By Kasia Kazimierczuk, photos by Francesco Galli unless otherwise mentioned.
(Originally posted on the Odin Teatret Travellog, 2016)
A SHORT INTRO
“The Bridge of Winds”, a pedagogical project of Iben Nagel Rasmussen, has been invited by the Centro Cultural SESC (Servico Social do Commercio) Paraty to work for three weeks in the town of Paraty in Brasil. To make it happen, it took many years of hard work on the part of Carlos Simioni, a participant of The Winds from the very beginning in 1990, who is working with the Centro on a two-year theatre project called APA – Atelier de Pesquisa do Ator (Actor Research Studio).
Day 1 ( day off)
We are staying in the historic part of Paraty, at pousadas (bed & breakfast) located in renovated 18th. century houses. Ours (Rita de Cassia Melo Marques) is full of figures and paintings of saints. The living room, dominated by a big picture of Santa Rita, the patron saint of our hostess, Rita Marques, hides lots of little treasures, like an outdoor altar with a Madonna figure, which Rita puts out and lights for the evenings (the Madonna normally sleeps and spends the rainy days indoors) or wooden sculptures of St. Joseph and Maria, holding tiny flowers made from the metal of beer cans.
THE FIRST SUPPER
The first supper together always makes everybody incredibly happy. Iza Jurkowska Vuorio (16 years in the project, Polish, living in Finland) called the feeling “extatic”. Everybody feels like we saw each other the day before. Guillermo Angelleli (24 years in the project, Argentinian) said: “We have this weird connection. We don’t email each other, we don’t se
e each other for a year, and it’s like with family members – you see them after a long break and it’s like you spoke yesterday. It’s the blood connection – maybe we have the wind connection“. Annemarie Waagepetersen (16 years in the project, Danish) says there is “something very strange about time as if jumping and stopping – it feels like this work is going on without the time passing in between the meetings.”
DAY 2 (first day of work)
The Winds’ training is like a performance. I’ve been observing it for 16 years (I tried to calculate it – I’ve probably seen at least 300 trainings of The Bridge of Winds) and it never gets boring. It consists of the work on producing different, very precise kinds of energy by the actor’s body and by the whole group. Over the years, as it has been changing from technical to more “playful”, its fixed structure has become almost dramatic. The whole group changing the quality of energy in the space, the dialogue between the different kinds of energy, the improvisations in pairs that change every day – it’s like watching a new story every morning, really keeping you on your toes, waiting for what is going to happen today.
This training is the language of The Winds. They come into the working room after several months of not seeing each other, and they do the whole, one-hour structure of the training, with perfect communication, like they’d stopped the day before, not a year ago. Even though the group consists of people with very varied experience: some have been working in it for almost 30 years, for some it’s their second meeting, some are professional actors, some do theatre work only during the Winds’ meetings. The first training in Paraty was summed-up by Iben with a statement: “I don’t know what to teach you anymore.”
When asked how he felt about the first training of each meeting, Guillermo said: “Touched. In the working room we don’t communicate with words or verbal information, but the feeling of being together through this special way of working is very strong.” Iza adds: “It makes me feel alive. Makes me see that my life makes sense. And I can see that all the ransom I’ve had to pay life to be able to continue this work and come to the Winds’ meetings, has been worth it.” “It’s like drinking water when you’re thirsty,” comments Annemarie.
THE SEAMSTRESS’ THREAD
“They think they have costumes and don’t even see that this skirt is pink instead of white, because the colour of the red belt ran in the laundry, she has gained weight and needs a whole new costume, that dress is stained, and that one – has a hole right on her buttocks!”, screams the frustrated Antonella Diana, a set designer at Teatret Om, now helping the Winds with the set, props, and costumes for several years. On top of all the ruined costumes she has to dealwith, Antonella was provided with a sewing machine that was just as beautiful as it was broken…
Antonella needs help, otherwise she’ll soon need psychiatric help. So we help: I assist her with cutting out a full-circle skirt (that was fun – I had no idea how those skirts are born), someone hand-sews the rim, someone else makes the belt.
Oh – and making a straw skirt out of plastic cord for two hours was incredibly relaxing…
THE CONCERT HITS THE ROAD
One of the performances the Winds have, is a concert entitled “Voices of the Wind”, made up of songs from about a dozen different countries, including Finland, Italy, Brazil, Poland, Denmark, and Spain.
Yesterday, we used it for our first barter in Brazil, with a fishing community in the village of Tarituba. The drive there was incredibly beautiful, with mountains on one side, and little aquamarine-coloured bays and lush green islands on the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The barter was in a small local culture centre, located almost on the sea-shore. The host performers were a group of dancers in their late 20’s – early 30’s and elderly musicians. Plus lots of the dancers’ children, some participating in the performance. One of the women told me “They have been with our group, absorbing our traditional culture, from the very beginning, since they were still in our bellies.” The group presented traditional local fishermen dances and songs, the men wearing wooden clogs, which are not made anymore, and which made great rhythm on the floor. Some of the women also practice other forms of dance: flamenco, ballet, and modern dance. All the young members of the group are very enthusiastic about the work they are doing, saying it is extremely important to them: “It is our culture, our heritage”. And they obviously have lots of fun doing it, too. At the end, we were treated to traditional, local food: mussel soup and fish fried in a very special coating. I was told that the name of the fish translates into “wife of a horse”. OK, let’s rub it in – it was DELICIOUS!
(Picture above by Antonella Diana)
BREAKFAST AT SANTA RITA’S
Our hostess at the pousada makes such wonderful breakfasts, that not only did we all fall in love with her and nicknamed her Santa Rita, but the Winds sang one of their concert songs for her at her house, and I can’t keep myself from writing a culinary post. One of the organizers told me gourmet breakfasts were a traditional specialty of the Brazilian pousadas. The ones at Santa Rita’s consisted of about 25 different dishes. There we go:
- ‘Couscous baked with corn.
- Boiled corn cob.
- Baked bananas with cinnamon.
- Two kinds of home-made cakes.
- Cottage cheese, hard cheese, two kinds of cold meats.
- Scrambled eggs.
- Fresh fruit: melons, papaya, pineapple, locally grown bananas, and supermarket bananas for someone who would be crazy enough to eat them in this context.
- Yoghurt and muesli.
- Two kinds of home-made jams.
- Two kinds of freshly squeezed fruit juice.
- Bread, butter, peanut butter.
- Mate, coffee, and hot milk
When we get back from work in the afternoon, Rita waits for us with soup, coffee, cake, toasts with fish pâté, and occasionally – a sip of cachaça with passionfruit juice. Well – wouldn’t you sing for Santa Rita, too?
THE BABY WINDS
“Baby Winds” was a nickname given by The Bridge of Winds to a younger group Iben created ten years after she started the project, The New Winds. Of course, the “babies” immediately started calling the older group The Viejos. The name-calling stopped only after the two groups mingled into one ten years later.
But now, some of the Winds have real babies. And those babies grow. Fast.
The two daughters of Tippe Molsted (25 years in the project, Danish), Emilie and Frida, have been with us since they were born. I remember them as two little girls hanging around me in the tent, where I was making some flower decorations at Odin Teatret. I asked them to be careful of the thorns on the rose-stems I was cutting off from the flowers and throwing on a pile on the ground. And of course the first thing the little rascals did, was to jump into that pile of thorny rose-stems. And scream. LOUD. Those two for sure knew their resonators already at the age of five. Of course – they had been “absorbing the tradition” since they were in their mum’s belly, just like the kids of the dancers at the fishing community we bartered the other day.
And their voices can be heard with double resonance today, as those now two beautiful ladies rock among the “Viejos” in the concert, and Emilie has even become the Musical Director of The Bridge of Winds.
This is what she says about the Winds’ influence on her professional development: “I’m a different kind of artist, as I am a pop singer. Pop music is rooted in the North American tradition, but the Bridge of Winds has given me the courage to reach into my own roots, the Danish folk songs. The work of the Winds is the artistic foundation for me. It helps my way of using my body and voice make sense: to use the body to make resonance, to be present in my work, both physically and mentally, and to be able to overcome being tired or in a bad mood, expanding the energy and keeping the flow, being the channel for the expression.”
All the Winds who are parents, try to bring their children to the group’s meetings whenever they can. Here in Brazil, we have a team of three Baby Winds: Annemarie’s son, Lauritz,
and Leo and Thit, the son and daughter of Signe Thomsen (17 years in the project, Danish). During the barter with the fishing community, Leo spent a few hours playing football with some big, local guys. We don’t know if the present babies will continue the tradition of The Bridge of Winds or become bankers, but Leo for sure already knows his barter skills.
Yesterday the Baby Winds got a very special task, to make initial contact with the indigenous Guarani community we are going to have a barter with next week. Emilie, Frida, Soren (Emilie’s boyfriend) along with Signe accompanied by her son, Leo, went to the Guarani village with a little performance for the children. Even Leo had his little number in it.
We were told this was a very closed community. Thus the idea to make the first contact through the children. You make the little ones happy – you win their parents as well.
Well, looks like it worked. Good job, Baby Winds!
THE STEALING AND THE FLOW
Now the students of Carlos have arrived. He works with four groups in Brazil, 70 people total, out of which he invited 30 actors to come and observe the work of the Winds. In the morning, we had a training exchange with half of them, members of the APA project, which started three years ago and meets every month for one weekend. The other half, coming from an older project of Carlos, called Patuanú (after a mythical bird from the Amazon), who have been working with Carlos for 8 years, were observers.
The APA training was developed by Carlos and Stepháne Brodt. The training starts with jongo, a dance coming from the African tradition, followed by work on physical actions, starting from working in pairs, where one person holds a piece of cord, and tries to defend it from the other, who attempts to take it away from them. Then the actions are done without the partner and cord. The next stage of the training is the Wind Dance, the “iconic” exercise created by Iben with The Bridge of Winds. Much to our surprise and joy, it started with one of the songs the Winds use in their training. The sequence of APA’s Wind Dance is a little shorter than the Winds’. They have created a very nicely structured way of changing the pairs improvising in the middle of the room, while the rest of the group dances in two lines. The pair that is going to leave the floor invites the next pair and once they start dancing together, the “old” pair withdraws back into the line. Since changing the pairs has always been a difficult moment in the Winds’ training, often creating micro-breaks in the flow of the energy when someone is undecided for a second whether they should be in the next pair or not, the Winds immediately “stole” APA’s way of inviting the next pair and already used it in their training the next morning.
Iben explained the concept of “stealing”, saying The Bridge of Winds is not a fixed group, the members meet once a year and then go back to their own theatres, where they are free to develop the Winds’ work in any way they want. She also encourages the Winds to observe the individually created exercises in the training and “steal” the ones they like from each other. “Transmitting the training exercises or the songs to all these different groups all over the world keeps the tradition going,” added Guillermo. Then Iben gave us an example of “stealing” by using a group of actors from APA with their jongo dance in the performance she is currently working on with the Winds.
Then we were shown a demonstration of three APA actors working with the text. The work was developed entirely by Carlos, who created his own terminology and metaphors, which translate into very clear actions and kinds of energy in the actor’s body. They speak of the actor being surrounded by a “magnetic field”, which consists of different layers of energy. The farther away from the centre (where the actor stands), the stronger the energy is. To pass from one “layer” to the next, the actor must break through a very thin “membrane”.
One term Carlos uses, the idea behind which is common to both groups, is “fluxus”, meaning the continuity, the constant flow of energy in the work. “Energy is not a notion belonging in the working vocabulary of the Odin, but I haven’t found a better word,” says Iben. “Each of the exercises in this training will make your body produce a specific kind of energy, even without you wanting it to. The training, which lasts about one hour, is to keep you physically and mentally awake for its duration, which is the length of an average performance. When you find the flow in the training, you will not get tired. If you cut it, you will have to start gathering the energy from the beginning again.”
At the end of the working session, we were surprised by the appearance of a band of folk musicians, led by an old master, who said he “wanted to sing for the Danish woman”. The APA actors performed to their music the same fishermen dance we saw at the barter the other day. Then Carlos said that together with the band, they discovered that the rhythm of the Wind Dance is the same as in the traditional tune of the mazurka. So the old master played a mazurka and all the participants and observers danced the Wind Dance to it. 60 people! When asked how it felt for her to see 60 people dancing the Wind Dance, Iben said: “Overwhelming and touching”.
THE TIDE AND THE STONES
There are two stories connected to the way the streets of Paraty were built.
The first one says they were made from stones that served as ballast on the ships carrying slaves, who had to unload them and build the roads, as soon as they landed. Walking on those cobblestones reminds me a little of walking on the set of Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” in Kraków, where they built a road of Jewish tombstones… And it is also very difficult physically to walk on them – you can’t look around at all the beautiful houses and colourful shops or you break a leg. Going to dinner is like hiking a mountain. Of course, Sofia Monsalve (Colombian, former actress of Odin Teatret, 7 years in the project), who works with the stilts, dares the Paraty cobblestones on high heels and Antonella (in the photo) – wearing flip-flops.
The second story involves the sea. The town was constructed in such a way, that twice a day, when the tide is high, the water floods the streets and cleans them. There are special elevated passages that let you walk with dry feet through the half-meter high water in the streets. They are also made from those darn stones – not easy to come home after a caipirinha..
STRESSFUL WORKING CONDITIONS
A few words about our working space here. It was founded by a lady named Vanda Mota, who welcomed us with these words: “I’m so very happy to give our space to this artistic fraternity of people who are trying to develop as artists and as human beings in those very dark times we are living in right now.”
Called the Silo, it is located in an old granary, which was brought to Paraty and rebuilt here by Vanda. The working room is built from ancient wood, with gaps between the old planks, and a ceramic tiled roof. The windows have no glass panes – they are always open onto a spectacular v
iew of the mountains overgrown with tropical forest in a thousand shades of green.
The building is surrounded by a garden full of the most incredible plants (one of the flowers is called “lobster claw” – guess which), and my “office” is shaded by palm trees. I’m writing this blog accompanied by hummingbirds (hoping to catch one with my camera…) and from time to time an iguana will honour me with a visit, passing by my improvised table with its dignified trot.
“Gosh! What a high stress environment for work!” exclaimed a friend of mine, who is currently trying to stay warm on the Northern hemisphere.
All this nature also makes sounds. The most horrific of them is the screech of the cicadas, which have nothing to do with the pleasant chirping of the crickets we know, but sounds just like an electrical polishing-machine. Opinions differ as to whether they make this sound when dying, calling a mate, or experiencing their “petite mort”. Either way, it gives us the shivers.
( 4 photos above by Kasia Kazimierczuk)
IBEN’S ENCHANTED GARDEN
On our last day of work at the Silo, we had a barter with children from the indigenous Guarani community the Baby Winds had visited the other day.
With the Winds’ street figures, using every bit of Silo’s amazing architecture and its back-yard, Iben created a garden full of secrets for the kids. Greeted at the entrance by the Baby Winds’ parade characters in Balinese masks (God knows why nicknamed “The Frogs”…), the spectators were led through a maze-like route, where a surprise was waiting for them around every corner.
First they saw an enchanted princess in a castle tower – Tatiana Cardoso’s (20 years in the project, Brazilian) otherwise quite spooky character. Funny how a change of the context (children, tropical garden, music) changed its meaning from scary to a fairy tale. Then they met Signe’s Butler figure on stilts, who later on disclosed Signe’s beautiful face from under the old man’s mask. Round the corner, there was Lina Della Rocca’s (27 years in the project, Italian) street clown Gelsomina, waiting for them with a tray of water in little cups. On the Silo’s grass lawn, they saw a little scene with Sofia’s stilted African figure and Jori Snell’s (16 years in the project, Dutch) parade character we nicknamed The Skunk (no fragrance special effects in its repertoire yet, though).
In the working room upstairs, the Winds sang a couple of the fun songs from the concert, and the kids performed their traditional songs and dances. One was fascinating – a boys’ dance, which was actually warrior training. The little guys jumping over the back of their teacher were really impressive. The teacher told us that nowadays, the dance is performed only as a way of preserving traditional culture, because we are living in the times of peace. Well… let’s hope she’s right in her optimism…
At the end, after sharing a meal of fruit and cookies, the actors played traditional Danish games with the children on the grass lawn. Iben sure knows how to make kids’ eyes shine with amazement. (Grown-ups’ as well, actually, but it would have been soooo much fun to have met her when we were 7 years old…).
Last Saturday, we had a barter with a group working on traditional Afrobrazilian music and dance, under a SESC project called “Matriz Africana”, from the nearby town of Ubatuba. It took place in the beautiful, shaded garden of Silo Centro Historico, another space ran by Vanda, in the historic old town of Paraty.
The barter started with the Winds’ concert, which received a standing ovation. Then Matriz Africana presented two dances: coco and jongo, and that was about it for the “official presentations”, as we were invited to participate in the dancing and warned that it could go on all night long.
“I got really scared when this very decided girl came up to me and pulled me into the middle of the circle to dance with her in front of everybody, when I was only beginning to figure out the step,” said Guillermo. “When they invited us, Iben told us ‘Now you must go and join them’, so I went, and suddenly found myself all alone dancing in the middle of the circle!” adds Sandra Pasini (23 years in the project, Italian).
But after the initial moment of the Winds’ “stage (or, rather, roda)-fright” and trying out their first steps, pure axé followed… And we really regretted we couldn’t stay with them all night, the “overworked Viejos” that we are…