Ahmed Nabil: The Pioneer of Pantomime Art in Egypt

Nabil to Majalla: "When I was young, I imitated Charlie Chaplin but had my own special style."

The artist Ahmed Nabil. (Photo by: Salma Adham)
The artist Ahmed Nabil. (Photo by: Salma Adham)

Ahmed Nabil: The Pioneer of Pantomime Art in Egypt

The Egyptian artist Ahmed Nabil was born on April 23, 1943, in the Karmouz neighborhood in Alexandria. Known as the pioneer of pantomime art in Egypt, he is one of the most famous representatives of pantomime in the world.

Before talking about Ahmed Nabil as an actor of a rare and unique type of art, let's first explore the pantomime. 

Pantomime is a type of musical comedy stage production designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is performed throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and (to a lesser extent) in other English-speaking countries, especially during the Christmas and New Year seasons. 

Outside Britain, "pantomime" is often understood to mean miming rather than the theatrical form.

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It is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is encouraged and expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.

Modern pantomime includes songs, gags, slapstick comedy and dancing. It combines topical humor with a story more or less based on a well-known fairy tale, fable or folk tale. 

A poster for Pantomime show by artist Ahmed Nabil in Cairo Opera House. (Photo by: Salma Adham)



Nabil used to imitate famous artists from his childhood, such as Charlie Chaplin, Abbott and Costello, and he presented several performances during school and university. He also studied pantomime and directing in Russia and the Republic of Azerbaijan. 

"I taught myself for ten years until I received a scholarship in 1972 to learn the art of pantomime in the former USSR."

"When I was young, I was performing in front of the mirror. I loved imitating people with movement without sound. I used to wear Charlie Chaplin's clothes, but I did my sketches and had my different style," Nabil said to Majalla. "My beginning was in Alexandria children's theater, and then I did the first pantomime segment on television; at that time, I did not know that it was pantomime art." 

He added, "One day, I was performing at the Balloon Theater in Zamalek, and the Russian ambassador attended the performance and watched me. After that, he nominated me to travel to the Soviet Union, although the Ministry of Culture told the ambassador that no Egyptian excels in the art of pantomime, the ambassador insisted that there is one, and it was me," Nabil said to Majalla.

"When I traveled to the Azerbaijan Pantomime Institute, I ranked third out of 42 countries in the world." 

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Nabil has acted in nearly 100 performing art pieces, including films, series, plays and riddles. He received prizes in pantomime art from the Soviet Union, the University of Geneva, the Literary Union of India, and the University of Sydney, Australia.

A poster for Pantomime show by artist Ahmed Nabil organized by the Museum of Fine Arts and Cultural Center in Alexandria. (Photo by: Salma Adham)

"Through pantomime, the artist has to use the full potential of his body. I used to use every muscle and know-how to control it." Nabil explained, “And the core of this art is that it activates the imagination of the audience."

Nabil also participated in the play "Hawadet" with Tholathy Adwa'a El Masrah, in which he played the role of the dancer's boy, a character that greatly attracted the audience's attention to him.

He also won the Distinguished Artist Award in the Arab World twice - in 1984 at the Bahrain Festival and the Arab Theater Festival 1990 in Amman and the shield of the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, and the shield of Cairo University.

"I received awards from Australia, Russia, India, Switzerland and Italy, but the closest awards to my heart are the ones that came from my country, Egypt," Nabil stated to Majalla.

Nabil said that he retired from the artistic field in 2011, out of respect for himself and his history, for his inability to keep pace with the changes in art and his feeling of being uncomfortable in the field. He contented himself with teaching at Alexandria University in the theater department.

"In the past, the cinema industry was different and it took years to choose the story and the actors. Now all is different. So, I couldn't cope with these changes; for example, I can’t do a character without knowing the whole story and reading the full script. Acting and reading the script, episode by episode is not the art I aspire to do." Nabil said to Majalla. 

"After I retired, I made shows and traveled to give workshops around the world. I fully enjoyed my life and lived in the days of the great cinema and worked with giants." 

"More than one legendary artist influenced me on the artistic level. The two most influential were the guest Ahmed and Mahmoud El-Meligy. I learned a lot from Mahmoud El-Meligy when I acted in front of him."

"I will not go back to acting again, and when I miss pantomime sketches, I perform for my grandchildren," he added.


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