West Africa is beginning to open up to the world again. As COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, cultural events, like the Intercultural Circus Festival of Abidjan, or RICA, are returning.
At the festival in downtown Abidjan on Wednesday evening, performers did parkour and performed backflips and somersaults, while clowns pulled in members of the audience to participate, to the delight of children and adults alike.
The festival was held last year, but it was much smaller because of the pandemic.
RICA founder Chantal Djedje says COVID-19 made organizing the festival very difficult.
Djedje said, last year, they wanted to keep the festival going, but there were very few companies from the Guinea-Burkina sub-region, and this year the festival has become more colorful because there are nine companies and 57 artists from many different countries.
This year, RICA is hosting acts from Lebhanon, France, Morocco, Guinea, as well as a troupe of acrobats known as Atoufa, from Burkina Faso.
Atoufa’s artistic director, Mahouzou Tanyan, says he faced obstacles becoming a circus performer.
He said it took courage to get involved in circus performance because his parents hate him doing it. Tanyan said, "If I was not here, I would be in the village right now, because they didn't want me to do this job. But thanks to God, today I have been able to develop my skills to this level.”
Atoufa’s performance reflects the ongoing war in Burkina Faso against armed terrorist groups, said Tanyan.
He said the movements of the performance help them express what it is like to experience war. He said that the war has changed everyone's lives in Burkina Faso.
The festival, said to be the largest of its kind in West Africa, has helped promote African circus performers internationally, said RICA director Djedje.
“There are many from the continent who have gone on to Cirque du Soleil. And now they want to come back to the continent and create a circus that is much more of their identity, that is linked to African traditions," Djedje said.
The festival is taking place as West African nations, including Ivory Coast, are dropping mandatory COVID-19 testing for arriving travelers who are fully vaccinated.