaret group or Oriental dancers, we speak a story.’

Here she explains the different mediums used in the process. Poets are brought in to come up with lyrics for the songs, Italian designers build the sets and, in a more recent addition to the process, scenographers are brought in to ensure the lighting and digital displays mesh seamlessly with the set.

’Our shows are not dance, they are multimedia,’ she says. ’We live in a world that’s constantly changing, you want to constantly change, better, holding on to your heritage, holding on to your mission, you want to hold on to your folklore.’ Sometimes in her choreography, if Alissar ’really modernizes,’ she would always throw in the typical folkloric dabke that drives the audience crazy. ’As modern as you get, wherever you go, you always have to hold on to the heritage,’ she says. ’It’s a fusion. An amalgam of modern and heritage.’

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