Text and images : Elvi Balboa
Dancer participating in the SHAPERS project
Dancer participating in the SHAPERS project
As a programmer of a festival, I usually see a performance or an artistic project only once (or I just hear or read about it) before we invite it to be part of our program – that’s why it was very special for me that I could follow SHAPERS during a longer period of time and through different cities before we presented the piece in Budapest.
The first time I heard about the project SHAPERS was at Tanzmesse in Düsseldorf at the beginning of September 2016 – exactly 2 years before the presentation in Budapest. The basic idea of a collaboration of dancers from different countries and dance cultures, creating a performance in public space and exploring the possibilities of this kind of work, outside of the traditional places of creation immediately caught my attention. I feel privileged that I could see the performance SHAPERS, developed through the collaboration project, in three different countries, in three different contexts – in front of a mosque in Alexandria, in front of a museum in Sarajevo and in front of a shopping mall in Marseille. Thus the dance piece could encounter with religion, with history and with commerce in the three cities.
I felt that it would be highly relevant to present SHAPERS also in Budapest – and make it encounter politics in a way. The nationalism and xenophobia in the official Hungarian political discourse is frightening and extremely dangerous, leading to those kinds of actions when people with darker skin are beaten up by “real” Hungarians. The beautiful and powerful performance by 8 dancers from Arab and European countries represents the openness towards other people for me, and I wanted to bring this openness and acceptance to the toxic atmosphere what the government propaganda creates in Hungary.
Choosing the location for an art project in public space is always a crucial aspect of the local adaptation, and it was even more important for me to find a meaningful place for SHAPERS, because of the above mentioned reasons. I had suggested several options to Anne and Jean-Antoine by email, but even I wasn’t convinced if they were good suggestions, when Rákóczi square came to my mind, they also became immediately enthusiastic about it.
Rákóczi square is situated on the border of a poorer and ambivalent district of Budapest, mostly habited by Roma population, which used to be a disadvantaged area earlier, but it is under development and gentrification in the past years. We have programmed several projects in this district, very often in collaboration with local habitants. Furthermore a partner association to our festival, MindSpace runs their activities in the market hall at the square, so they have a strong connection with people living in the area, and they also helped us to organise the post-performance talk in the market hall after its opening hours.
I feel that our choice for the location proved to be a good one, people from the neighbourhood and professionals from the Hungarian dance and cultural scene came and watched the performance together. At the end, a Roma woman told me, that “These guys really know how to dance. Obviously we gypsies know it better, but they are also really good at it”.
In 2018 PLACCC continued its work of the past 10 years, once again hosting site-specific artistic events in public spaces and at unique venues. The keywords of the festival for this year were body and technology, with a programme mainly consisting of dance productions and projects based on new technologies.
Following her work as a volunteer in the SHAPERS project with Momkin – espaces de possibles in Alexandria, Egypt, Elsa Menad has created an exhibition with artworks that show us glimpses of the dancers within the city.
Elsa Menad is visual artist and student at the national school of Art of Bourges. She followed the SHAPERS project from Marseille to Alexandrie, working with the festival Nassim El Raqs. She contributed to the project through the creation of different images like photographs, videos, drawings, illustrations, and video animation.
Momkin – espaces de possibles [Marseille, France] aims at initiating and accompanying artistic and cultural projects within cities and territories across the Mediterranean region, by creating, producing, and performing artistic works, as well as through the development of cultural and intercultural projects, of training programmes and awareness building campaigns. Since 2011, Momkin has carried out the Nassim el Raqs festival, featuring artistic initiatives linked to the city of Alexandria. www.momkin.co
-by Lucien Ammar-Arino, from the Rézodanse Center-Egypt
Dance in Egypt has both a privileged and complicated situation. Egyptian society has an ambivalent relationship to dance, whether it is folk dance, ‘oriental’ or ‘balady’ dance, classical ballet or contemporary dance. The society as a whole is familiar with folk dance, and is generally proud of this legacy, whereas ‘balady’ dance suffers from a rather negative image, because of its connection to night practices and cabaret, which put into question its respectability, for a part of the population. Even if it is controversial today, this legacy remains very present in the collective imagination.
Western dance, or classical ballet, has a special position in Egypt. Introduced in the 1960s by the political power, it was seen as the official art, in the same way as the folk dance. Today, the Cairo Opera House has a permanent ballet company, with a school.
The presence of contemporary dance is much more recent, and goes back to the mid-1990s. It was introduced through events organized by foreign cultural centers present in Cairo and Alexandria, such as the French Institute, the Goethe Institute, the British Council, and also through the American University of Cairo. The Cairo Opera also has a permanent ‘modern’ dance company, which offers aesthetic pieces astride between American modern dance and jazz.
Since the late 1990s, a new independent scene of choreographers began to emerge, following workshops offered by cultural centers, which confronted Egyptian artists, especially from the theater, with aesthetics still unknown locally. Today, the contemporary dance scene is mainly the result of the training offered by the Cairo Contemporary Dance Center, under the direction of Karima Mansour since 2012. Two annual artistic events, the D-CAF festival in Cairo since 2012 and the Nassim el Raqs Festival in Alexandria since 2011, also offer this new emerging scene spaces for the dissemination of their creations.
It would be difficult to provide a general definition of the situation of public space in Egypt. I can only refer to my experience as co-director of the Nassim el Raqs festival between 2011 and 2015, and rely on personal observations that I have made during the eleven years spent in the country, from 2005 to 2016.
I have seen, at least in the city of Alexandria, that public space is saturated and requires permanent negotiation from artists and cultural operators accompanying the projects.
Regularly used for family events, weddings, funerals, as well as for occasions such as store openings, or spontaneously by traders and coffee vendors, public space becomes an extension of private space whose delimitation is sometimes tenuous.
On the other hand, the use of public space for artistic creations takes on a dimension considered more political, which can easily make the services in charge of the public domain cringe. The question often asked is ‘why?’, And at times it may be difficult to justify the artistic nature of the works presented to authorities concerned with the political nature of an artistic act in the public domain.
Access to public space is complicated by long and uncertain authorization requests, involving different levels of government and security services. A long process of mediation and pedagogy is necessary vis-à-vis the authorities. This long-term work, however, has borne fruit in the case of Nassim el Raqs, who managed, in few years, to establish a relationship of trust with the authorities, based on the quality of artistic proposals, consistency, and the longevity of the project. The motivations of Egyptian artists who create in public space in Egypt, at least in view of the artists we have been able to accompany, are multiple:
public space is seen as both an alternative to the lack of venues (such places are lacking in Egypt), as a meeting place between audiences distanced from the cultural offer and choreographic works that have little publicity, but also as a place of political advocacy, especially in the current climate of mistrust towards the authorities, which increasingly restrict the means and spaces of expression.
Such artistic incursions into public space do not date from the revolution, the process had already started before 2011, but the latter has amplified this need to reclaim public space, even if we are recently witnessing the opposite phenomenon take place, for reasons related to growing security constraints.
Centre Rézodanse – Egypte [Alexandria, Egypt] combines in one location a space for training as well as a place where several artistic and cultural projects are developed and implemented. Founded in 2008, Rézodanse defends dance as a valuable and respectable art form deeply rooted in Egyptian heritage, as having a key role to play in education and contributing to the cultural diversity of Egyptian society. The centre organises training programmes and awareness building campaigns to support the local performing arts scene. www.rezodanseegypte.com
-by Meryem Jazouli, choreographer and director of Espace Darja
First of all it is useful to briefly present this place located in the center of Casablanca that, like many Moroccan cities, consists of an old medina and a new city. Between the two, the United Nations Square creates a link, like a bridge between the past and the present. Recognizable thanks to its cupola nicknamed “Kora Ardia”, it is the meeting point of the city’s main arteries and is one of the most important squares in Casablanca.
This square is therefore a meeting point, a place of passage, and a gathering spot for all casablancans without exception (be they near or at the outskirts of the city).
However, it is not only the emblematic situation of this square that determined my choice, but also the particularly symbolic relationship between the medina and the new city. This motivated my desire that a choreographic gesture be placed between them, as if to prolong the link.
Dancing with the architecture of the city as a backdrop, I quickly decided to make SHAPERS exist in the heart of Casablanca, it seemed to me an opportunity to challenge the dancers (even for a short time) to apprehend a history and, for some of them, their history through a danced gesture.
How do you make a gesture, your gesture, in a space like this?
How do you give it enough life to echo that architecture, this framework and in the public mind?
With generosity, sobriety and a lot of presence, the dancers learned to carry, transmit, question and even to react to the public around this choreographic object which they defended relentlessly.
It was not a question of confronting the square, but rather of trying to become one with it, to dive into it with poetry, sensitivity and emotion. The dancers had the humility and ambition to give it another dimension, one that art allows when it meets all these conditions.
The close relationship offered by the United Nations Square (in this case between dance and an audience), allowed us to fulfill one of the major objectives of the SHAPERS project: making dance, carried by young performers, accessible and common ( through shared space).
For the dancers of this project, the United Nations Square also offered the opportunity to meet and understand the cultural diversity of this city (that the majority discovered for the first time). They learned to observe, touch and be touched by all the spaces they occupied and they learned to do so with curiosity, sensitivity and respect.
All of these adjustments and movements allowed them to ask questions, questions necessary when you are a young artist approaching public space through the practice of dance.
How do we exchange with others but also between us dancers?
What traces can we or do we want to leave in the places we cross?
What difference do we cultivate or not?
And finally, how could a symbolically strong public square participate in personal and professional trajectories?
These are, briefly and perhaps incompletely, the reasons that led me to choose the United Nations Square as a “scene” for the first steps of SHAPERS.
Espace Darja [Casablanca, Morocco] founded by choreographer Meryem Jazouli, is a place for artistic residencies and cultural experimentation, locally known as a platform for dialogue, encounters, and performances. Its aim is to develop contemporary dance in Morocco. www.espacedarja.com
For seven years, Nassim El Raqs has been searching for the words to describe itself; nevertheless, with time, it keeps reinventing itself. Every year, for many hours, endless discussions have ventured to create a definition that best suits Nassim’s practices and current ambitions.
Fighting hardships, rejecting already trodden tracks, and trying to justly define the vagueness, improvisations, and daily inventions on which we depend to empower this ‘event’, ‘work of art’, ‘artistic endeavor’ or even ‘social malady’… This is Nassim, a constant rewriting.
Today, it seems that we do not need a subtitle: Nassim El Raqs has become a festival, a writing laboratory, and a new space available for artists and the public; above all, Nassim has become one big community.
A community of logic, a community of participation, a big family, a crowd; Nassim reactivates itself every year, in the Spring, to experiment and exchange creative ideas, to make an impact, and to contribute to the progress of the grand Mediterranean society that makes us who we are. A society that is able to think and propagate, starting from the South.
If Alexandria knew how to invent a cosmopolitan model many decades ago, today our modest project for the city also seeks to offer new ways to live together: based on art, culture, creation, and cooperation as the path (and sole possibility) for a humanitarian unity and individual and group liberation.
And so, definitions are of no importance; art and its lexical terminology is not our main focus. What is more urgent is to love each other, get closer, and to create together a happier society for the future.
Many famous choreographers, whom we love deeply, and who cooperated with the festival either recently or many years ago, have decided to share with important contributions. Olivier Dubois will join the opening to work on the vital memory via the adaptation of the text: Afternoon of a Faun by Nijinsky. Then, Mohamed Fouad will present a remarkable performance featuring Selsela group, the product of the first year of teaching contemporary dance in Alexandria. And for the closure, Ex-Nihilo will demonstrate the fruitful outcome of their months-long cooperation with SHAPERS through dance training in the Mediterranean public spaces.
Other artists will take us to new grounds of experiments and research: wanderings, exploration protocols and camps with Ici-meme, and Aly El Adawy and his Spanish companions.
We are waiting for you in our seventh season in which participation, art, and creativity is as we are and what we pursue; in light of what we shall exchange and our approach to coexisting.
All of this, bear in mind, to forever and always keep on honoring all those who left, and all those we have lost…
Nassim El Raqs funder
Momkin – espaces de possibles [Marseille, France] aims at initiating and accompanying artistic and cultural projects within cities and territories across the Mediterranean region, by creating, producing, and performing artistic works, as well as through the development of cultural and intercultural projects, of training programmes and awareness building campaigns. Since 2011, Momkin has carried out the Nassim el Raqs festival, featuring artistic initiatives linked to the city of Alexandria.
De un día para otro estaba dentro del proyecto, de un proyecto muy grande sin ser consciente de los cambios que ocurrirían en mí y a los que, en un principio, me sentí obligada a realizar en menos de dos semanas.
Después de pasarme toda la vida trabajando con la necesidad de tener un suelo de linóleo, liso, limpio, acomodado para bailarines; me encontré con la posibilidad de trabajar en espacios reales, con muchos más volúmenes y texturas reales, palpables.
Empecé a descubrir las millones de posibilidades que podría encontrar con estos nuevos elementos del día a día, ya que estos elementos creaban un espacio concreto, con adjetivos e historias propias.
Por lo que entendí, me centré en introducirme en ese espacio de la forma más natural, tacto e intenciones reales. Quería desestructurar mi mente y cuerpo de bailarina de escenario y ser persona. Me puse objetivos en base a los principios básicos de la técnica de Ex-Nihilo:
Así fue mi primer contacto con este trabajo, mucha información mental y física en muy poco tiempo. Más tarde, asentándolo todo, descubrí que a más intensidad, más “sin pensar” y “sin cuidar” lo que se hace; más de verdad y real es el resultado. Con este riesgo se convierten en posible lo imposible desde la razón.
Dancer participating in the SHAPERS project