Cairo’s D-CAF 10 Festival Gives Arab Arts Creators an International Stage
CAIRO—In its tenth edition, the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) brought a range of performances in dance, theatre, music, cinema, and other arts to the Egyptian capital for three weeks in October.
A highlight of this year’s festival, which ran from October 9 to 30, was the return of the Arab Arts Focus (AAF) to Cairo after a four-year absence. Its 2020 showcase was canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The festival supports Arab artistic creators by providing a forum for them to show their work to international programme managers and theatre and festival directors. This year’s festival brought together 30 artists presenting various dance and theatre performances, besides art exhibitions.
Ahmed El-Attar, D-CAF’s founder and artistic director, told Al-Fanar Media that the festival invited managers and directors from many countries to view the participating performances.
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Through seminars and discussion panels, the festival aims to connect Arab programme managers and artists with international producers, with the aim of supporting and promoting Arab talents in international festivals.
“The festival … provides an exceptional opportunity for interaction and exchange of points of view and experiences between Arab and Western contemporary art makers, creating better global marketing opportunities for Arab shows.”Ahmed El-Attar, D-CAF’s founder and artistic director
“The festival is a unique event in the region,” said El-Attar. “The events provide an exceptional opportunity for interaction and exchange points of view and experiences between Arab and Western contemporary art makers, creating better global marketing opportunities for Arab shows. This year, over 100 program designers from around the world, from Asia and Europe, were invited to the festival.”
Dance and Performance Art
Contemporary dance was evident in many of the performances, along with dance theatre and other performances that combined dance, theatre and modern arts. El-Attar said that contemporary dance occupies a strong place in the theatrical arts scene in the Arab world today.
The Moroccan performance artist Youness Atbane was among this year’s performers with a show titled “Untitled 14KM”. The show’s main characters are an Arab Andalusian poet, a museum director, an art curator, and a contemporary artist. In the show, Atbane raises questions about the conflict and competition surrounding art and Arab identity.
Atbane, who has been residing in Berlin for years and presents his works between Morocco and Germany, told Al-Fanar Media: “I am happy to present the show in this festival, which I see as almost the only platform in the Middle East and North Africa that gives exhibitors greater viewing opportunities and presenting shows and creative dynamics.”
Atbane believes that while the participating shows seem different, they contribute to a similar atmosphere. “The performances enable us to learn about new ideas and creative practices in the Arab world,” he said, “besides bringing our performances to an international audience and program managers around the world, which provides us with greater opportunities in the coming periods.”
The festival also allows learning about the histories of the participating artists, who often have met with several challenges before managing to present their works to the public. The dance collective Nasa4Nasa is one such team. It was formed by two Egyptian friends, Nora Seif and Salma Abdel-Salam, whose were united by an early mutual passion for contemporary dance, which they studied for three years at the Cairo Contemporary Dance Centre.
The two young women told Al-Fanar Media that they realised there was consistency in their ideas and decided to work together as a team. Together they have presented dance videos on Instagram.
Nora Seif is a visual artist, choreographer, and dancer. She graduated from Helwan University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in 2007. Salma Abdel Salam holds a master’s degree in performance studies from New York University and teaches performance studies and dance theory at the American University in Cairo and the Cairo Center for Contemporary Dance.
Providing Performance Spaces
In this festival, Nasa4Nasa presented a 40-minute show called “No Mercy”, which included an artistic presentation accompanied by music about various feelings in a parallel world created by contemporary dance. “The audience wants to see different shows and looks for inspiration that the art show gives them, through ideas or kinetic performance,” the two said. “The success achieved by a qualitative festival such as D-CAF proves wrong the assumption that this art genre’s audience is limited.”
“The audience … looks for inspiration that the art show gives them, through ideas or kinetic performance. The success achieved by a qualitative festival such as D-CAF proves wrong the assumption that this art genre’s audience is limited.”The two artists who formed the dance collective Nasa4Nasa
The two dancers believe that festivals like D-CAF present an opportunity to renew the conversation about the challenges facing contemporary art professionals, such as the lack of spaces and studios for training and designing performance shows. “There is no substitute for these spaces to continue the dance performances, given the high costs of many of these places,” they said. For that reason, art scholarships, like the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) and Mophradat, are essential to support the continuity of performance shows.
The festival’s agenda also included panels by the New York-based International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA), which sponsors some of the world’s largest gatherings of programme managers and performing arts festival directors.
El-Attar said that ISPA’s appearance at D-CAF was the society’s first participation in the Arab world and Africa.
He cheered the festival’s big audience, pointing to heavy sales of tickets. He added that the audience interacted with several shows, including a Danish theatre show called “Cook”.
The show was accompanied by a playwriting workshop led by the Danish writer and playwright Jesper Pedersen. The workshop highlighted ways to communicate with the audience in a fun and attractive way, employing games, interaction with the audience, and theatrical narration.
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