After touring in urban neighborhood and villages across Morocco for nine years, Théâtre Nomade settled down its yellow and blue circus tent in the former slaughterhouse of Casablanca (Hay Mohammadi district). This is where Mohammed, Soufia and their lively group/community/family decided to shine throughout the neighborhood, the city, Morocco and the other side of the Mediterranean sea.
Our first gathering in the frame of Chôros project was in Porto last September. Now we meet Mohamed and his manager Cindy at their place to discover the great artistic and administrative staff of the Company.
In this sweet but dry winter, the huge oriental (pré-)art-déco buildings of les Abattoirs are majestic and sleepy in the morning misty sunlight and the smoky clouds made by the multiple grilled-meat restaurants on the other side of the street. Large graffitis reveal the ochre derilict palace’ secret life, appart from the guard’s hut filtering visitors at the entrance, the arch of Théâtre Nomade seems the only non-abandonned corner of the vast wasteland. Mohammed, Cindy, Sofian and Hassan are our guides for this first visit.
Mohammed is a storyteller and has a good one to tell about how this adventure started. A dozen years ago, while Soufia and him were part of a street art company in Germany, they had the opportunity to come back for long summer holidays in Morocco. A good friend and visual artist invited them to visit his place in Casablanca and lead circus and mask workshops with children from a popular neighborhood.
After a few days, Mohammed and Soufia proposed to show the result to the people in a public square. They set up the space with kids, without much material except masks and accessories they produced during the workshops and the sound system they had to plug in an old woman’s house. Not only parents and friends, but hundreds of inhabitants came to see the performance by artists and children.
At the end of the performance, their friend pushed Mohammed and Soufia to tidy up everything without a break before the night comes down. Back to the lady’s house, Mohammed tells her the show is over and thanks her for the electricity. “No, it is not over, she replied, you just began!”.
Caravans and shared Friday couscous
Taking a look into the big tent and children exploring (but told off in the minute because of insurance)
This is where it all started, the founding act of their project was in this square : to perform in the public space, with youth and children, for a popular audience. They chose nomadism by touring shows and parades across the country but have been based for a year an a half at La Fabrique Culturelle des Anciens Abattoirs.
It is not very clear : is Théâtre Nomade’s presence a true support from local authorities or a tolerance ? Even precarious and for sure not easy to live everyday, the place looks like a dreamland for gypsies, with a lot of spaces available close to the center of the city, quietness, water and electricity connections, and many corners for imagination to show around.
In the back side : caravans, bungalows and the open-air dining room. In some spaces of the building : where the company builds masks, costumes, stocks its technical material and does the office work. In the middle : the great tent, where the group organises workshops, rehearsals (they are presently preparing a new creation, L’Os), performs, welcome other artists for residencies. At the front : the small tent, the Bibliobus (mobile library), La Ptite école (for Soufia and Mohamed’s kids) and Hassan’s office.
Each week-end, children from the neighborhood come to participate to workshops lead by members of the company : acrobatics, storytelling, book reading, hip hop dancing, juggling… and exceptionally this week-end : theatre with Image Aiguë. You never know how many children are coming : it depends on the weather, football matches and on the new video games. But when Théâtre Nomade organises or welcomes events, whether it is theatre, circus, contemporary dance, music, cinema, the audience reaches 400 even 500 people, with children always at the forefront.
Théâtre Nomade claims to make entertaining but thoughtful performances, based on both Moroccan traditional arts (acrobatics, gnaoua music, storytelling, masks…) and contemporary forms (writing, dancing, puppets…) to address urban and rural non-theater goers audiences. This notion of popular art with a societal awareness is of a particular importance in Morocco where 30% of the population is under 30 years old and less than 30% is illiterate. Expectations in terms of social justice are high, Théâtre Nomade provides an example of a united community, calling on cultural traditions and contemporary creation to contribute to social change.
Creation is strongly linked with transmission. A dozen of young people are composing the troupe of Théâtre Nomade : some were trained in circus and theatre schools, but most of them were met while the company was on tour in villages and popular neighborhood. They develop artistic skills by researching, rehearsing, performing daily and intensively with Mohammed, Soufia and experimented artists. And of course they train themselves children of the neighborhood to the techniques they gain in they daily artistic practice.
The project of Théâtre Nomade is highly political : it opens a cultural (and nomadic space) for everyone. Through circus and street theatre, creation and transmission, the company builds bridges in between cultural forms (tradition/contemporary), languages (dajira/french/sign language), territories (rural/urban), generations.
Challenges are important. The company plans to maintain permanent activities in Les Abattoirs while touring in other cities. They also intend to structure circus trainings for children and youth (even to create a professional diploma in Casablanca), prepare the european tour of L’Os, need to strengthen its staff and fundings…
We feel close to this troupe and are glad Mohammed, Soufia, Cindy and Théâtre Nomade are taking part into Chôros project. We hope this cooperation will help the company in taking up their challenges that are similar to ours.