ROOTS in Brazil - Tuesday, Jan. 15

Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Hemi Encuentro
by Will MacAdams

I am in a morning workshop called ‘The Voice’s Body’ with Teresa Ralli, a founding member of the Peruvian Theater Collective Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani. Her work integrates her vision and craft with elements of Suzuki, Yoga, Tai Chi, Linklater Training, and dance.   But that description doesn’t begin to express the peculiar magic of how she holds the space:  without judgment, and with a lens so wide that I see my body and hear my voice in new ways.  The highlight:  she asks us to share dances from our culture, and then later, in couples, we share our physical and ancestral vocabularies.  The responses are varied because our backgrounds are so diverse: salsa, dances from different parts of Brazil, Step, Afro-Cuban, the Cabbage Patch.  I cannot think of any WASP dances – and my knowledge of my Jewish cultural heritage is not deep at all – so I swing my arms wide in the sky to express the joy I feel when I dance, which feels like enough, and it is.

I spend the afternoon with Kenneth (Kenny) Bailey from Boston’s Design Studio for Social Intervention, and Aline Silva, a Brazilian director, performer and theater student. We walk around the center of São Paulo, speaking in Spanish about what we see and about life here.  My Spanish is proficient but far from fluent, so everything is experienced in incomplete glimpses: a building, just behind one of the main municipal buildings, that was once abandoned but has now been occupied by a group of folks, most of whom are homeless, and is lined with graffiti and adorned with flags; a bustling plaza where a man does a Michael Jackson routine and a homeless man says wryly to Aline, ‘I thought Michael Jackson was dead’; an outdoor shopping center where four retired men sit on crates offering advice for job seekers - a job to supplement their small social security incomes; discussion about the small percentage of black students in the public university system, despite the large size of the black community in the country, and the programs working to change that;  the São Paulo Cathedral, the largest church in São Paulo, with beautiful rose windows and capitals decorated with pineapples and coffee branches;  the Plaza de Sé, in front of the Cathedral, where a man holds a Bible and rants against homosexuality while a circle of men look on;  and in the plaza, on subway platforms, and against the side of buildings, people kissing.

At the end of the afternoon we sit down at a Japanese Brazilian restaurant, and I have a very popular version of Temaki that looks l
ike an ice cream cone of seaweed filled with rice and topped with salmon.  We talk in various languages: Aline and I speak in Spanish, although it is neither of our first language; Kenny and I talk in English, although he knows a few words in Portuguese; the waiter and Aline speak in Portuguese about the Japanese-Brazilian menu; and Aline and Kenny share an interest in Anime so a few Japanese words are threaded through. The conversation is wide-ranging:  whiteness; economic divides in Brazil and in the US; the work of the director Anne Bogart.  It all sounds serious and monumental, but mostly it is just joyful as the conversation flows and Kenny’s deep, belly laugh wraps around us.

Many performances that evening: La Pocha Nostra, from the U.S., Brazil, and Portugal; Luis Antonio-Gabriela, from Brazil.  That evening, I attend Transnocheo, the late night cabaret. Ebony Golden, from our group, performs in a piece alongside of Katrina de Wees, who I find out later went to Hampshire College, where I teach.  They are wrapped in stockings: over their faces, on their arms, dangling from a clothesline above them.  They dance side by side and wrap around one another.  They are seen and unseen, faceless spirits, in love and in struggle. When they take the stockings off their faces, I am captivated by Ebony’s eyes, which seem to see the whole room and which seem also to reflect what I can’t see / what I can barely see.  Later, an Argentinian performer named Marcela Fuentes performs her Kafkaesque journey through the ‘Extraordinarliy Talented Alien’  US Visa process while wearing a ski-mask and playing with wind-up toys.  Hilarious.

It is late now and I leave Transnocheo to go back to the hotel.  I walk along a street, lined with tables filled with people drinking and talking.  I see Aline and several of her friends, and I join them.  They are mostly theater students: two men who she introduces as clowns (and one of whom rolls his hat up his arm to prove it); her friend Karina, who does site-specific pieces (called Urban Interventions), including a recent one in the Japanese district called ‘Plaza de Liberdade.’  As we drink, several folks come up to the table to sell things.  One man, a white Brazilian, is selling gold chopsticks with a red cloth sleeve, which remind me of the chopstick sleeves my wife and I use on New Year's Day.

We pour each other beer and talk about theater.  Friendship.  One of the clowns tells me to speak English and not Spanish because 'Spanish is an ugly language.'    Laughter fills the table, as languages collide and slide in the glittering Brazilian night.