Sunday,18 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Sunday,18 November, 2018
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Unlikely contrasts

Nora Amin attended this year’s D-CAF

The Privileged Spectator

To stand on the rooftop of Al-Jameel Centre at the Greek Campus within the old premises of the American University in Cairo, is to witness an ageing city. This is exactly what D-CAF brought into my vision. The Downtown Contemporary Arts festival provided a bird’s-eye perspective on the broken heart of Cairo, rather than healing it.

In its sixth edition, D-CAF’s founder and artistic director Ahmed El-Attar celebrates the fact that 90 percent of the organising committee is made up of women. The rate of audience growth that El-Attar cites in his introduction to the printed pamphlet of the festival is impressive. D-CAF is also a young festival, the average age of the festival’s team is 25. D-CAF has every right to be proud of its achievement, yet one still looks on downtown Cairo with sadness rather than in pride or happiness. The reason behind this feeling is not the festival, but rather the contrast between the festival and the reality of the city, especially of its heart.

For nearly a month D-CAF presented the biggest international artistic event in Egypt, gathering theatre, dance, music, film, literature and visual arts. D-CAF is clearly bigger than the Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre. D-CAF has better financial resources than the state funded international theatre festival. Over 20 international funding bodies have contributed to the success of D-CAF, originally founded by Orient Productions and Alismaelia company in 2010. The festival is designed and curated in a manner close to the most accomplished arts festivals in the world. It has quickly acquired an international reputation that can help Cairo become a focal city for culture and creativity. Yet this connection does not seem to happen. Some missing link between the festival and the political reality of Egypt makes one feel that the festival’s growth and success does not truly have an impact on the image of Egypt as a potential centre of international projects and collaborations.


Many brilliant productions came to Cairo thanks to D-CAF and its curatorial team. This year the productions presenting arts in relation to disability, or in relation to children and youth, were an accomplishment in their own right. The UK, France and Switzerland offered excellent contributions. Look Out remains a special occasion in which Egyptian children assume the responsibility of guiding the adult spectators towards their future vision of Cairo – as interactive as it gets. But while Look Out (UK/Egypt) tried to transform the ageing Cairo into a futuristic site, my bird’s eye could not wipe off the dust and destruction and the many traces of aggression and despair all across downtown Cairo. Is the solution, then, to neglect the context? Is it possible to replace the urban and historic reality with the temporary aesthetic and imaginary reality? Would this be healing or faking? How can one formulate a festival if not in connection to the city’s identity and reality? Hasn’t the city been the backdrop and foundation of every festival in the world since the birth of theatre? Should I have looked into the moment without taking the wholeness of time into account? Is it possible to see a close-up of the event while editing out the setting?

The Privileged Spectator: a NOT-protest-recital (Swizerland/Germany) took us directly to a central question: how to transform our revolutionary slogans into folklore. A performance of music and poetry written by Ariane Koch, Zainab Magdy and Ahmet Sami Ozbudak, and directed by Zino Wey, The Privileged Spectator started with research in the archival material of traditional German songs with the intention of fitting into them the new lyrics of the young poets to include political content. The texts fuse into one, and we no longer know who wrote what. The protests of Turkey are linked to Egypt and to the women of Troy to Switzerland. Resistance resonates, and the graffiti on our downtown walls echoes smoothly, bringing in traces of a Cairo that is absent from many other performances. It is this revolutionary taste that the performance grasped, reviving a certain necessary nostalgia for the 25 January Revolution, and for a downtown we used to regard as an icon of Egypt itself.

“You can see what I do, I put our slogans and

signs of our existence on the walls of the city.

 I seem to hear you say: “What is all this good for?”

The reality of a country lies in the streets.”

(translated by Erin Bogges and Janina Reichmann)

Love’s End

The French/Egyptian Love’s End was an ideal model of transforming an acclaimed French play into an Egyptian piece. Shady El-Hosseiny made a great achievement in translating Pascal Rambert’s play into Egyptian Arabic. The Falaki Theatre witnessed a rare moment in Egyptian stage acting, that of the performance of Mohamed Hatem who created his own signature in comparison to the traditions of pretension in Egyptian stage acting. Author and director Pascal Rambert is the winner of the French Academy’s theatre award in 2016.

A special tribute to Al-Warsha Theatre Company celebrated its 30th anniversary. Founded in 1987 by the iconic theatre maker Hassan El-Geretly, the troupe is a pioneer in the field of independent theatre. Al-Warsha is also proof of the ability of independent theatre to survive in spite of all the challenges and obstacles. So – indeed – happy anniversary to El-Geretly and to all the generations that have graduated from his company. The special section dedicated to Al-Warsha included a photography exhibition and an operetta premiering under the title Doomsday, inspired by the original operetta by Bairam Al-Tonsi and Zakariyya Ahmed.

The festival also included workshops on interactive theatre/dance (Switzerland), dance for mothers and daughters (UK), African dance (Egypt) and puppeteering (Hungary). One very interesting workshop did not necessarily belong to the field of the arts, but that of pedagogy and human rights: the workshop towards the protection of children’s rights against violence and manipulation (The British Council). I hope the festival can bring over more of this sort of workshop. Another important topic for workshops would be cultural management and cultural policy, something that would really fill a gap in the performing arts field in Egypt. I would also have loved to see more Egyptian productions at D-CAF. Having this intense dose of foreign contributions should not mean reducing the participation and representation of Egyptian artists. Indeed better interaction and connection would be made with more Egyptian performances in theatre and dance. Maybe it is this presence that was the missing link between the reality of the city and the stage, maybe it would soften the contrast between Tahrir Square as a symbol of Egypt and D-CAF as a platform of globalisation, reducing the impression that Downtown has been temporarily transformed into a foreign stage.

The success of Orient Productions and of Alismaelia will hopefully continue in Egypt’s best interest, and in time it will make the positive impact of revolutionising state owned cultural projects. In time the bird will land and have a grounded vision of the ground before flying again to interweave all these perspectives into a meaninful whole.

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