By Chris Torch
Senior Associate and Program Director - Intercult
I had a friend once, his name was Mandiaye N’Diaye. Mandiaye called himself an Afro-European. He was born in Senegal, in a small village near Dakar. At 18, he emigrated to Ravenna, Italy and met the director of the municipal theatre, Marco Martinelli. They became close friends and worked for years together until Mandiaye moved back to Senegal, where he prematurely died.
Mandiaye told me this story:
“In my village when we gather for a cultural action, for storytelling, we gather in a circle. Everyone. Children, old people, dogs, the artist herself. The artist steps into the centre of the circle, and (s)he begins to perform, dance, sing or tell a story. The people watching frame the performance. I see into the faces of my neighbours on the other side of the circle, watching together, sharing space. I see their reactions, I respond to them. The artist is not the point. The artist is important, in fact the key. But the point is the circle.”
This natural relationship was transformed, sometime in the 1600s, probably around the same time the design of churches was changed. A French king decided to divide the circle, to re-build it into two half-circles: stage and audience. All light on me, darkness for you. You don't even know who's sitting with you or how many of you are there, because you're busy watching me.
Mandiaye said that his task as a cultural worker in Europe today is to re-create the circle.