To settle in sub Saharan Africa was something obvious, first of all regarding the language. Then, I didn’t want to go to countries that were troubled by a rebellion, neither to countries that were too Europeanized, like Senegal or Ivory Coast. The remaining options were Benin, Togo, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Cameroon.
Residency in Cameroon
During the 1998 Cameroon residency, the company performed “The tales, presages of Little negro tales”, and the show “the Cameroon tour by bike”. It is also during this residency that the Little Giant made his first steps.
We went up and down these countries with a four wheel drive car, exhausted, covered with dust, during days and days. Sometimes we had panic fears, because of the people blocking the routes and other adventures of that kind… Anyway, I chose straight away the far North, for its dry landscape when the West is so green that you could think you’re in Auvergne.
On day we went through Foulou in Cameroon. There was a huge place with no one living there, protected from the sun thanks to trees. We chose it, we had no idea it was one of the sacred place of the village. I couldn’t have done this without having the approval from the chief of the village. It is hard to understand, but, actually, African people both believe and don’t believe. Or they think that their beliefs are not the same when it comes to foreign people.
When we arrived, the first man we met chased us with a stick to make us understand the place was forbidden. It is a place where chickens, sheep, were killed, something about quiet sacrifices, like other places over the world. But we saw that it was possible for us to have our camp there, once the weeds removed, because it looked a bit like a virgin forest.
The chief of the village listened to us; he understood roughly that we wanted to do some kind of theatre. He felt like –I am being straight forward – it would be good that White people come to settle in his village because White people, they have money, and they would bring money to the village. Indeed, we hired cooks, people to do the washing-up, watchers, and couturiers. This economical dimension has an important place in Africa.
And when I asked to the chief – all this is very formal, African style though, because there are kids around, the door is open, but as soon as the chief speaks, it becomes silent – if we could stay on this sacred place for six months, he thought about it for a moment, and then he said: “Go ahead”. After three weeks, I understood something else: where we settled, there was a termite mound that features in one of the little black tales and termite mounds in Africa are evil. Someone told us: If you put your hand in it, you’ll find a hundred rats, and your hand will be eaten. Sometimes later, the rumor spread from villages to villages: The White people had chased the devil! Royal de Luxe took part of the local mythology.
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« La nuit tombe. Les contes se suivent, brassant des histoires d’Afrique et d’Occident, mariant les comédiens et les marionnettes dans un bric à brac poétique. »
« Depuis son arrivée au Cameroun, en octobre 1997, la compagnie joue le soir sur les places de village ou sur les marchés, en plein soleil, à l’heure où les marchands remballent […]. »
« Dans ce village d’irréductibles bosseurs – neuf heures par jour minimum -, à une heure par la route du moindre téléphone, à des milliers de kilomètres de leurs familles, quand on leur demande ce qu’ils sont venus chercher, les allumés se marrent. Même fatigués, esseulés ou lassés par la promiscuité, leurs yeux brillent à la belle étoile. ‘Peut être une autre façon de travailler, une autre liberté ou un autre éclat de rire !’ S’exclame Jean-Luc Courcoult, le ‘patron’, planqué sous de grosses lunettes bariolées et un petit chapeau de paille. »
« Cette bande d’allumés, c’est Royal de Luxe. Une troupe qui depuis quinze ans réinvente un théâtre de rue tonique et formidable. Qui d’Aurillac à Avignon ne nous a jamais déçues. Elle s’est installée six mois au Cameroun et ce jour de janvier joue ses « Petits Contes Nègres » devant des Africains eux même au bord de l’insolation. »
« 'Ce pays me réchauffe le coeur par sa simplicité, son mystère. Cela me change de l’Europe hystérique. Au Cameroun, il y a 247 ethnies, cela veut dire autant d’imaginaires différents sur la vie. Fabuleux !' Jean-Luc Courcoult »