By Maha ElNabawi
Now in its fifth edition, the Spring Festival organized by Al Mawred Al Thakafy (Culture Resource) returns to Egypt and the region this Friday with socio-political vengeance.
Through a series of workshops, public discussions, storytelling, music, theater and dance, the festival seeks to address the region’s post-revolution questions of “What happened?” and “Where to now?”
The Spring Festival, which takes place every second year, started eight years ago in an ambitious attempt to celebrate regional, modern creativity by presenting a wide range of the most prominent contemporary creations in music, theater, dance, visual arts and literature.
In collaboration with the Cultural Association for Youth in Theater, Cinema Shams and with the support of the Delegation of the European Union in Egypt, Doen Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, Aga Khan Music Initiative, the Netherlands Embassy, Goethe Institute, the British Council and the Egyptian Tourism Authority, this year’s festival seeks to shed light on unconventional forms of art, while examining the possibilities of interrelation between different cultures.
According to Basma El Housseiny, the Culture Resource and festival director, “Due to the current wave of religious petrification in the region, this year’s program has a bit more focus on art from Islamic countries,” she told Daily News Egypt. “We want to focus on art from these countries simply because there is a discourse now about the sustainability of art in culture if Islamists succeeded in winning the upcoming [Egyptian] presidential election.
“If the Islamists win, this is bad news for art because of the limited freedom that will inevitably follow. This is a huge concern particularly because the majority of Muslim countries have a vibrant art scene.”
The festival, which runs through May 16, is skillfully curated with a diverse selection of performances and workshops loaded with socio-political commentary, themes and messages.
Kicking off the festival is the world-renowned Turkish music group, “Turkish Coffee,” in a celebration of classical contemporary Turkish music. Taking place in one of the most iconic historical sites in mediaeval Cairo, the Prince Taz Palace, the concert will feature violinist Nedim Nalbantoglu, oud player Nuri Karadermilli, legendary clarinetist Babaros Erkose and others in an eclectic mix of strong solos, duets and improvisations.
Also opening this weekend is the internationally acclaimed dance theater troupe, Dorky Park. Directed by German/Argentinean choreographer, Constanza Macras, the Berlin based ensemble will present their latest contemporary dance piece, “Here/After” at El Falaki Theater.
According to Ricardo Frayha, the group’s tour manager, “The performance seeks to explore the relationship between anonymity and isolation, the individual and urban life, the public and the private.”
“We are honored to be here in Egypt amidst this somewhat uncertain socio-political climate,” Frayha said. “What is going on here in Egypt is reshaping the political history of the region and the world.”
Since its inauguration in 2004, the Spring Festival has continuously expanded to different regions within Egypt and abroad. This year, the Spring Festival will reach different governorates including Alexandria, Minya and Assiut while also expanding across seas and borders to Beirut and Tripoli.
“It is part of our policy to always reach out to new audiences,” El Housseiny said. “It’s important that we constantly reach new and different audiences. It is essential to mix audiences in order to grow the program and the cultural reach.”
For the first time, Minya will be a host city for the festival. Locals will have the opportunity to view the lost art-form of shadow puppetry where the Turkish master of marionettes, Cengiz Ozek, will present the enchanting and comedic show, “Garbage Monster” at the Jesuit Culture Center on Monday April 23.
“Shadow theater is a traditional art form that is almost non-existent these days, yet it has a huge significance in our cultural history,” El Housseiny said. “It is also quite technical as it requires perfect lighting, very well made marionettes, precise skill in moving the puppets and, of course, the storytelling.”
El Housseiny mentioned that Ozek’s “Garbage Monster” is a modern form of this lost art. With newly designed marionettes and an updated storyline, “Garbage Monster” poses the environmental based question, “Have you ever thrown your garbage into the sea? If so, have you ever imagined what happens to it?”
On April 26 at El-Geneina Theater, the avant-garde activist sound, art project, Checkpoint 303 (Palestine/Tunisia) will perform their creation of experimental electronic music in hopes of raising awareness about the struggle of civil society in the Middle East and throughout the Arab world for freedom, peace and justice. The group combines field recordings performed in Palestine, Tunisia, Syria and Egypt with electronic beats, cinema FX, oud and oriental sounds.
Presented in collaboration with the Agha Khan Music Initiative, venerable musicians, Ozada Ashurova, Abduvali Abdurashidov and Sirojiddin Djuraev of Tajikistan, Abbos Kosimov of Uzbekistan, and Jasser Haj Youssef of Tunisia come together for a unique evening concert title, “The Invisible Face of the Beloved” on April 27 at the Prince Taz Palace and will also take place in Alexandria on April 28.
Other notable musical acts will include Tausi Taarab of Zanzibar taking place at both Prince Taz Palace and Cinema Rio rooftop in Alexandria. The all female orchestra will perform Taarab, traditional Zanzibari numbers and Unyago music.
The festival will wrap up with a series of concerts for the Iranian and UK band Ajam in Alexandria, Cairo and Assiut. Ajam is known for having a raw energy of tribal and ritual music that inspires both their sound and elements of the dance and movement they incorporate into their shows.
This year’s Spring Festival will also include two socio-political inspired side programs titled, “Future Manifesto,” a panel discussion featuring local and regional activists including Alaa Abdel Fattah (Egypt), Fathi Terbil (Libya) and more. The second program, titled “Samar with the Revolution,” aims to address the current political climate is a series of storytelling evenings.
“These side programs will attempt to address the region’s many concerns about our socio-political future,” El Housseiny said. “We are all worried about the failure of state systems, the collapse of state services and the lack of security. Yet we believe there are active, young people who know the direction of the region’s future. Through the arts, culture and dialogue we are working together to address these positive future visions and collectively work towards them.”
For the full festival line-up, visit: http://www.mawred.org/attachments/220_En_ad.pdf