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D-CAF 2013: Toméo Vergès, Choreographer Extraordinaire

D-CAF 2013: Toméo Vergès, Choreographer Extraordinaire
written by
Emily Wright

After debuting some of its highlights in Assuit earlier this week, the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival turns its spotlight to Downtown Cairo this Thursday, where the festival will get into full swing. With over 200 performances being prepared for D-CAF, we got the chance to sit down with performing arts company, Man Drake, founder as well as choreographer, Toméo Vergès, who has choreographed a number of pieces for the festival, to give us an idea of what he’s got in store for Cairo.

Smiling broadly and gesticulating with Catalonian vivacity, Vergès reveals to us that he is in love with Cairo, putting it down to his Mediterranean blood. Although this is the first time for him to showcase his work in the city, he first visited 20 years ago, and back then, he tells us with a wry smile, he was a doctor coming to the city for work. Vergès’ background is indeed eclectic; as the son of a butcher, he brings a multi-faceted background into his work and many of his greatest influences are members of his own family. 

The first of his pieces of work to be showcased in the festival is Anatomia Publica, which will open proceedings at 8PM on Thursday at Falaki Theatre. Anatomia Publica tells the story of Vergès’ grandparents’ lives “made strange”, and although Vergès’ work is largely autobiographical, his influences also include the great absurdist playwright, Samuel Beckett, and experimental film director, Martin Arnold. “With every piece there’s a little fiction, of course” he admits.

Vergès is fascinated by what he calls the “symphony of decomposition”, which can come from a single gesture or movement, and his is an intellectual work which raises many questions specific to the artists and context of each performance. So it should come as no surprise that his choreography focuses on a single motion,  repeated by the dancer, which, according to him, is an attempt to “decompose” the movement and cause a “spread of ideas.”

Among the pieces being brought to the Urban Visions programme of the festival, Vergès is introducing Traffic, which came about as he sat at a crossroad in North Korea watching the traffic wardens directing cars, and Only Happiness (?). Performed by Egyptian dancers, the choreographer is proud of the new direction these pieces are taking.

Prior to choosing which of his pieces would be showcased at the festival, Vergès had met with the Egyptian dancers to discuss which issues would be addressed. Traffic was picked as a symbol of how power can be possessed and used, and of course to pay homage to the city’s infamous travel chaos, while Only Happiness(?) – produced together with French choreographer Sandrine Maisonneuve – will discuss the issue of women’s rights through a medium of dance and theatre.

Vergès attempts to provide a toolkit of contemporary dance through his performances and in exchange, he himself learns something new every time his work is reproduced in a different context, with different social issues at its heart. Therefore, context is an important concept for Vergès’ art and the three performances he is bringing to Downtown Cairo reflect this. Anatomia Publica will be performed at Falaki Theatre in the heart of the city centre, while, Traffic and Only Happiness(?) will be staged at various locations throughout Downtown Cairo as part of the Urban Visions outdoor dance series. Dancers will perform in public where passersby can appreciate the art form, as part of the festival’s attempt to fully engage the city with the arts and make the festival as accessible as possible.

Having previewed this week in Assuit, the festival has already seen Vergès’ work come to life and in his own words, the performance was “extraordinary”.  When his other pieces come to Cairo to make their Arab World Premiere at D-CAF, he hopes they will provide a platform for expression, as well as introduce foreign concepts to Cairo’s art scene.

Catch the first performance at 8PM on Thursday, when Vergès’ show will kick off what is set to be a spectacular month for culture in Cairo.

Information about all of D-CAF’s performances can be found on our Cairo 360 events pages, or to contact the festival about tickets write to