CirCairo: When the circus comes to town

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Cairo International Circus festival’s third edition thrills audiences with circus art from around the world.

When some of us hear the word circus, our mind might automatically shift to a glaring image of underfed animals and stale popcorn; instead, think more along the lines of fire, dancing, magic, and more! The CirCairo Festival is a bi-annual festival featuring the best in contemporary and traditional circus arts from around the world, in a two-week festival that takes place in multiple venues in Cairo.

The three heroes of Jutland (photo: Ahmed Hayman)

Organised by the Cultural Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy) in the heart of the capital city, and inside Old Cairo’s Al-Azhar Park, CirCairo re-launched its third festival on October 17th. The first international festival of circus arts is organised every two years, offers contemporary circus art from around the world, and interaction at the festival held in the streets, squares and theatres for free in order to allow for a greater number of people to attend. The festival is supported by Ministry of Culture’s Foreign Cultural Relations and the Egyptian Tourism Authority in cooperation with the Ministry of State for Antiquities, the British Council and the embassies of Switzerland, Netherlands and Denmark.

Lumen Switzerland (photo: Ahmed Hayman)

Lumen Switzerland (photo: Ahmed Hayman)

“What makes CirCairo special is that it depends on the performers’ personal skills rather than animals or tricks that rely on lighting and technology,” says Basma El Husseiny, Director of The Cultural Resource.

The three heros of Jutland (photo: Ahmed Hayman)

CirCairo 2014 has taken the stage at Al-Azhar Park and Al-Falaki Theatre, hoping to dazzle crowds with over the top performances and spectacles. The festival will perform on two weekends; between October 17th to 26th, and is being led by Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy, a non-profit founded in 2010 to support creativity and art in the Arab region. Ten troupes from the Arab world and Europe will perform everything from juggling to acrobatics for spectators. All events start at 8 pm, except on October 17 and 26 performances, the opening and closing, start at 6 pm.

The opening ceremony included shows of the Lumen from Switzerland, The Three Heroes of Jutland from Denmark, the Gandini Juggling from the UK, the Bover from Spain and Darbaka by El-Darb El-Ahmar Arts School from Egypt and was hosted at Al-Azhar Park. First day of the festival took place at Al-Falaki theatre and had the shows of both Switzerland and the UK return to El Genaina theatre at Al-Azhar Park on its second day with the three extraordinary shows of Darbaka, The Three Heroes of Jutland and Bover. The stage show started with El-Darb El-Ahmar’s school kids. Boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 15 started the performance, dancing to swing music, juggling bottles, plastic rings, hammers, trash lids and wooden chairs. With those three local and multinational circus groups, and over 1,000 attendees, the event was a blend of oriental art, music, dance, spectacular performances and overall joy.

Bover from Mallorca, Spain

Where photographers gathered to capture the contagiously ecstatic atmosphere with their giant lenses, the crowd presented a vast spectrum of ages, social classes and cultures. Being both free and public, the event urged people to let go of the barriers they present themselves all day long. Furthermore, almost 25% of the attendees were Europeans and Americans who, mostly, reside in Cairo and have come to watch the performances.

“I enjoyed the Egyptian performance the most, because of its inspiring way in using simple tools to create the music and the ‘systematic crowd’ of their show, rather than having one or more instruments as usual. I guess it’s the reason behind their Arabic name’s meaning ‘Darbaka,’” says Annie Ferrer, a 32-year-old Spanish woman.

The festival’s second week will include performances by Boris from France, Al-Donia Tetshaqlb from Tunisia, Cikaros from Denmark, the Egyptian Circus and Close Act from Netherlands at Al-Azhar and Giza Park, while the closing ceremony will be at El-Moez Street, in front of the Al-Qalawun Complex in Gamalia.

The first edition of CirCairo was held in October 2010, featured 14 circus groups from 12 European and Arab countries, and was a critical success with an audience of 16,000 from different ages and backgrounds. The 2012 festival featured performances by 15 circus troupes that came from France, Denmark, Hungary, Belgium, Holland, Tunisia, Egypt, Switzerland, Spain, Germany and Britain, attracting more than 50,000 spectators in total.

Gandini Juggling, UK (photo: Ahmed Hayman)