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Ahmed Hassan (1955-2011)

By Amy Bowring

Composer and musician Ahmed Hassan died on January 12th of urospesis after a lengthy struggle with multiple sclerosis. Born in Cairo, Hassan moved to Halifax with his family in 1969. He entered Dalhousie University to study biochemistry but after a chance encounter with percussionist Ricardo Abreut of Toronto Dance Theatre, Hassan changed course to study music. He was inspired by ancient traditions of music making such as breath work, harmonic overtone chanting, clapping, drumming, didgeridoo, caxixi and berimbau. Largely self-taught, Hassan also studied with Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos in New York who had a significant influence on him. Hassan, in turn, went on to inspire a new generation of musicians and composers such as Debashis Sinha who commented, “His music is a total abandoning of ego and self – he was someone who really gave himself over when he made music.” Hassan was connected to Canada’s dance community throughout his career beginning by accompanying Sara Shelton Mann’s dance classes in Halifax and then Peter Boneham’s classes in Ottawa. Hassan participated in the 1980 National Choreographic Seminar in Banff. He was a founding member of the Vancouver collective EDAM (Experimental Dance and Music) and also composed music for the artists of Terminal City Dance in Vancouver. He moved to Toronto in the early 1980s to work with Desrosiers Dance Theatre where he collaborated with composers John Lang and Jean Dorais, among others. With Lang, he created the music for Desrosiers’ Blue Snake for The National Ballet of Canada; the National Film Board documentary Inner Rhythm records their creative process. Other choreographers with whom Hassan worked include Peggy Baker, Lola MacLaughlin, Jennifer Mascall, Karen Jamieson and Serge Bennathan. His Fourteen Remembered, a requiem to commemorate the lives of the murdered women of Montréal’s École Polytechnique, was performed annually from 1998–2001. Hassan was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis in 1987. He married dancer-choreographer Peggy Baker in 1990 who remained his loving and devoted partner throughout his illness. A memorial will be held at 2pm on January 16th at The National Ballet School’s Currie Hall.

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