Circus at Al-Azhar Park entrance is everything you can imagine it would be: joyfully blaring trumpet music, acrobats, chaos, clowns, crowds, juggling, jostling, screaming, somersaults, a skirmish and some missing children.
Launching the CirCairo on the October 6 celebrations, Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy cleverly introduced families entering Azhar Park on the national holiday to the circus festival being held until October 23.
Fourteen troupes from 12 European and Arab countries will perform at various venues across Cairo, including Geneina and Balloon theaters and Darb 1718, and en plein air at Al Moez Street and Aslan Square.
The act began before the stated time with performers from the Belgian “Circus Baf” (Mobile Circus) entertaining the audience with juggling acts and acrobatics to songs like the cha-cha rendition of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”
Despite continuous requests by Mawred staff, crowds stood through the acts blocking the view for audiences that stood more than two meters removed from stage. The second act featured Darb Al-Ahmar, whom the Mawred have trained in percussion and performing arts.
Wearing red t-shirts representing their district Darb Al-Ahmar (Red Pathaway), the troupe started off with percussion beats, pulling audiences rushing to get a good view of their stage, a short walk away from the first act. Confident unicyclists perched to the sound of percussions encouraged rhythmic claps from audiences that survived suffocation.
The highlight of the night was the act by visiting Italian troupe, “I Baccala,” whose founder, Simone Passari and Camilla Pessi, form a charming duo. Surprises marked their act, starting with their entry through the crowded audience (which by this time had been coddled into sitting inside a rope fence). They stood with ‘hands up’ to a man appearing to be genuinely lashing out at them.
During their performance, Pessi ‘disappeared’ into the audience again, bringing an audience member upstage with her. With his permission, she climbed up on to his shoulders, while Passari ensured that the new acrobat had requisite talents such as standing with knees apart, flexing his muscles and smiling.
The couple had an extremely endearing cheer in which they shook with eyes scrunched, cheeks filled, and fists held up. Audiences clapped while they cheered each other, performing the act of shifting an apple from one hand to another. In one sequence, Passari places an apple on his hat, alluding to Magritte’s painting “The Son of Man.”
At the finale they cheer together at the audience who laugh and respond with claps, as the duo walk out, again, through the audience.
The final act of the audience was the “Electric Circus” who started as Circus 2 Iraq in response to the 2003 war in Iraq. Taking circus culture to areas where it is most needed, the circus hopes to perform in Gaza next, Steve Summers of Electric Circus said. Members of the UK-based group will also provide workshops in circus skills at Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School in Cairo.
Taking their name quite literally, performers of the electric circus stood in symmetric formations, holding bottles with wire on each side, and mimed an electric shock when all participants “connected.” The sound was deafening, but children cackled in delight.
The audience participated in the acts with cheers and whistles and innocent remarks, such as “Someone turn of the electricity,” when Pessi of I Baccala cheered by shaking and “Fursa!” (What Luck!) when Pessi would not let Passari go from a prolonged embrace.
Further attractions include the difficultly-procured entry of Palestine’s “Circus from Behind the Wall,” a narrative of war and occupation in circus context; Spain’s award-winning “Los2Play” that revive traditional circus arts including interactive acts with audiences; and France “Les 3 points de suspension” that play jazz to the tune of acrobatics and clowning.
Holding a circus festival was part of Al-Mawred’s initiative to “to revive disappearing arts,” Salma Said, press officer of Al-Mawred, told Daily News Egypt.
The circus festival offers an occasion to step down from high-brow arts scene and indulge in simplicity. “The scales of sophistication,” as US writer Robert Benchley once said, “are struck from your eyes and you see in the circus a gathering of men and women who are able to do things as a matter of course which you couldn’t do if your life depended on it.”
And while you witness what may appear as the most banal of slapstick comedy — one person slapping the other in error — you hear the delighted cackle of a young girl behind you. That’s what it’s all about, and it will be here until Oct. 23.
The CirCairo has been organized with the support of the Delegation of the European Union in Egypt, Ministry of Culture-Foreign Cultural Relations and Egyptian Tourist Authority. For more information on upcoming events, visit http://www.mawred.org/en/events/2010-events/176-circairo.
Electric Circus performed their "Freak Show." (Photo by Yahya Diwer)
Unicyclist from Darb Ahmar carries a young audience member. (Photo by Yahya Diwer)
Italian I Baccala’s Simone Fassari and Camilla Pessi perform their trademark cheer. (Photo by Yahya Diwer)