By Nayera Yasser
In the heart of Cairo and a few metres away from Tahrir Square lies one of the oldest parts of Egypt. From the Falaki theatre to the old French consulate, the city that was built in the early 19th century by Khedive Ismail remains beautiful yet forgotten.
Four years ago, Ahmed El-Attar, founder of Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival, dedicated his life to revive this area. This month, El-Attar’s D-caf returns for its fourth round to spread art and culture in old Cairo.
This year, the festival brought a new idea that brings out arts’ social responsibility. The “Tony Clifton Circus” is a French-Italian company that aims to bring out critical problems by the soft power of art. Their “Mission Roosevelt” is one of the festival’s highlights.
Last weekend the company invited 30 participants to roam the streets of khedive Cairo on wheelchairs. The circus believes that the wheelchair is an international symbol that everyone understands. Meanwhile, their show focuses on every city’s readiness for disability as they toured several countries before.
The 30 chairs that were used for the show were offered by El-Hassan centre for disability. After the performance, the chairs went to people who could not afford the chair’s relatively high price.
After “Mission Roosevelt” left the Greek Campus to roam the public streets, another performance took the stage. “African Export” is an Egyptian act that manifests the meeting points between all urban African cultures.
“TK Capoeira”, an Egyptian company that started in 1993, mixes ethnic music with contemporary dance moves. The show took the audience from Egypt to Angola, Morocco then back to Egypt.
In light of the current political issues, “The 100 Hands” performance could not be more suitable. Their “Unpracticality of Beauty & Tender Violence” is a two-part contemporary dance that showcases the complicated relations between humans.
Together the two parts show the judgmental nature of both women and men. The way women deal with their counterparties and their inner females. Moreover, the show also highlights the different meanings of manhood and the journey humans go through before accepting others and ultimately themselves.
Meanwhile, “100 Pas Presque” embodies the festival’s spirit and core best. “Cie Anania” is a Moroccan-Egyptian company that started as the first contemporary dance company in Morocco in 2001. Their act showed a simplified version of life with its struggles and joy, speed and slowness.
At the end of the show, El-Attar’s vision came out vividly as the standing crowd was invited to join in the dancing carnival and bring out their inner energy which was built by the show itself.
The festival is not only about art exhibitions and theatre plays – it brings a new concept of art to Egypt.
Each and every show does not only include the artists and performers. On the contrary, it breaks the limits between the show and the audience in order to create one bigger picture that forces the crowd to interact with the performance and be part of it.
While the government and a large segment of the population is currently focusing on building a new administrative capital, D-caf accentuates khedival Cairo and the historic glamour of downtown.
“Everyone needs to reintroduce life to downtown Cairo,” said El-Attar, who plans on bringing art to the heart of downtown.
The city and its buildings are a key- part of the show. The venues include Zawya Theatre and the AUC’s Greek Campus, as the founders wanted to mix art with the historic buildings and help those cultural centres evolve.
“Let’s not isolate art and instead interact with it. It is not about alien performances. It is about the people, buildings and streets embracing and expressing art,” said El-Attar.
D-caf’s location is supported by Al-Ismailia for Real Estate Investments which specialises in buying the historic yet neglected buildings to renew and re-establish them.
The real estate company owns the venues that host the festival, and for the fourth year they successfully surprised the audience with the extreme beauty of many forgotten sights such as El-Abd’s and the Stock Exchange buildings.
This major artistic extravaganza is financially supported by several private institutions, few of the companies’ countries and the local government.
“Last round was supported by the Ministry of Culture; however, due to the current issues the ministry could not fund us instead it is one of the sponsors,” El-Attar clarified. “The festival is too expensive for the government alone to support; some of the acts are worth $20,000.”
D-caf ends on the 9 April. Meanwhile, the founders promise to entertain and mesmerise the audience further with never-seen before acts.
“I travel worldwide to personally pick the talents. I never watch a video of some act nor do I choose based on someone’s recommendation. Instead, I have to see it myself to insure its quality and importance,” said El-Attar.