EFFE Laureate - Africtions, captured by dance
Africtions is neither the largest nor the most established festival on the menu but, if it continues along the way it has been going, it may turn out to have some of the most lasting benefits of any. It is devoted to dance from and in Africa and is a producing festival, not just an importing one. It is bringing Africa and Europe together in a way which gives a great deal of pleasure and in the process achieves, gently and in miniature, many of the complicated goals that politicians and institutions strive for.
The formula is simple: Africtions, based in Bremen but a partnership of several cities, commissions a choreographer in Africa to develop a work there, perform it and then bring it and the company to Germany for a tour. While the formula is simple, though, the logistics and the ramifications are not. Often the dancers come from places where is very little infrastructure or professional support and opportunity – let alone the technical resources that they will find in a modern German theatre.
Nonetheless, Africtions is changing perceptions and reputations with each edition. In the process it is delivering on the EU's development policies as well as those for integration. “We focus on the artists to show us what is going on in their countries, says Helge Letonja, the Artistic Director. “There's a pride and they are ambassadors. Real integration means that we have to look at other people's culture too. If we invest in that culture then both continents profit.”
“Because we produce, we don't only invite, we look for collaborators who can be prepared to show on many stages.” For the 2018 festival the dance will be seen in Bremen, Heilbronn, Reklinghausen, Ludwigshaven and Mannheim. Collaboration means much more than a cursory booking and some money too. Africtions pairs up each African choreographer with a European to find a way of working together. The African suggests the subject matter and the European has to give an artistic response, not from a distance but with a six to eight week residency. “They have to be prepared to confront the country they are working with,” says Helge, “and not just from a security bubble. While we look to protect them we ask them to go out and contact the reality of the country.”
The audiences are encouraged to engage with each other just as much as the performers. “We have a lot of talks and exhibitions along with the festival and we make a real effort to reach out to Africans living in Germany.” Helge also likes to explode preconceptions purely by putting people next to each other. “We have asked many people who find themselves refugees in Germany to join us – so that in the State Theatre in Bremen the usual elite of the city find themselves sitting next to them for two and half hours. Immediately they have a different reference point. There's a sharing.”
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