ROOTS in Brazil - The Voice of the Body Workshop with Teresa Ralli
The Voice of the Body Workshop with Teresa Ralli: Connecting Community Through Breath By: Ebony Noelle Golden Alternate Roots Artist Delegate “...an almost broken leg, an earthquake, an international journey.... a completion six years in the making...” By the time I realize the one and only Teresa Ralli is teaching a workshop at the Hemispheric Institute’s Encuentro this year, it is full. She capped her workshop at twelve people, but I don’t care. I have to take this workshop. One does not often have the opportunity to work with a master teacher who has worked for many years to bridge the gap between cultural institutions and community; art-making and activism. I have to be there. So even though my name is not on the list, even though I did not sign up on time, even though I am breaking the rules once again, I have to take this workshop. I have to finish a process that was abruptly halted almost six years ago, when my body and my voice, I figured, totally gave up on me. Let me rewind a bit and explain. It is summer 2007. New York sweats, sizzles and sings a relentless heat. I uproot my life in beautiful Durham, NC to begin an intensive one-year Master’s program in Performance Studies at NYU. Although the experience will last one year, it offers the opportunity to study abroad in Lima, Peru. A small cohort of students under the direction of professor Jill Lane fly to Lima for an intensive cultural and academic study with Teatro Yuyachkani. We study performance, mask-making, Peruvian culture, politics, theory, music and dance. The foundation of the intensive is Teresa Ralli’s workshop, The Voice of the Body. The workshop builds on traditional movement and breathing techniques that help strengthen performers’ ability to communicate internal and external narratives. These techniques include Tai Chi, yoga, breath work from a number of traditions, improvisation with texts and objects, partner work and much more. While New York’s heat pulses like a Bronx basement house party, Lima’s August is cold, foggy and sometimes rainy. My body struggles to stay warm. My body can’t find its rhythm. My body can’t find its voice or its breath. I am struggling with the course. It’s mostly in Spanish, not the Spanish I grew up speaking on my block in Houston. This is academic Spanish. I feel silent. I feel anxious. I feel upset, often. Then the unimaginable happens. During one of our sessions, I kick my leg in an effort to do a mock/modified karate move and I fall. I sprain my ankle terribly. I can’t move, the class has come to a hault; I am totally defeated. I am done! Doctors, needles, bandages and crutches all follow. Damn! Then several days later an earthquake devastates Lima and some coastal communities, killing many people. There are aftershocks for several days. I can’t sleep. I can barely walk. I want out of Lima, now! I want out of this entire experience. Back to the present. I must sneak into this workshop, if it's the last thing I do. One of the organizers explain my situation to Teresa and I am allowed to stay. For the next three days my body, my spirit and my voice open immensely. I re-engage silence. I come back to my breath. I play. I improv. I quiet my eyes and look deeply at my co-performers. I relax my fears and understand Teresa’s poetic use of Spanish. Her intimate ability to make the profound accessible and simple. Her ability to pack so much into six hours. I learn that performers who don’t have a breathing practice might as well hang it up. The foundation of life is ability to connect through the breath. She asks us to lengthen the space between our inhales and exhales, to not be afraid of a little sweat, to find the breath in each word. She asks us to consider the vibration of each word and how that vibration communicates with our core. She asks us to imagine that vibration pouring out through the crown of our head. She reminds us that a performer who cannot communicate with herself surely cannot communicate with anyone else. Punto! At the end of the first session I write. when the body is blocked movement is violent when the body says no the breath withers and there are no options for rescue but when the body flies the breath is a freedom song growing now going now singing wildly through muscles and blood A community that breathes together, builds together. A community that breathes together, heals together. A community that breathes together, liberates together. How can this collective breathing happen for individuals, institutions, communities, artists, administrators, funders, workers, spiritualists, teachers, construction workers, farmers, doctors, nurses? When we have nothing else, we have breath. How can we leverage a collective practice of breathing to shift harmful cultural practices, policies and thought patterns that oppress people all over the world? This is a question for cultural workers all over the world. This is a question for the members of Alternate ROOTS. This is a question that could possibly connect the progressive cultural work in the U. S. South to social change work in the Global South. The time is now. We have nothing to lose but stagnation, hesitation and separation. Personally, this season of my life has offered me much in the way of returning to the past to complete some things that I have left incomplete. From the personal to the professional, I have had to complete what I have started in relationships, creative projects and dreams. The opportunity to travel to Sao Paulo as a delegate with ROOTS has helped me complete and heal a space in my life that has been a sore spot in my heart for almost six years. I am forever grateful to the good folks at ROOTS as well as the opportunity to complete my training with Teresa. Let us all breathe and be healed!