The Egyptian Theater, 1900 Paris Exposition

Updated: Oct 17, 2021

From the French Magazine: Figaro Illustrey No. 124, July 1900

Original photo placements shown in <<…>>, all photos by Pirou.

Translated by Shining Peacekeeper with generous assistance by google translate, some errors may occur. Remarks in {...} are to enhance the material understanding whereas remarks in [...] represent words from the original work.

*Note to the reader: some of the less tasteful or downright racist commentary has been omitted from this translation as unnecessary to provide a full understanding of the work, I am unsure about the use of the terms referring to pre-“Sri Lankan” people and am open to changing this if a better alternative is available. ~~~

<Dance of the Glasses>>


It is at the Trocadero {location in Paris}, in the freshness of the leaves, in front of the majestic portico of a pink and gray temple adorned with vague hieroglyphic and the outstretched wings of the sacred hawk, old Arab musicians, whose long, skinny bodies, are lost in black gandouras with straight folds, including a flap of dirty wool that embraces shaved temples and forehead, plays some sort of arrhythmic and obsessive pastoral {rural music with droning bass}.

…Their worn out, gloomy desires make one think of slow caravans in the sandy solitudes towards the Holy Cities that we sometimes despair of never reaching, of anxious nights in the midst of the herds. Their cracked cheeks swell like little wineskins. Their knotty, disproportionate fingers run over the [head?] of the darbouka, strike with sharp and rhythmic strokes the shiny skin of a sort of timpani {kettledrum} shaped like a squash.

And this monotonous, nasal, shrill call, which dominates the great rumbling of the fair of the world twists your ears, deafens you, attracts you, as much as a gesture of hypnosis pushes you towards the counters where you take the tickets, much more than the sales pitch of [an empty-handed beggar.]

<<The Almee>> And here is a large bright room, where frescos perpetuate the sacred dances of Isis, the triumphal processions of Rhamses, the undulating postures, the infinite suppleness of mimes with black hair braided in small plaits under the pschent {double crown of the pharaohs}, with eyelids enlarged by the kohl, which contrived to awaken a pale and ephemeral smile on the gloomy and pensive lips of the Pharaohs. The curtain rises. On rugs and cushions men and women dressed in showy silks and sumptuous embroidery await delicious euphoria {high of hashish} by lighting up the narghile, drinking rose sorbets and aromatic liqueurs from small porcelain cups. And in turn, in full voice, in the frantic tumult of reed flutes, violas with hoarse cords, tambourines with plaintive and serious vibrations, these vacant characters chant heralding verses, call to each other, answer each other, barely stirring, with something priestly, as if they were preluding, according to very ancient rites, to a festive ceremony. Here are the many dances. Light, spry {leaping?} movements of laughing adolescents who obey the cadenced signs of their master, pirouette, whirl, twirl, seem to be practicing a game of graces; giddy juggling ; simulating relentless combat where swords hurl sudden lightning, fall furiously on shields like a hammer on an anvil, seek and release each other, slice the air with violent blows, like scythes in the swell of corn; convulsive movements of the hips and belly [aired in painful sadness?], with the passivity of slaves who submit to the accustomed drudgery, weary and withered.

<<Dance of the Narghile {Shisha Pipe}>> <<Dance of the Cymbals>>

Then suddenly, among the clapping of the hands, the hooting cries, a nightmare symphony which squeaks, which sobs, which hisses, which no longer has anything humane, which strains your nerves to the breaking point, step by step, advance three women of Khordofan {Sudanese province}[…adorned with fetishes, a silver ring riveted to the nostrils…tall and black as ebony…]the girls do not articulate a word. They don't utter a cry. They slide rather than walk, swelling their necks, erecting their heavy breasts, swaying their inert heads right and left. They look like pythons called, enchanted by a charmer, which unwind and stand on their scaly tails, in bliss, who hardly have any expression in their tarnished gold eyes; one imagines being far from it all, in the crypt of some thousand-year-old hypogeum {underground tomb}, in the midst of spectral {eerie-translucent} larvae and slimy reptiles, one is cold to the soul as on the edge of an abyss of darkness. But the vision of terror vanished. Love songs erupt, resonating in distressed echoes on all lips and on all instruments.

<<The Shivering Dance>> From the crowd sprang sparkling, slender like a black iris, feline, flame in her bold and shameless gaze, joy in her fleshy and wet mouth, red pepper where grains of rice glisten, young, worse than beautiful with her burnt complexion, her zingara mask {exotic airs or literal mask?} which knows the secrets of tarots and stars, which sinks her little greedy teeth into hearts and capricious rejects them, one by one, at the first bite, like crooked fruits. She is as much a clown as an almée. She suddenly insults the musicians, who play neither fast enough nor loudly enough, to her liking. She brightens up like a pinch of spices {“as if by the pinch of a needle”? Çelik p.28} the hideous contortions with which all the Fathmas and Feridjees have saturated us with at the festivals in Neuilly. She suggests by the vibrations of her hips and her torso the illusion of a sea which calms down and where long and slow waves follow one another, die on the sand of the beaches, of wings which swell and pulsate. She seems to tremble and vibrate like the strings of a harp under frantic fingers. She dances for the pleasure of dancing. She lies down in the hollow of a large sofa, her eyelids half-closed, her arms folded behind the neck, amuses herself by making the crystal glasses that have been placed on her stomach move with spasms, to strike them in cadence against each other as skillfully as small fragile bells which would ring an aubade {dawn serenade}. She dashes and swings, retaining in her heavy stryge {mythical monster} jaw as in an iron vice some table or some chair, and waving lighted candles with both hands, the wax of which flows in yellow tears. Provocative, shameless, she crouches over a jar full of water, skillfully retracts it into her gauze skirts, begins to sway again, to wave, to vibrate, like a possessed woman who is goading, burning the invisible and deadly embrace of some incubus, finally flees, capers, gallops with a burst of shrill laughter which resembles the lascivious neighbor of a faun in a haunted forest. The drums, the flutes, the viols are embracing, bewildering, imbued with a dreamlike sweetness. And it seems to me that all these voices of men and women sigh the marvelous and harmonious stanzas of “The Thousand and One Nights” — the supreme book of voluptuousness that Dr. Mardrus resurrected — gemmed like pearls, whispering in turn:

<<Dance of the Candelabra>> <<Dance of the Chair>> “At the sight of you, my heart itself abandons me to fly towards you, and sleep itself flees from my eyes, leaving me to my tortures! O my heart, very well! Since you are already at her house, stay where you are! I abandon you to her, although you are what is most dear to me and most necessary! And if I spent all my life, after looking at her even once in the face, without the happiness of a second look, it would make me rich forever!” "Avoid the magician's gaze of her eyes, for no one has escaped the circle of that orbit. Black eyes are terrible when they are languid. For black, languid eyes cross hearts like the shining steel of slender swords. And above all do not listen to the sweetness of her language, because like a fiery wine, she ferments the reason of the wisest. To know her! She has such sweet looks! And a silken brow! To touch the velvet of it, one would eternalize that softness. To hope for it is sweeter to me than to the heart of the condemned, the hope of salvation! " "0 warrior skilled in the battle of roses, the delicate blood of the trophies that fringe your triumphal forehead, tinting your dark hair crimson; and the birthplace of all these flowers bows down to kiss your child's feet! So sweet, o princess, your supernatural body that the charmed air becomes aromatic upon touching it; and if the curious breeze penetrated under your tunic it would linger there forever. So beautiful, your slim waist, oh houri {maiden of paradise}, that the necklace on your bare throat complains of not being your belt! But your fine legs where ankles are encircled by the bells, make the bracelets on your wrists creak with envy!” “O bright body where the twigs have put their suppleness and the jasmines their bouquet {aroma}, what body would your scent be worth? Eyes where the diamond has shed its light and the night its stars, which eyes would equal your fire? Kiss with her mouth sweeter than honey, what kiss would reach your freshness? Oh! Caress your hair and tremble with all my flesh on your flesh, then see in your eyes the stars rise!” Hitherto motionless, collected as on the threshold of a mosque in the dreary torpidity of some late summer day when the sky seems a sheet of fire, the people move, stir, form in procession. The arms are intertwined with the arms. The faces are radiant with joy. The living chain undulates like a garland of roses and myrtles under impetuous gusts of wind. Violent men drag it along and guide it, strike the ground with a free foot, loudly proclaiming a long hymn of thanksgiving and hope, with an increasing intoxication. The women, upon stops and interruptions, shout a sort of frenzied hallelujah. And we think of very ancient times, of solemn evenings of deliverance and victory, of sacred dances around the Holy Ark, when the people chosen by Yaweh fled the cities of exile, hurried to the Promised Land. And, a few steps away from this stopover in the past, here are the gardens of Japan, the flesh-colored peonies, twilight hydrangeas, night-blue water irises, dwarf cedars like children's toys, green velvet lawns, where indifferent blackbirds hopping and hissing; here is the Ceylon {now called Sri Lanka} pavilion, the tables scattered among the trees where pretty women in bright dresses, in flowered hats, savor, with somewhat languid poses, the delicious tea served to them by alert little barmaids, in white caps and aprons, Cynghalais {people of Ceylon} with gazelle eyes, hair held back by a tortoiseshell comb, shining bronze, in the corner that Parisiennes adopted for their "six to seven", for flirtatious dates and for the unexpected... ~~~ References: Çelik, Zeynep. Displaying the Orient: Architecture of Islam at Nineteenth-Century World's Fairs. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1992 1992. Maizeroy, René. “Les Théâtres Éphémères À L'exposition: Le Théatre Égyptien.” Figaro Illustré, No. 124, July 1900 p. 142-144,

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