barefoot in Ecuador: Birth of an Arts Festival !

Wednesday, July 12, 2017



It all started with a surprising phone call …

In late August 2016, we were in Greece discovering the country, its culture and enjoying the delightful food and climate as part of our research on the author of Zorba, the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis. In the middle of a working lunch one day, when we were in Sciathos island, Eric gets a call - it was the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa himself! He invited Eric to perform at first international arts festival in Loja. It was a big honour and an exciting opportunity to help the president in his strategy to spread culture to all parts of his country.

Eric had become acquainted with the President a couple of years previously in Avignon. He offered his support to the president and his team to design and build the first arts festival in the rural town of Loja. Then there were several delays, due in part to the 2016 earthquake, when a state of emergency was declared in the country.

It was not easy to squeeze in this very long trip to Loja into an already busy schedule, but Eric really wanted to support the Ecuadorian president, and so a suitable date was found.

Getting ready to perform in Spanish…

Eric decided to perform “Afrika”, which he thought was a good fun entertainment that would attract wider audience and thereby bring more people to the theatre. He also decided that he needed to perform in Spanish for the people of Loja. This was no small challenge as Eric does not actually speak Spanish!There was little time to prepare. It was then the beginning of September and the show was on November 23. In between those two dates, there were many planned trips with “Les Cavaliers” on tour in various locations in France, an artistic exchange with village schools in Zimbabwe and a mini holiday to South Africa in early November, followed by  performances of “Les Cavaliers" in the French Antilles in early December.

Eric as always took everything in his stride and stayed calm. He got stuck into translating the lines of “Afrika”, which he translated with help from his son, Theo, who is half Argentine and from Benjamin Penamaria, lead actor in “Les Cavaliers”, himself half Spanish. He also made up a couple of scenes especially for this  South American audience.

And then took it with him on all his travels, and practised pronouncing the words at every opportunity. In these photos, he is in South Africa having fun learning his lines!

Ecuador, here we come!

We travelled together with Mathos, Eric’s partner in “Afrika”, and Stephane Baquet, who was to manage the sound and light. We had a lot of luggage, most of which was the stage props and costumes, embarked on a very long journey, which involved 3 flights. We nearly nearly missed the first flight, due to having to complete US entry formalities, which we did not realise in advance. It was only thanks to a very kind ground hostess who took pity on us and agreed to check in all 7 pieces of luggage of various shapes and sizes at the last minute. I was convinced that we would lose some luggage along the way on our epic journey from Paris to Loja, via Atlanta and Quito. But 30 hours later, we arrived complete with luggage in time for setting up the stage for rehearsals. 

Mathos immediately set to work the same afternoon of our arrival to give a 3 hour dance and drums class. He was admirable to have the energy and charisma to lead a class after 30 hours and an 7 hour time zone difference! It was a hot and sunny afternoon in the centre of Loja. The people in the class were good dancers and really enjoyed learning African dance :).

Meanwhile Stephane went to the theatre to check out the sound and lighting equipment. It was a brand new theatre and some areas were not quite finished - a few missing door handles, rooms without furniture. It was a magnificent building. The equipment was state fo the art but no-one knew how to work it! That fact, coupled with the language barrier, meant that Stephane had his work cut out!

The show must go on…! And so it did, with huge success!

Heavily jet lagged and very little time to rehearse, Eric was cheerful and calm, taking journalists interviews in Spanish before and after the shows, speaking with an ease and fluency of a native! He has the innate talent of conveying images and telling stories that are clear, regardless of the language, or grammatical correctness for that matter!  The result is that people are touched - he establishes a rapport with people that transcends the language he is using.

The two performances went really well - the show is a lot about interacting and improvising with the public, and Eric was again talking to a full house of 800/900 people in Spanish. He and Mathos held that crowd in rapt attention throughout the show, ending with a lot of dancers on stage. It was such a joy to see happy crowds.

And all too soon, it was all over and we were winding our way back to Paris, taking 4 flights this time, with a whole day stopover in Atlanta airport on Thanksgiving day…We took back memories of the friendly and energetic people, and meeting artists from all over Latin America.

What next?

Eric promised to create a bridge between the two countries and with our small means, the link is now established between Loja and France. Next festival, there will be a music group, Accordzeam with the new show “Classic Instinct”, directed by Eric. At the same time, Eric will produce a show from Ecuador for Avignon in 2018.

Besos para todos!