In 2016, Eden – the Cultural Centre and Centre for Expression and Creativity of the city of Charleroi – set up La Grande Parade, one of the folklore troupes of the Charleroi Carnival which aspires to reflect the diversity of the city’s population. La Grande Parade brings the folklore of the ‘Pays noir’, or the Black Country as the region is known, back to life. Successfully so: this year brought together over 500 participants. A community event that gets under way well ahead of time.
“The various participants in La Grande Parade start designing and preparing the costumes, props, etc. at home from as early as September. Come February, we all get together at Eden’s large concert hall, which is transformed into one big creative space, dubbed La Grande Fabrique for the occasion,” explains Sandrine Schenkel, who is in charge of the projects at Eden.
Over a three-week period, La Grande Fabrique throws its doors wide open to anyone who would like to join in the carnival festivities: “Children, pensioners, disabled people, workers, migrants… regardless of whether or not they are born and bred Carolos (Charleroi residents) or whether or not they are artists,” Eden’s manager Fabrice Laurent goes on to specify. “The event, both the preparation side and the actual parade, is all about bringing people together. The aim is to get people to rally behind a common project.”
One of the participants is Charlotte Belayew, who works for the Présence et Action Culturelles (Cultural Presence and Action) movement, known as PAC for short. PAC is the driving force behind Les Sorcières (The Witches) carnival troupe which takes part in La Grande Parade. All of their costumes were designed and made at La Grande Fabrique. “The place has been around for a few years, it’s becoming increasingly well known, it’s very open-minded, you can go from table to table, talk to people, exchange ideas… it’s very friendly. Sometimes I’ll just drop round for a coffee and a chat with people,” she says.
The aim is to bring people together around a shared project
This huge creative workshop not only allows us to connect as people but also to make original creations.
To this end, numerous workshops are organised, led by artists, where the costumes are made, the sculptures and sets for the floats are built, the choreographies and musical performances are concocted, and so on. All of these workshops are open to participants who come in of their own volition and to any of the traditional troupes that already exist. For their creations, the Maison Médicale (Medical Practice) of the neighbouring town of Gilly for instance worked with visual artist Peggy Francart around the oeuvre of 16th century Italian painter Arcimboldo. In doing so, the medical staff, the patients and the administrative workers drew inspiration from the world of vegetables, plants and fruit to design their costumes, first on paper, then transferred to a 3D model.
A socially engaged parade
Through La Grande Fabrique project, La Grande Parade is also committed to showing a different take on a traditional popular event such as carnival. “We mainly use recovered or recycled materials. And we do not use any recorded music. All music is played live by the brass band, ” Fabrice Laurent says.
Alongside the artistic and colourful aspect of the Parade, this distinctive procession has a lot to say about society, which it does through actions in the public arena. “We defend the utopian view of a society where everybody has his rightful place, regardless of their social background or their abilities. We advocate an inclusive and resilient society,” Fabrice Laurent goes on to add. “In wearing masks and costumes, we flout the rules, break away from the codes and, above all, we rave it up together.” All of which comes doused with a good dose of humour and satire.
We defend the utopian view of a society where everybody has his rightful place.
The Sorcières troupe is an apt example of this view. Over the course of various PAC activities, Charlotte Belayew has challenged feminism through the image of the witch, which she embodies in La Grande Parade along with other participants. “Dressing up as a witch enables us to debunk stereotypes. We censure patriarchal society and the way in which women are rendered invisible.”
A “joyous jumble”
To descibe this creative cauldron, Sandrine Schenkel likes to share this rather typical image of the “joyous jumble” that is the Carolo Carnival: “It’s grotesque and satirical, it has a roughness about it that is well worth embracing.” To her mind, the true spirit of the Charleroi Carnival is unfolding its wings
On the day of the Carnival, La Grande Parade weaves its way through the streets and alleys of Charleroi before ending on Place du Manège where the Raven is sentenced and burnt on a huge bonfire. A great occasion for the city to dispel all the dark thoughts of its residents and where people welcome the arrival of spring with boisterous good cheer.
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©Vidéo/Reed & Jérôme Gobin