In the Balance:  The Circus Comes to Town

Meet circus collective Théâtre Nomade, one of the troupes at the heart of Morocco’s contemporary and vibrant circus culture.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
The group takes a break after hosting a convention for Drosos, the French charitable foundation that financially supported Théâtre Nomade from 2011 to 2017.

Meet circus collective Théâtre Nomade, one of the troupes at the heart of Morocco’s contemporary and vibrant circus culture.

Just north of Casa Voyageurs station in Casablanca, stand two blue and yellow vinyl tents topped with Moroccan flags brightening their industrial surroundings. Les Anciens Abattoirs is a slaughterhouse complex on the edge of Hay Mohammadi that was built in 1912 and shut down in 2002.

Since then, turning the Abattoirs into a cultural center has been the project of local artists and civic groups. Circus company Théâtre Nomade was the first of many artistic groups invited by Casa Patrimonie to breathe new life into the abandoned complex in 2015.

However, in June 2016, the City of Casablanca evicted the groups in an attempt to reclaim the space, claiming that the Abattoirs is unsafe for inhabitation. After facing homelessness, Théâtre Nomade obtained permission from the local wali to remain in Abattoirs for the time being.

Now, despite mounting bureaucratic obstacles and a crumbling home, the young artists, acrobats, and technicians of Théâtre Nomade look toward the future.

Théâtre Nomade’s tent is staked among the cobblestones between the railroad tracks and the remaining buildings of Les Anciens Abattoirs, an abandoned slaughterhouse complex in the working-class neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
Théâtre Nomade’s tent is staked among the cobblestones between the railroad tracks and the remaining buildings of Les Anciens Abattoirs, an abandoned slaughterhouse complex in the working-class neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
The bright yellow caravan of married couple Ibtissam and Youssef.  They met when they both started working for Théâtre Nomade.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
Director and founder Mohammed “Mao” El Hassouni shares his vision over Friday couscous: “Girls are the future of this country,” he says.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
In the courtyard between the tent and the caravans, Soumya, El Hassouni’s wife and Noureddine, a deaf craftsman, papier-mâché a mask for the winter version of Les Oiseaux, an adaptation of Aristophanes’ play The Birds. Les Oiseaux, Théâtre Nomade’s 2017 production, deals with themes of migration and corruption.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
Performer Gomuri shows a student how to hold the diabolo in a workshop with a private school.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
Abdelbasset as the master of propaganda seeking the bird king’s favor.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
Zaina, El Hassouni’s daughter, on aerial silks.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
Oumaima dancing.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
The group takes a break after hosting a convention for Drosos, the French charitable foundation that financially supported Théâtre Nomade from 2011 to 2017.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
Houssine shares a moment with Lina, his and Oumaima’s newborn daughter.
Théâtre Nomade in neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca.
Overnight bags pile up by the car as the group prepares to travel to Oujda, a city near the Algerian border, to perform Les Oiseaux at the national theater there.