The fourth edition of Backstreet Festival will kick off in Alexandria, featuring contemporary circus, theatre and music, running between 29 March to 1 April, and on 28 March in Cairo.
The festival is the brainchild of Amina Abo Doma, Alexandrian art director and fundraiser of the festival, and will host 19 events throughout the four days.
The entry-free festival is presided over by the International Association for Creation and Training (I-act) and is titled The Joy Project, inspired by Abo Doma’s vision to allow viewers, regardless of their status, to feel joy through exposure to these shows.
The Joy Project aims to spread joy in society by tackling citizens’ emotions through entertainment, arts and cultural activities.
“My goal is to make people happy through the quality of arts presented during the festival and also provide networking opportunities to young Egyptian artists through exposure in co-productions,” Abo Doma told Ahram Online.
Targeting all audience segments in Alexandria, the festival will feature 15 performances from Egypt, Switzerland, France, Denmark, UK, Germany, Hungary, Argentina, Austria, Sweden, Portgual and Japan.
The festival will also feature a theatre performance of contemporary circus and will screen four international films including Hussein El-Imam’s film Zay Oud El-Kabreet (Like a Matchstick), Tanztraume Jugendliche Tanzen Kontakthof von Pina Bausch (Dancing Dreams) (Germany) by Anne Linsel, O Guardador De Rebanhos (The Keeper of Sheep) (Portugal) by Ulyimo Momento, and Swing Girls (Japan) by Shinobu Yaguchi.
Abo Doma spoke to Ahram Online about the new aspects in this year’s festival, including its shorter duration.
“The duration of the festival this year is being compressed to four days rather than seven in efforts to prevent influences on audiences from fading away,” says Abo Doma.
The festival will feature three new co-productions, including the Copenhagen Drummers from Denmark who will present ‘The Percussion Show,’ a stage performance, with the Egyptian percussion team Parkour Group.
‘The Equinox - Work in Progress,’ another co-production will be performed by German performers Grotest Maru, who are specialised in climbing buildings, and the Alexandria-based Alternative Theatre Group (ATG), who specialise in storytelling.
“The Equinox - Work in Progress' will develop into a full performance that will premiere in Berlin end of May or start of June, and will return to be staged in the 2018 Backstreet Festival,” adds Abo Doma.
The third co-production is a cooperation between French performers Generik Vapeur, prominent street art performers, and a number of Egyptian artists to present Eskendria - Bivouac.
Abo Doma regards Generik Vapeur as a special performance in this year’s festival, hoping that it will encourage street art to spread across Egyptian streets.
Bivouac by Generik Vapeaur (Photo: courtesy of Backstreet Festival)
She further explains obstacles experienced in pulling off performances in the streets, highlighting that security measures stand in the way of using public spaces for the arts.
“The Backstreet Festival uses untraditional spaces rather than public ones because it takes very long to get permits and yet there is a risk of the government cancelling a show at the last minute, which puts us as organisers in a critical situation where we find it difficult to secure another venue on short notice,” says Abo Doma.
The Backstreet Festival was previously subject to the cancellation of a fire show and acrobatic Turkish performance in its second edition, because the performers were denied visas to Egypt at a time when Egyptian-Turkish ties were strained.
Hiyro (Photo: courtesy of Backstreet Festival)
In an effort to avoid security challenges and to protect artists, performances are staged in the courtyards of schools, at Teatro Eskenderia, at the French Institute’s garage, and other semi-outdoor platforms.
“One of the places that we also use for the festival is an old basement that was used for shelter during wartime, which I managed to transform into a venue,” added Abo Doma.
She adds that the best means to pave the way for arts in Egyptian streets is for officials to accept that these performances are good for society.
Abo Doma also spoke about economic challenges, stating that prices have doubled since the Egyptian pound's flotation in November while the festival's budget remains limited. Through partnerships and more fundraising, Abo Doma was able to overcome these obstacles.
The Backstreet Festival is partnering with several institutions in Alexandria such as The British Council, Pro-Helvetia, DEDI, the Swedish Institute, the Goethe Institute, the French Institute, The Japan Foundation, MAD Solutions, and the Downtown Contemporary Art Festival (D-CAF) among others.
The 30-60 minute performances include one in Cairo, a circus show Zwai that will be presented by the Swiss Arts Council at Darb Ahmar Arts School (DAAS) on 28 March.
“We seek to share performances in both Cairo and Alexandria to provide maximum exposure to all our performances, and we will expand to other cities in the next edition,” says Abo Doma.
Other performances in Alexandria include The Fastest Man Alive by Phax Ahamada (Sweden), Black Voices - Acappella Show by Black Voices Acapella (UK), and Swing it Up by Maxi Prado and Agustina Zero (Argentina), among others.