At the beginning of March, before the skies were planeless, I was discovering new African circus and dance, revelling in the skills and storytelling of the companies that filled the streets and theatres of Abidjan. Six weeks before that, I was at the inauguration of the African Capital of Culture 2020, marvelling at Groupe Acrobatique de Tanger’s premiere of FIQ! in Marrakech.
Now festivals are cancelled, theatres are closed, and we are unexpectedly inventing the new and re-purposing the old. Or, in my case the not so old: how to continue creative dialogues with newly made friends and colleagues from Africa, some of whom had plans to be touring Europe this summer and autumn. What future is there for international exchange and collaboration when we have to be physically distant? How can circus and dance, the most physical of art forms, continue to flourish? Without being live, shared in the flesh, what role is there for these most immediate and spontaneous of artforms?
Early March, and all of us Circostrada members were at the largest circus event in West Africa, in Abidjan for the 3rd RICA Circus Festival (Rencontres Interculturelles du Cirque d’Abidjan) coupled with the MASA d’Abidjan (Abidjan Arts & Performing Arts Market). The Circostrada Kahwa#3 (‘coffee’ in Arabic) meeting in Ivory Coast, was a wonderful opportunity for us to explore and celebrate the latest African work, and to take part in round table discussions on the creativity and visibility of the sector in an African context.
Three years ago, there was no real contemporary circus cohort in West Africa. Having watched the range of work from more than 14 artists and companies from 11 countries, it is hard to believe. This unprecedented development is down to the work of the extraordinary Chantal Djédjé, Artistic Director of the arts centre La Fabrique Culturelle in the heart of Cocody, one of Abidjan’s coolest neighbourhoods.
In 2018 Chantal founded RICA, giving a new profile and focus to circus in this Sub Saharan region. This was a unique moment to bridge experimentation with contemporary culture and traditional forms. In providing a framework she has created networking opportunities that have initiated new partnerships and possibilities for international collaboration. Run by volunteers, the festival receives support from The European Union and the French Institute alongside local sponsorship. New audiences are garnered through providing free shows in the street and workshops in schools, together with shows at La Fabrique and the French Institute’s theatre . The partnership with MASA has opened up new possibilities for showcasing, a vibrant calling card to international programmers and festival directors who venture to Abidjan. The emerging, and as yet, unknown talent there is at the beginning of an exciting journey.
Meanwhile, at Crying Out Loud we are exploring how to re-purpose and move forwards. Creativity doesn’t stop, adversity is the mother of invention. New forms and unexpected ways will emerge. Since the first Roman circus, the circus has a history of reinvention. Thankfully it’s been a long time since gladiators raced round the ring hacking at each other. But circus has and always will respond to the constraints and challenges of the times. Circus has a fantastic future, and it will carry the history of now, the pandemic moment, into that unknown terrain. Crying Out Loud will play a part in that continuum.
Note: Circostrada is in the process of publishing the report led and written by Claudine Dussollier from the Kahwa#3 meetings and MASA debates.
Rachel Clare, Artistic Director, Crying Out Loud
Images: 1. Rachel Clare with Dereje Dange, Artistic Director at Fekat, 2. audience with Tchangara the African Giant, 3. poster showing Tchangara, 4. Chantal Djédjé, Artistic Director of the arts centre La Fabrique Culturelle
Main news image on Home page shows Tchangara the African Giant, the work of Académie Ivoire Marionnettes opening the MASA d’Abidjan.