Review By Lauren Donikian
Yamoussa Bangoura welcomes us to his West Africa in an explosion of colour, music and talent in Afrique En Cirque. As the Artistic Director of ‘Kalabante´ Productions’ he introduces us to his troupe which consists of musicians, a back-up singer and a group of multi-skilled acrobats that support with back-up vocals, impressive percussion skills and providing joy to the stage. As the name suggests there are skills that you can expect to see at any circus, but this performance goes a step further by embracing the Nyamakala tradition practiced in West Africa. Including a contortionist, the acrobats flip, jump and fly across the stage thrilling the audience and the troupe themselves.
With Sydney Festival in full swing, the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta is transformed from an entertainment space to a hub of bustling energy with its courtyard becoming a ‘festival garden’ instantly putting you in the mood to celebrate and revel in what is about to come.
The stage is set with canvas draping structures like what you would see in a marketplace with the musician’s setting up shop in these “stalls” so they can always see the cast. The band plays throughout the 90-minute performance and by using a screen at the back of the stage the stories come to life as it displays a starry night or an underwater scene. The lighting changes based on location, when in the marketplace, the lights are red, yellow, and white and at other times golden hues that soften the stage. The troupe help to reset the stage as they move from circus act to choreographed movement.
This production pays homage to West Africa by playing instruments known to the area and wearing costumes that not only allow the troupe to move with ease, but are brightly coloured with patterns and include adornments such as gold cuffs. Bangoura plays a Kora which is a 21 stringed instrument, and the troupe play the Shekere, Djembe and the talking drum which enhance the percussive sounds throughout the performance.
There is no denying that the theatre was energized by Afrique En Cirque and the troupe are not only ridiculously talented and very supportive of each other, but cheeky! The smiles never leave their faces, and you can tell they are so proud to be a part of this production. They play up and interact with the audience but it is Bangoura who issues a call and response, that the audience commit to easily. The joy that the troupe provides bleeds into the crowd and like the culture, is accepted with open arms. The stories are told, and the songs are sung in native tongue. Which means that the audience may not always understand it’s message, but through the choreography and emotion emanating from the troupe you could get the gist of it.
I was so excited to see this production, to leave Sydney behind for a night and embrace a culture that creates great music, joyful movement, and outstanding talent. I was not disappointed, and if you are looking for something to see at Sydney Festival, Afrique En Cirque should be at the top of your list. As seconded by other audience members, you leave feeling invigorated and alive. Who doesn’t want that?