Kickstarting Factory International’s The Welcome, Aviva Studios played host to Afrique en Cirque – delivering a spectacular display which wooed and shocked its audience on an unforgettable night.
The group descend from Kalabanté Production – a non-profit organisation based in Montreal and Guinea who provide multidisciplinary circus and traditional African performances.
Performers skilfully conducted the crowd’s emotional tempo, orchestrating a rollercoaster of feelings that swiftly transitioned from moments of breathtaking beauty to high-intensity acrobatics.
The entire narrative unfolded against the backdrop of an exceptionally talented musical ensemble, where the rhythmic heartbeat was masterfully curated by expert drumming. The journey seamlessly blended the timeless resonance of classic African instruments with the contemporary allure of a bass guitar and saxophone.
The show unfurled its magic by whisking the audience away to a traditional African village, swiftly immersing them in scenes of a holistic lifestyle as they stage became a canvas depicting a vivid contrast to the hustle and bustle of Manchester life.
This tranquillity was abruptly disrupted by the primal pulse of a beating drum, and with a burst of energy, contortionists and acrobats took the stage moving in perfect unison to the collective amazement of the audience.
As the tempo rose sharp cries in the Kpelle language echoed through the room – a constant reminder to the patrons of their cultural heritage, which added a direct connection to the roots and traditions that formed the heartbeat of the show.
Suddenly the music stopped and created a hushed anticipation as a simple hoop entered the stage, its beauty derived from its elegant simplicity.
The show’s lead Yamoussa Bangoura stepped into the hoop and transformed the vessel into a captivating dance. With unparalleled elegance and grace, he embarked on a continuous spiral, each movement perfectly synchronized with the melodic notes of a skilfully executed piano.
As the audience still lingered in awe, they were swiftly transported back to the familiar village setting, where the cast embarked on a seemingly ordinary fishing. However, the catch of the day tuned out to be far from the expected, unravelling a mesmerising display of contortionist artistry.
Mohamed Ben Sylla’s performance was met with gasps of shock and disbelief. Many couldn’t help but cover their eyes, yet the irresistible allure of the spectacle kept them unable to look away. Gasps and shouts of “Oh my god” filled the room – Isac Newton might find himself scratching his scratching his head as he continued to defy the established laws of physics.
The reintroduction of the entire cast signalled a grand finale, providing a final opportunity for each performer to showcase feats of incredible skill and balance.
A standout moment unfolded when every performer came together to create a human pyramid. With a sudden and unexpected twist two cast members were swiftly removed from the bottom of the structure – and in a breathtaking manoeuvre, the remaining performers defied gravity, leaving the audience in a state of shock and awe. Bodies hung from the air, forming a mesmerizing and electric configuration to a chorus of amazement from the captivated onlookers.
For me, the show beautifully encapsulated the space at Aviva Studios through their impeccable set design and embodied the message of Factory International. It brought diversity, excitement and celebration of the arts – all at a reasonable price for Mancunians.
Afrique en Cirque is on until 15 November. Tickets are available here.
Images courtesy of Factory International: Peter Graham