Thailand 2016 – Weeks Three & Four

February 9, 2016
aarongabrielcomposer

Interact Thailand for the weeks of January 24-February 5, 2016.  

A weekly update of the international collaboration between composer Aaron Gabriel (Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts) and the artists at Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development (RICD) as they create new musical theater in the spirit of radical inclusion.

The famous piano building at Rajanagarindra Institute for Child Development (RICD)

#internationalcollaboration

#newmusictheater

#radicalinclusion

#chiangmai

#artistsabroad

#yum


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Sun is smiling for The Dream Keeper photo shoot

On Sunday – week three – the sun finally came out, but everyone still wore four or five layers of clothing. I was in shorts and a t-shirt of course. There was a significant fear that I would get sick. Well…I didn’t get sick, but everyone else did. As week three went on, the number of student performers and staff dwindled until Friday when there were only about five of us here. Luckily, the plague seemed to pass over the weekend and everyone was back in action the following Monday.

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Photo shoot for The Dream Keeper


Throughout weeks three and four, we completed several songs including a fantasy song based on the question: If I could do anything I wanted, what would I do? There were many ideas including stretching like a rubber band into the sky, racing a turbo bike around Mars and eating at restaurants in every city in the world. We took all the ideas and combined them into a story about a little girl who turns into a balloon, takes a turbo bike into the stars and then plays badminton with a moon-rabbit. It’s a radical adventure and I’ve included the words for the song below.


 

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Photo shoot at Chiang Mai University.

On Wednesday, the students enjoyed a costumed photo shoot at Chiang Mai University. The weather was perfect and it shows in the photos. The light really grabs the luk thung-inspired color scheme.

 

We were also joined by several energetic new performers including Milk, Guitar, Bo, Mark and Sangtong. It was nice to add some new perspectives to the song-writing process.

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The performers rehearse The Baker’s Song with music director Pong

Director Gaew supplied us with lyrics and the new students composed a song about the joys of baking. We also community-composed a new song about going to college, finding love and finally getting a job that made “real money”.

 


STAFF PROFILES: Meet Newt!

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Newt shows some of the clay creations

Newt works in the Visual Arts area of the RICD Music and Drama.  (I have to apologize here.  I’ve been remiss in featuring the visual art staff at RICD and since half of Interact Center in Minnesota is visual art, I think it’s about time.)

Newt has been working at RICD for a little over a year. She studied at Rajabhat University in Chiang Mai and has degree in Art Education.

Newt wasn’t planning on working with people with disabilities. She assumed she would take a typical teacher track and be assigned to an elementary school, but one of her professors recommended that she intern at RICD.

“At first,” Newt confessed, “I admit I had NO idea what I was doing.  I didn’t understand disability at all.

2016-02-02 14.04.29“So I thought I’d stay at RICD for a little bit to bolster my resume. Time passed and my advisors were continually complimenting me on my work and the progress the students were making. The parents kept bring their students back to my tutorials and they added more students to my roster. Finally, I recognized this was something I was good at because I loved what I was doing.

“When I started, there were certain students I was afraid to work with – they appeared to be uncontrollable or aggressive. It turns out – because I’m patient and always consider long-term goals – I’m good with the most challenging students so now I look forward to getting to know them.”


MEET THE ARIST(S)

Meet Aomsin II and Jamesbond.

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Aomsin II and Jamesbond create melodies for the song ‘Badminton on the Moon.’

Aomsin II loves singing and all forms of music-making. Someday he would like to have his own album, but more than that he would like to play drums by himself all day in his room.

Aomsin II is a huge fan of the show Kom Faek.  He would love to play the lead character Saen because “he’s attractive and a good martial artist.”

Jamesbond has always loved watching performers and, at 32, is excited to finally try performing himself. He has always dreamed of writing songs like the Thai singer James Ruengsak so he’s excited to try the community song-writing exercises.

When he’s not song-writing, Jamesbond is at the races – motorcycle races to be exact. His father works at a car and motorcycle dealership so many of Jamebond’s lyrics revolve around vehicles.


FROM KERALA TO CHIANG MAI

On Saturday, I cooked a meal for May’s Mom. May is my collaborator Pong’s wife. May Mom (which is how I know her) is a great chef and makes time for a cooking lesson every time I’m here. This years cooking lesson included tam makua – grilled eggplant mash with shrimp paste, grilled peppers, mint and boiled egg.  (I’ve included the recipe below.)

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Making biryani in India

For May Mom, I decided to cook a masala I’ve prepared regularly since I was in India. I brought the spice blend from Kerela where my Indian cooking teacher Linda “Chechy” Nicko hand-selected, mixed and ground them together. If you’ve haven’t been lucky enough to taste this mix, it’s perfection. Every time I taste this masala, I am reminded how fortunate I am to have such profound international experiences.

Throughout the day, I discovered that more and more people were coming to eat so it was exciting trying to estimate how much I would need to feed everyone. (I failed to get enough coconut milk even though I bought a huge bag.) To my surprise, I felt very comfortable with the backyard wok, the ingredients and cooking in front of an audience.

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Linda’s masala at Pong and May’s

The food turned out really well and everyone complimented me by finishing their plates and eating their fill.  May Mom doesn’t eat at night so we saved her a healthy serving for breakfast.

Somehow between 11pm when we departed and morning when May Mom awoke, her masala was eaten by several ravenous individuals who will remain unnamed. Monday at RICD Pong told me the story and said: “This morning May Mom did that thing – what’s it called in English… you know, that thing just below yelling.”

“Shouting?” I said.

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One-year-old Please (Pong and May’s daughter) HOW AMAZING IS SHE???

“Yes. That’s it. This morning May Mom shout very loud,” Pong said.

Sorry, May Mom!  I promise to return to Thailand and rectify this injustice.

Tam Makua (Grilled eggplant mash)

3 Chinese eggplant (long, thin eggplant) – grilled, then peeled

1 clove garlic – roasted then peeled

3 shallots – peeled then grilled

¼ cup capi (shrimp paste) – grilled in banana leaf or foil

4-6 long hot green peppers (like Anaheim) – grilled, then peeled

Salt

4 Tbsp Fish sauce

2 eggs (boiled)

Fresh mint

Mash together grilled garlic, shallots and shrimp paste. Once blended, add peppers and continue to mash. Then add eggplant and mash until desired consistency. Add salt to taste. Plate the mash, the quarter the eggs and add as garnish along with sprigs of mint. Serve with sticky rice.


#YUM!

I can not think of enough exclamations to describe the culinary adventure that was the Friday Night Muslim Market in Chiang Rai. Every single sample was bursting with flavor and pristinely presented. Several of the standard dishes like noodle soup or Burmese hushpuppies I had enjoyed elsewhere, but this small street of cooks achieved a whole new level of culinary delight. The piece de resistance was the fried sour rice salad with sour beef, green mango and betel leaf. After the meal, we spent an hour trying to figure out if I could go back before my flight the following Friday night at 9pm. Thank you Pong and May for always introducing me to the most exciting food experiences Chiang Mai has to offer.

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Century Egg Som Tum

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Thai Noodle Bowl

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Sour rice salad with sour beef, betel leaf and green mango

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Thai grilled steak

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Burmese hushpuppy


 

BADMINTON ON THE MOON

When I float to the moon

No one notices me

My body stretches out like a balloon

 

I glide over houses and skyscrapers

Then my magic turbo bike appears

I grip the handlebars and sail through the stars in top gear

 

We land on the moon and I take my first moon-step

Everything glows in the earthlight

 

In the moon-dust I see a hundred of tiny pawprints

Zigging and zagging everywhere

Leading to the feet of the Moon Rabbit

 

In his front paws he holds a mortar and pestle

Containing purple rice powder

“If you eat this, you live forever.

Want to try?”

 

“’I’m not sure,” I say.

“I would rather play badminton.”

 

“Will you teach me, please?” he says

Setting down the mortar.

 

“Sure,” I reply. “But my swing is slow

On earth I always lose.”

 

“Don’t you know,” said Moon Rabbit

On the moon slow is fast. Fast is slow.

Here, you can move how you choose.”

 

“Also, I have only one racquet,” I say.

“We need two to play.

I’d offer you mine, but what will I use?”

 

“This will work fine,” he says,

Pestle in hand. “Please, serve.”

 

And so I serve.

 

Badminton on the moon

Is a wonderful time

No winners or losers

Only the joy of the game

 

“Can we play forever?” Moon Rabbit asks.

I reply: “That would be so much fun.”

 

“But my family will miss me too much.

And I failed to tell them where I’ve gone.

I will return. I promise you that.

Moon-minton is my new favorite game.”

 

“No, you will forget me. I know you will.

Forget me like everyone else has.”

 

“How could I?” I ask and pack up my bag.

“Every night when I look up, I will see you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thailand 2016 – Week Two

January 25, 2016
aarongabrielcomposer

Interact Thailand for the week of January 17-23, 2016.  

A weekly update of the international collaboration between composer Aaron Gabriel (Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts) and the artists at Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development (RICD) as they create new musical theater in the spirit of radical inclusion.

The famous piano building at Rajanagarindra Institute for Child Development (RICD)

#internationalcollaboration

#newmusictheater

#radicalinclusion

#chiangmai

#artistsabroad

#yum


Learning Dream Keeper Theme

The staff teaches the melody for the Dream Keeper theme.

This week in Chiang Mai the weather swung from 98 degrees on Saturday to 49 degrees on Sunday night.  Everyone put on layers of sweaters and couldn’t stop talking about how it snowed in Laos. I kept silent, considering my friends back home in MN.

This week also included writing a new song for The Dream Keeper, hiking up a mountain and welcoming Ryan Evans (and friends) from the Wilder Foundation. The Wilder Foundation will be working with Interact Theater in MN this coming year on a variety of agency strategies and other related projects including the translation of the project summaries from Thailand.

On Wednesday, my translator DJ and I took Ryan and his friends for a three-mile hike to the top of Doi Suthep to enjoy Wat Phra That Doi. The hilly terrain was challenging, but ultimately worth every step. The weather was heavenly – sunny and cool.

On Friday, Ryan and Co. visited RICD where the staff provided them with a generous array of Northern Thai foods including keaw gi (roasted sticky rice), ho nin gai (chicken “stew” steamed in banana leaf) and sai ooa (Northern Thia sausage). Breakfast was followed by a tour of the piano building and some shopping at the Mae Rim street market. In the afternoon, Pong and Tan taught them a part of The Dream Keeper theme in Thai and that evening we all enjoyed a traditional kantok dinner.  Everyone was very grateful they took the time to visit and explore the programs offered by RICD Drama and Music.


STAFF PROFILES: Meet Gaew!

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Fluke and Gaew

Gaew is the newest member of the RICD staff and will be directing The Dream Keeper.  Originally from Bangkok, she earned a degree in Mass Communications from Kasesart University.  Her love of theater began at Kasesart where, each year, her department put on an original large-scale theatrical production. Over her four years, she performed a variety of roles and eventually began directing. In her final year she worked at a television station as an assistant director, but decided she preferred the theater.

After university, she became a company member at Moradokmai Theater in Bangkok. Moradokmai is a Buddhist theater focussed on social action. It’s director, Khru Chang, is a well-known Thai theater-maker who uses both traditional Thai and non-traditional forms to create original work – often used in educational environments to illuminate marginalized rural perspectives. Gaew’s experience with Khru Chang helped her “study how theater can change people’s behavior – in the actor and the audience.”

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Gaew leads a physical warm-up

When asked about her new role at RICD, she responded “I’m very excited use the skills I’ve learned to help a disadvantaged group of people gain the ability to better communicate their stories.  I have taught theater to typical actors for a long time and see the opportunity to work with disabled performers as the ideal challenge.”


 

THE DREAM KEEPER 

Progress continues to be made every day. Like in the U.S., all the staff artists have several jobs so I a lot remains in flux. Admittedly, there are times I get confused as to whom I should be collaborating with, but it all works out in the end. I have found it’s best to always have a back-up plan so if everyone has suddenly gone missing, I can work on Plan B.

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The Dream Keeper gives a dream

In The Dream Keeper, a magical spirit called visits young people who are struggling to figure out what dreams mean and why they are important. Each person’s case is different: sometimes he gives dreams, sometimes he takes dreams away, sometimes he explains what a dream means and sometimes he creates confusion.

This week we worked on a section of the show where a young man with cerebral palsy struggles with his dream of being a musician.  He loves the sounds of the trumpet and guitar and piano, but his muscles won’t allow him to play an instrument.  The situation is made worse by the fact that his father is a famous conductor and is disappointed with his disabled son.

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The Dream Keeper takes dreams away

When the Dream Keeper visits, he tells the young man that the answer is “right in front of his face” but then the Dream Keeper disappears.  With this information, the students, staff and I composed a fun song in which the young man interacts with an orchestra – almost like his conductor father would.  In the end, the young man remains frustrated that the Dream Keeper didn’t fully answer his question and decides to go on a quest for the answer.


2016-01-16 12.48.49OTHER ADVENTURES

Last Saturday I returned to Dulabhatorn Foundation where I lead a community-driven song creation session. The students chose to write a song about dancing. We only had an hour-and-a-half, but they reached their goal with enthusiasm. The Dulabhatorn staff then wrote some fun guitar chords and the students were able to dance and sing their way out the door. You can listen Dancing Kids by clicking here.

 

The staff mentioned they thought the song would be perfect as an anthem for their summer camp program starting in March, but I challenged them to keep writing and refining. A lot of the melodies they used were from modern pop songs or well-known folk songs – which is fine – but I challenged the staff to help the students write songs exploring their own melodies and styles. If only we had more time! Hopefully, they feel empowered to experiment more with some community-driven techniques.


#YUM!

Of course, more delicious food was et this week including some of my old favorites. The food at the kantok dinner was excellent and, because the owner was muslim, we ate things like naem gai (sour chicken) instead of naem moo (sour pork). Maem gai was equally good in my opinion although couldn’t help but wonder what my American friends would think of raw chicken left out to ferment for three days. One of my favorite discoveries of this trip is that they now have sour pork with the chilies and ginger available at the Seven-Eleven up the street.

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Northern Thai sausage

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Naem moo (sour pork)

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Thaiyai noodles with cabbage, tomato sauce and fried tofu

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Fried and marinated pork in spicy sauce

Thailand 2016 – Week One

January 17, 2016
aarongabrielcomposer

Interact Thailand for the week of January 10-16, 2016.  

A weekly update of the international collaboration between composer Aaron Gabriel (Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts) and the artists at Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development (RICD) as they create new musical theater in the spirit of radical inclusion.

The famous piano building at Rajanagarindra Institute for Child Development (RICD)

#internationalcollaboration

#newmusictheater

#radicalinclusion

#chiangmai

#artistsabroad

#yum


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The pagoda and temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Saturday night, after a smooth 32-hour journey, I was welcomed back to the verdant hills of Northern Thailand. As we exited the plane, many Thai passengers stopped in the glass walkway and paid their respects to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – the golden temple high on the hillside that overlooks the city of Chiang Mai.

I was greeted by my colleagues Mr. Ronasingha and Pong. As soon as I stepped outside, I paused to enjoy a huge draught of mild tropical air – an indulgent treat considering everyone back home in Minnesota was suffering through sub-zero wind chills.

Pong and Mr. Ronasingha then delivered me to my accommodations for the month – the new hotel at RICD hospital. People travel from across Southeast Asia to benefit from RICD’s modern technologies and holistic approach to disability therapy. The very comfortable RICD Hotel offers the families of young patients a convenient place to stay during treatment.


The Love Show Thai:English

The poster from last year’s The Love Show

For the past six years, RICD Music and Drama and Interact have collaborated on ways radical inclusion and community-driven theater can creatively engage the people of Chiang Mai (and beyond) with the disability community. I have had the privilege of helping create music for the past two shows and this year am overseeing the staff while they create the music themselves. It has been thrilling to watch this program blossom, mature and become more self-sustaining. Past shows include Wake-up and Dream, Searching for Sanook, The Song of Songkran and last years very successful The Love Show. (NOTE: You can read about our experience creating The Love Show in my 2015 Thailand blog.)

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Dance auditions

 

Radical inclusion  invites people with and without disabilities to create art side-by-side. It does not ask to make disability invisible, rather it focuses on the inherent talents of every individual and believes the sharing of those talents contribute to a deeper understanding of the world around us. Interact Theater has been a pioneer in this field and 2016 marks its 20th year “creating art that challenged perceptions of disability.”

Community-driven theater leads with the idea that everyone has a story to share, but not everyone has the opportunity, experience or resources to share that story. The participants help shape how their story is told – through songs, scenes or movement – and can choose to perform the work themselves or have others perform it for them.

This year’s show The Dream Keeper follows a mystical “sandman”-esque figure who lives inside people’s dreams. The show poses the question: will the dream keeper help the dreamers achieve their dreams or will they have to do it themselves? The story will be told in the Luk Thung style – a very colorful, highly romantic Thai musical form popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s. (Click here or the link under the audition notice to listen.)

I was truly thrilled to see that team at RICD had completely laid the groundwork prior to my arrival. The concept and theme were decided, audition notices were posted, a new director for the performance had been appointed and the staff was busy making a production calendar. When I expressed my excitement to Mr. Ronasingha, he said: “I listen carefully and do little things one step-at-a-time.”

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The mighty production calendar –  a mighty achievement!

Any fledgling arts organization must dedicate a lot of time to arts advocacy: convincing donors, administrators, government officials and community members why the creation of art is important and how it benefits the community. And we need to do this while continuing to create the art that needs to be validated. It’s exhausting, but the staff at RICD (led by Mr. Ronasingha) has risen to the challenge.


 

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Fluke and his brother Film singing at a rally for mental illness awareness

This week’s auditions were very moving. The performers who have been with the program for several years showed distinct improvements.  One of my favorite personalities, Fluke (who has cerebral palsy) is now walking up steps, sitting up in his chair without the support of his elbows and – for my musical friends out there – is able to easily sing a four-bar phase without sneaking breaths. Thanks to the continued work of his parents and the RICD staff, his diaphragm and lungs (which have been weakened and compressed from years in a wheelchair) are finally able to support his rich beautiful singing voice.

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A group of friends audition together. #safetyinnumbers

There were many new (and precocious) personalities as well.  A number of students had spent considerable time preparing material for their auditions. There was doo-wop, interpretive movement, breakdancing, rapping and more.

NOTE:  No one who auditions is turned away from a community-driven program. The “auditions” are more a chance to observe a person’s general comfort or willingness to perform. There are several people who expressed interest in being involved, but asked not to be performers.

 

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Click here to watch Amazing Mona’s inspiring audition.

I was particularly moved by one young girl named Mona. At first, she appeared too anxious to perform, but then she opened her mouth and produced a huge ROAR. She then proceeded to show us some pretty sophisticated dance moves. Mona doesn’t have a disability but auditioned because she wants to “be to perform with other fun and talented people” – the very spirit of radical inclusion. Perhaps the most inspiring thing is that Mona came to audition even though, last week, her dad died from a motorcycle accident. What a role model!


This week I lead the RICD production team in a song-writing workshop where they learned a variety of techniques to help the participants write their own songs.  The staff were asked about their own personal dreams and then challenged to write poetry, melodies and musical accompaniments.  Once completed, their song will become the theme song/finale for the show.  We had a lot of fun and ended the song with a challenge to the audience:  What are you doing to achieve YOUR dreams?


2016-01-16 12.48.49On Saturday I visited Dulabhatorn – a center for disadvantaged and disabled youth about 30 minutes outside Chiang Mai. Here they offer activities in performing and visual arts, martial arts, farming and eco-sciences.

Dulabhatorn reminded me so much of visiting Siddhartha Central School in Kollam, India last fall. In my opinion, the focus on the arts, sciences, sustainability and community should be a model for schools around the world.

Hopefully, next weekend I will be able to do a small song-writing workshop with the young people there as well.


 

As usual, I had the time of my life trying all the amazing food my Thai colleagues offered. By now, they are fully aware of my adventurous palate and generously prepare food, buy samples of interesting local delicacies or take me to exciting restuarants. This week we ventured out to have khanom chin – special fermented rice noodles that you can top with a buffet of fresh or pickled vegetables, nuts and curried sauces.  It was spectacular.  This trend needs to make its way to the Twin Cities tout de suite.

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Raw corn and green papaya salad

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Spicy pork skin

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Curried pork “terrine”

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Khanom chin

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Kaew Soi

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Spicy Thai eggplant spread

 

 

 

INDIA, Week Four (August 17-22): Sacred Heart College, Kochi

August 24, 2015
aarongabrielcomposer

INDIA, Week Four (August 17-22): Sacred Heart College, Kochi

Roughly 70% of the earths surface is covered in water. 96.5% of that is salt water (undrinkable). Of the 2.6% that is drink-able (mostly stored in underground aquifers, glaciers and polar ice-caps) 02% is in rivers, lakes and streams and – depending on where you live – 90% of that .02 percent is polluted or contaminated. 750 million people around the world lack clean drinking water – roughly one in every nine people. 

In India, over half of the rivers are polluted, an estimated 75% of the surface water is polluted and water pollution accounts for over 500 deaths every day.  

The water crisis is our number one global risk based on impact to society according to the World Economic Forum (www.water.org/water-crisis). Most major world leaders, scientists and scholars believe that World War III will be fought drinking water – a basic human need.

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One of our collaborators, Beth, and the workshop participants at Sacred Heart College

#water

#india

#kochi

#sacredheart

#theater

#dance

#music

#science

#internationalcollaboration

#bethechange

[NOTE: For more information about the Water Cyphers project, the collaborators or Folded Paper Dance and Theater, please see below.]


WATER WORKSHOPS, Week Four

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The Poster from Sacred Heart College.  CLICK HERE to listen to “Let It Flow” – from Water Cyphers.

This week we traveled back to Kochi to conduct workshops at collaborator Sen’s alma mater, Sacred Heart College.  Again, we worked with the students to gather and share water stories, help them create several movement and music pieces and integrate some individuals into our piece, River to River.

On Friday night, August 21, the students performed their water creations and we performed River to River (with the students).  On Saturday, August 22, the students did a public sharing of a separate piece called Water Cyphers which included a game they created with our director, Kanta. We performed our second piece called The River is a Line and between the two performances, Sacred Heart College conducted a round table discussion with several local water experts.

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The students perform one of their water stories at Sacred Heart College

The morning of the Saturday performance, Kanta asked me and the student musicians if we could create or improvise some music during Water Cyphers.  One of the students, Aravint, had a song he composed and gave us permission to work as a group and adapt it for the show.  We called it “Let it Flow” and it is very catchy and unifying – a lot like a campfire song. If you click here or the “Water in Kerala” Poster, you can listen to it!


TELLING YOUR WATER STORY: The Kerala Folklore Museum

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A large wooden dragon sculpture (unlabeled)

On Wednesdays, the American collaborators had the opportunity to explore the Kerala Folklore Museum whose mission is “to promote and preserve the culture & heritage of South India.” The museum houses thousands of masks, elaborate tanjore glass paintings, ornate musical instruments, statues, carvings, pottery, even beautifully crafted hand-tools for making the art itself. The museum is also home to a 17th C. wooden theater that hosts a variety of traditional and ritual folk performances like Theyyam, Kathakali, Ottanthullal and Mohiniyattam Kanjadalam.  

The following is my own personal reflection on that experience.

As I walk through the museum, I am inspired by the handiwork of thousands of artists and artisans and- as with any museum – I become easily overwhelmed. There is so much to absorb and I can’t help but contemplate my impact as an artist or the impact of our water project here in Kerala.

What is my place in all of this? What far-reaching effects might this project create? Is it merely a drop in the proverbial bucket?
I am drawn to the depiction of a flower on one of the enormous hand-carved doorways displayed in the Main Hall. I find the intricate, delicate craftsmanship calming and reassuring. It catches my attention and won’t let go. I even walk away and am compelled to return to it.

Why? After all, the carving is not its own piece. It’s a decoration. A small part of a larger piece of artwork. Right? Am I ignoring the big picture?

I look closer.

File Aug 21, 2 55 36 PMI notice the simplicity of the flower – concentric circles radiating outward from a single source. The circles flow for a brief moment and then end at the border carved around them.  I can feel my eyebrow furrow.  Suddenly this carving I found so calming is challenging me.

Is this sense of borders, of barriers, true for me?  For the project?  Is our drop in the bucket limited by the bucket itself?

Then I think of the students we are working with on this project. Like the artists and artisans whose work is displayed in the Kerala Folklore Museum, I am inspired and provoked by the students and community members with whom we collaborated. The students at Amritapuri and Sacred Heart are not studying performance necessarily–they are studying biotechnology, mechanical engineering and medicine.  Their lives have the potential to change the world in so many ways.  So, when we share our water stories with each other, we release multiple drops of water.  And not in a bucket, but in an ocean where the circles are allowed to repeat endlessly, intermingle and stimulate change in all directions.

The principal of Sacred Heart College, Fr. Dr. J. Prasant Palakkappillil challenged the students by asking: Dance, theater, music and the arts help you to have a creative mind.  What will you do with your creative mind?  How will your creative mind find solutions to our water problem?

One of the main goals of this project is to form bridges between our subject – water – and everything that relies on it.  By listening to and telling water stories we create awareness and through awareness we can find the most far-reaching, equitable solutions. So, when you ask the question: “What is your water story?”, it starts a ripple effect that only ends when the question stops being asked.  It makes us aware of where our water comes from, our reliance on it, and our future relationship with it.

What is YOUR water story?  

Why don’t you ask someone this week?


ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE: THE WAY TO HEAVEN

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Sreekesh stands in front of a mural featuring the great Indian leaders, Nehru, and Naidu.

This week I asked Sacred Heart student Sreekesh Kumar to tell his water story.  Sreekesh was fundamental in helping making this workshop a success and according to his teachers “showed great dedication and was actively involved from beginning to end.”

“I want to tell you about the origin of Ganga (the Ganges).  According to Hindu Mythology, Ganga is the daughter of Himavat (Himalaya) and her sister is Parvati, the wife of Shiva.  Ganga had a great affection for Shiva, but could do nothing about it because Shiva was married to her sister Parvati.

“It is said that the People were praying for Ganga to bring her waters to Earth and so Shiva ordered her to oblige them. Ganga felt that this was insulting and decided to rush from Heaven to Earth in a torrent and wash away the people with a great flood. In his benevolence, Shiva decided to spare the people and break her fall.

“Shiva placed his head in her way and calmly trapped her in his hair which fell to earth in the form of rivers and streams.  The touch of Shiva further sanctified Ganga’s waters. These streams remain on earth as a link heaven and the underworld. The streams remain on Earth to help purify the souls of the people.

“This is why we go to the Ganga. Because she purifies us and helps us and our ancestors find the way to Heaven. But now the river is sick and we are asked not to go there because it will make us sick. If we want things to change and save Ganga, we need to be that change.”

Thank you, Sreekesh!

Hindu scriptures say that when the Ganga finally dries up, it will end the Era of Darkness (the current era) and begin the Era of Truth.


COLLABORATIVE VOICES

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Rag, Sen and Jebin (far right) perform a scene in The River is a Line

Jebin JB is a freelance theater director and actor currently working on his Phd at Calicut University. He helped create the film sequences for our performance and created a short play for the piece The River is a Line. Jebin’s creative focus is on the environment and social justice issues.

“There are many water stories that I have in my life, but one that sticks out regards the Mullaperiyar Damn. Built in 1895, the damn was made from rubble and lime stone and designed to last only 50 years. It’s purpose was to redirect water from the state of Kerala to the state of Tamil Nadu. Because of an age-old agreement between two states and the Indian government, the responsibility for maintenance and reconstruction has been fraught with controversy and red tape.

“The damn is now 115 years old (65 years older than recommended) and in disrepair. It would not survive an earthquake of more than 6.0 magnitude. There are holes in the damn that are leaking water. There is breakage to the overall infrastructure and the maintenance on the damn has been shoddy. It’s like trying to hold water in a glass with a piece of bread.

Mullaperiyar Damn

“Everyone who lives around the damn lives in fear of the damn collapsing. In fact, most of Kerala worries about the health of the damn. If the damn breaks, 70% of Kerala will be under water – that’s 3.5 million people!

“Last year, I had an opportunity to perform a site-specific street theater piece for the people who live in the communities around the damn. Hundreds of people from the area attended the event. I was surprised that no one talked politics or pointed fingers. Instead, everyone I spoke with shared their personal story of how life would be forever changed should the damn break.

“I couldn’t sleep for weeks after hearing those stories.  Natural disaster could come at any moment.  What happened during Hurricane Katrina could easily happen here.” 


WHO’S RESPONSIBLE? – A SACRED HEART COLLEGE ROUND TABLE

File Aug 23, 10 47 54 AMBetween the performances on Saturday Sacred Heart College hosted a round-table discussion that included Principal Fr. Dr. J. Prasant Palakkappillil, Botanist Dr. Joy P. Joseph, Indian High-court Lawyer Dr. Vincent Panikulangara and our director, Dr. Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren.

It was a very thought-provoking round-table with so much information to consider, I couldn’t record it fast enough. Here are some highlights.

It’s not my water.  It’s not your water.  It’s OUR water. There are no boundaries where water is concerned.

We need to thinks about water cautiously, not casually.

Of all of the forty-four rivers in Kerala, there is not ONE you can bathe in.  This all changed in my lifetime.  In ONE lifetime.

We need to stop thinking of humans as a supreme creation.  We need to become geo-centric.

It’s important to tell stories from where we THINK we came and build a connection between that and where we are now.  

Transformation needs to happen at a micro-level.  We need to take responsibility for how we treat water.  There really is no macro-solution.  

It is not either/or.  It is not us/them.  It’s India AND U.S.  Its you AND me.

The question shouldn’t be WHERE do we put the waste, but why do we create it in the first place.


FOOD, ENTAE SNEHAM (MY LOVE)

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The team eating biryani at Sen’s house. Delicious.

For our “cast party” and company debrief, we were welcomed into the home of our collaborator Sen.  His family spent a great deal of time preparing a traditional (and exceptionally delicious) biryani for us.

According to Indian chef Pratibha Karan, biryani is of South Indian origin, derived from pilaf varieties brought to India by the Muslim traders and rulers. She speculates that the pulao was an army dish in medieval India: the armies, unable to cook elaborate meals, would prepare a one-pot dish where they cooked rice with whichever meat was available. Over time, the dish became biryani due to different methods of cooking with the distinction between “pulao” and “biryani” slowly becoming arbitrary.

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Homemade biryani at Sen’s house

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Mango, papaya, pomegranate

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South Indian Tali

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Masala cookies


ABOUT WATER CYPHERS

Water Cyphers: Art, Performance, Science and is a pilot for an international arts training, outreach and mini-festival program focused on sharing water stories through theater, music and dance. Along with community members and artists from Kochi and Kollam, our international team gathers stories, creates dances and writes music that illuminates these critical concerns.  Public performances at Amrita University on August 12 at 4:30pm, August 14 at 3:30pm at Siddhartha Central School in Kollam in and at Sacred Heart College in Kochi on Aug 24 at 6:30pm and 25 at 7:30pm.

The project director is Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, Folded Paper Dance and Theatre (Seattle/Hong Kong) along with project partners Sen Jansen TF (Sacred Heart College of Thevara/Sensations Event Management/Kochi,) Rag Saseendrababu (Sruthi School of Dance and Music, Kollam) and Jebin JB (School of Drama, Thrissur).

Water Cyphers focuses on generating new methods for exploring the intersections of performance and science through participatory cultural heritage experiences, such as storytelling, dance, theatre, musical theatre, and mixed performance modes. This work will increase our understanding of water stories as crucial markers of a community’s cultural traditions, history, sense of place, and relationship to the environment.

United States artists include Beth Graczyk (Seattle/NY), Morgen Chang (Minneapolis, MN) and Aaron Gabriel (Minneapolis, MN)

INDIA, Week Three (August 10-16): Siddhartha Central School

August 18, 2015
aarongabrielcomposer

INDIA, Week Three (August 10-16): Siddhartha Central School

750 million people around the world lack clean drinking water – roughly one in every nine people. The water crisis is our number one global risk based on impact to society according to the World Economic Forum (www.water.org/water-crisis). In India, over half of the rivers are polluted, an estimated 75% of the surface water is polluted and water pollution accounts for over 500 deaths every day.  

Water Cyphers: Art, Performance, Science and is a pilot for an international arts training, outreach and mini-festival program focused on sharing water stories through theater, music and dance. Along with community members and artists from Kochi and Kollam, our international team gathers stories, creates dances and writes music that illuminates these critical concerns.  Public performances at Amrita University on August 12 at 4:30pm, August 14 at 3:30pm at Siddhartha Central School in Kollam in and at Sacred Heart College in Kochi on Aug 24 and 25.  

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A view from the artists retreat at Siddhartha Central School.

#water

#india

#kollam

#siddhartha

#theater

#dance

#music

#science

#internationalcollaboration

#amma


WATER WORKSHOPS, Week Three 

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Rag, Kanta and Sen work with the students at Amritapuri

This week our team completed and premiered our piece River to River at Amritapuri University for a small student audience. The students from the workshop also performed  (to applause and cheers.) The college was so helpful in executing this multi-cultural, multi-media theater piece they must be applauded as well – our demands are unique.

(NOTE: Last week, I wrote about never sweating so much as I did in kalare class, but at dress rehearsal for the Amritapuri performance sweat was literally pouring off my head onto the ELECTRIC keyboard. I had to twist my body so the sweat would flow onto the floor because I was afraid I might short out the electrical system.)

Working with the students at Amritapuri University was incredible-they are smart, brave, creative, sincere, curious, respectful and full of joy. Exchanging art and ideas with them was an unforgettable experience

A drawing of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s hydraulic machines complete with his signature “mirror writing”.

Our team also began work on another piece called The River is a Line. Kanta, our director, has asked that we explore the more scientific and technological aspects of water environments.  She introduced us to a book called Design in the Terrain of Water by Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha.  In the book they discuss many of the themes we’ve been exploring including “the water to which people are increasingly turning to find innovative solutions to water scarcity, pollution, aquifer depletion and other problems that are assuming center stage in local and global politics, dynamics, and fears.” 

Kanta has asked me to write a humorous piece about Leonardo da Vinci and his work/obsession with hydraulics.  I will most likely be playing da Vinci as well so I’m trying to write in a lot of other characters. Anyway, if you’ve got any funny da Vinci stories…


HUGGING AMMA

Amma hugs two devotees

Last week, I wrote about the chancellor of the University and founder of the Ashram – a very famous Hindu leader called Amma (the “hugging saint”.)  It is estimated that she has hugged nearly 50 million people worldwide.

Sunday night was our turn to hug Amma. Everyone experienced something a little different and my experience was fittingly awkward and hilarious at the same time. (Maybe Amma really does understand everyone who comes into her presence.)

[NOTE: In order to better represent the diverse spiritual experiences people have, I have included another perspective on Amma from one of the workshop participants, Sadanand Sebastian.]

MY PERSPECTIVE: THE HUG STREAM

Amma sits in a chair center-stage in a large yet inauspicious outdoor auditorium.  There is a smaller stage in front of her where a rotating group of musicians sing Hindi hymns (which I love.)

We surrendered our electronic devices, go through a security scan and are escorted backstage where there are rows of chairs leading up to Amma. The rows begin on either side of the stage and each person begins in the back chair and works their way to the front. (Imagine a very methodical game of musical chairs where no chairs get taken away.) We are told by Prichant Swami that we can ask Amma anything – personal questions, health questions, anything.

When I finely make it to the front row, a young boy begins singing one of the hymns. He has one of most clarion and distinct voices I can remember.  It reminds me of a young Andrew Penning singing the opening “ah’s” in Amahl and the Night Visitor.  It puts me in a trance.

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Candy, a kiss and a bag of kumkuma for my tilaka

The rows of chairs coming from stage left and right converge at Amma’s feet and before receiving their hug, people kneel down in front of her alternating left and right, back and forth. There are about five or so “hug handlers” around her making sure things go as smoothly and efficiently as possible. I kneel down and standing next to me is a ninety-year-old woman. She is so small that she and my torso are the same height. She can’t really kneel so one of the devotees bring her a small stool.

Once I enter the hug stream, things move quickly with a dizzying sense of urgency.  I am very very very afraid I am going to fall on the old woman and crush her with my massive frame.  Right there at the feet of Amma.  The “hug heard ’round the world!” I insist she go first but they won’t let her.  One of the handlers looks at me and asks: “Speak English?”

“British” I reply for reasons that will forever remain a mystery to me.

“You with the dancers?” I nod as he turns to talk to Amma.

“No,wait!” I say and tug at the his sleeve, but it’s too late.  He is already telling her I’m a dancer from England.

Suddenly, a space opens in front of her and I knee-waddle into my position.  The hug-handler who just told her I’m Billy Elliot (and probably that I’ve “really let myself go”) is now reaching across her lap for something so I have to sit there for a moment before I can see her.  The ninety-year-old woman wheezes and grabs my shoulder for balance.

The moment arrives.  We’re face to face.

I take a breath and say: “Amma, I was wondering-”

File Aug 16, 8 17 14 AMWithout warning my head is firmly (yet gently) planted in her bosom. I place my right arm on the floor in front of her to keep my (and the old woman’s) balance and my left arm goes akimbo.  Another handler guides the akimbo arm to rest on her right side and she places her arm over mine. I try to give her a little squeeze he pulls my arm away from her so my hand is sort of stuck in mid air blindly searching for a resting place.

Amma holds my head and says in my ear… “Momomomomomomomo”. Then another handler shoves something in my hand and I am released. I back knee-wobble away from the action and stand up.  I can hear the boy singing again.

“Momomomomomomomomomo?” I think.  But I don’t understand Malayalam!  Or was she speaking in tongues? I hear that sometimes she speaks in tongues!  (I later decide that momomomomomomomomo comes from an ancient Indian dialect and means “you are a super enlightened, crazy-talented child of God, Billy… and you’re looking very trim.”)

I go back to the place where the line starts and am motioned to sit down cross-legged on the crowded carpet beside her. I am surrounded by meditating devotees. I look in my hand – a chocolate kiss, small paper bag containing white powder and an “Amma candy”. Should I eat them?  Should I save them? Should I share them with the people meditating? The chocolate melts everywhere while my leg falls asleep.

Later, Rag applies the powder (kumkuma) to my forehead with his finger.  The dot (tilaka) represents the third eye.

My third eye suddenly recalls countless Christmases where we would spend an afternoon bundled up, waiting in an endless line to meet Santa. Without fail, the moment I was plopped on Santa’s lap and he asked me what was on my wish list, all I could do was sit there with my mouth gaping.  Some people never learn.


ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE: AMMA AND THE THORN TREE

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Sadanand Sebastian, a student in business management and workshop participant

“My family has been Amma devotees for over 35 years. We live at the Ashram where my mother works as a nurse and I attend Amritapuri University where I study for a degree in business management.

“I was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there until the fourth grade. In my town there was a huge hill called Jabal Sawda. When it rains heavily there, huge water falls and landslides can occur at any moment. People actually come from miles around to see them.

“Fifteen days before we were scheduled to move to India, a huge storm occurred and the water was running very fast off the mountain. I went to look at the waterfall and while I was standing there, the earth beneath me gave way and I was sucked into the current.

“Everyone assumed I was dead. The water was flowing at about 50 km/hour was flowing fast toward the Red Sea. I closed my eyes and asked that Amma would save my life. I was pulled along for about a half a km, but then Amma placed a thorn tree in my way so I got stuck on the river’s bank.

“It was a miracle and since then I have never feared water. Even my fear of dying is gone.”

Jabal Sawda, Saudi Arabia

Landslides can both catastrophic and for humans and good for the environment at the same time. They occur when rock, earth, or debris flows on slopes due to gravity. They can happen on virutally any terrain given the right conditions of soil, moisture, and the angle of slope. Important to the natural process of geology, landslides serve to rearrange soil and sediments in a process that can be in sudden collapses or in slow gradual slides. The factors affecting landslides can be geological or man-made, and can occur in developed or undeveloped areas, or in areas where the terrain has been altered for roads, houses, utilities, buildings and mining activities


COLLABROATIVE VOICES

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Sen discusses personal boundaries with a crow at the Ashram

Our collaborator and Indian dance specialist Sen Jansen told us of how, when he was little, his auntie would tell him stories of Thor Anna.

“Back when I was a girl,” she said, “the monsoon rains were so strong that the flooding could take six elephants away”.

Sometimes, Sen’s family would need to move everyone and everything to the attic and let the waters flow through the bottom of the house.  Even when Sen was a little boy they streets would flood and everyone would go play in them.

“The monsoon season impacts the region for the rest of the year. Last year was the hottest on record and their was no rain. None,” he told me.  Now there’s no predicting what will happen.

Sen’s also remembers taking a class trip to Thekkady.  

The waterfalls of Thekkady in Tamil Nadu.

“That was my best water experience.  The milky-white waterfalls lead into a beautiful pool surrounded by rocks where everyone could sit and swim.  And you could walk right into the waterfall.  I was the happiest I’ve ever been there.”

When asked if anything has stood out to him during the project, Sen replied: “For me, water is primarily coming from the shower and the tap.  So these water memories I’m telling you are important to me.  It’s easy to get frustrated by the amount of garbage and the state of the water and choose to ignore the problems, but someday I want my country to be like Heaven so I know that I have to do my part.”


WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?  HOPE ABOUNDS AT SIDDARTHA CENTRAL SCHOOL

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Beth and Morgen get a tour from principal Sri Sujith Kumar.

Visiting Siddhartha Central School was another happy reassurance that there are amazing organizations doing everything they can to insure the future of people and the planet. Their mission is “to promote physical wellness  and unity among young people through sports and games, create and eco-friendly society by implementing a bio-manure agriculture system, keep students “close to the nature” and lead healthy life without modern medicines and organize art and cultural activities that preserve the national heritage.”  To learn more about Siddhartha Central School, visit http://www.siddharthainstitutions.org.

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The (enormous) outdoor theater at Siddhartha where we performed.

The campus is so peaceful and everyone was so welcoming and genuine. They also have an artists retreat, two stages and a dance pavilion and will begin providing artist housing in the next two years. All artists should look into this as an ideal place to do a cultural exchange.


FOOD, ENTAE SNEHAM (MY LOVE)

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Rag’s Farm House in Kollum

This week, as we toured from Amritapuri University and Ashram to Kollum and Siddhartha Central School back to Kochi and Sacred Heart College, we had a variety of food experiences. (There also seemed to be a little bug going around and eating wasn’t always very easy – which is sad for a food-lover like me.) That said, we had a real treat while staying at our colleague Rag’s house – country home cooking. Rag’s family owns a farm and so the food was amazingly fresh, flavorful and abundant. It was so gracious of Rag’s parents to open up their entire home to us and treat us so royally. In addition, the teachers at Siddhartha Central School made us a traditional Kerala sadyha before our performance which was wonderfully spicy and delicious.

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Kashmirian Na’an

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Mutton Biryani (wrapped in newspaper)

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Morgen eating her sahdya

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Papadam, cassava, pickles and river shrimp roas


Our colleague Sen’s teacher wrote a beautiful poem which Rag set to a melody called


MORE ABOUT WATER CYPHERS

Water Cyphers: Art, Performance, Science, a pilot for an international arts training, outreach, and mini-festival program, focuses on sharing water stories through theater and dance. The project will be directed by Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, Folded Paper Dance and Theatre (Seattle/Hong Kong) along with project partners Sen Jansen TF (Sacred Heart College of Thevara/Sensations Event Management/Kochi,) Rag Saseendrababu (Sruthi School of Dance and Music, Kollam) and Jebin JB (School of Drama, Thrissur).

Water in Kerala focuses on generating new methods for exploring the intersections of performance and science through participatory cultural heritage experiences, such as storytelling, dance, theatre, musical theatre, and mixed performance modes. This work will increase our understanding of water stories as crucial markers of a community’s cultural traditions, history, sense of place, and relationship to the environment.

United States artists include Beth Graczyk (Seattle/NY), Morgen Chang (Minneapolis, MN) and Aaron Gabriel (Minneapolis, MN).INDIA

INDIA, Week Two (August 3-9, 2015): Amrita University

August 10, 2015
aarongabrielcomposer

INDIA, Week Two (August 3-9, 2015): Amrita University

750 million people around the world lack clean drinking water – roughly one in every nine people. The water crisis is our number one global risk based on impact to society according to the World Economic Forum (www.water.org/water-crisis). In India, over half of the rivers are polluted, an estimated 75% of the surface water is polluted and water pollution accounts for over 500 deaths every day.  


Water Cyphers: Art, Performance, Science and is a pilot for an international arts training, outreach and mini-festival program focused on sharing water stories through theater, music and dance. Along with community members and artists from Kochi and Kollam, our international team gathers stories, creates dances and writes music that illuminates these critical concerns.  Public performances at Amrita University on August 12 at 4:30pm, August 14 in Kollam and in Kochi on Aug 24 and 25.  

Two

Two boats head up the Kollam-Kottapuram Waterway that flows between Amritapuri Campus and Mata Amritanandamayi Math Ashram.

#water

#india

#kollam

#ashram

#theater

#dance

#music

#science

#internationalcollaboration

#amma

#stgoerge


WATER WORKSHOPS, Week Two

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Rag and Beth practice kalari with coach Arjun. I wish the picture were clearer, but – no joke – I couldn’t hold the camera because my hands were slicked with sweat.

This week we took the movement and music pieces we created as individuals, in pairs and as a group and began to arrange them so they – in essence – “act like a river.”  We hope the different components ebb and flow in a distinct and interesting way – avoiding too much movement, too little movement or stagnation.

We work from 10am-5pm and from 7:30pm-10pm and all of us sweat profusely – especially me.  We have to move quickly and each day is full of rehearsal, filming, costume fittings, more rehearsal. Kanta, our director, suggested take a kalari (pron. like “calorie”) class for some movement inspiration.

Kalaripayattu is martial art form created between the 2nd Century BC and 2nd Century AD.  It is by far the most difficult physical experiment my body has experienced.  In fact, if you look at the floor in the picture to the left, you can see the pools of sweat/dignity that I left behind.  It’s debated which Hindu deity created kalari – Shiva, Agastya or Parashurama – but no matter, I’m sure all three had a good laugh at my ridiculous attempt.

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A fishing boat outside Amritapuri Ashram.

On Thursday, we moved to Amritapuri Campus and Ashram – the site that will host our first performance scheduled for Wednesday, August 12 at 4:30pm.  It will include the piece we’ve been working on called River to River and a student piece being created as I write this.

The chancellor of the University and founder of the Ashram is a very famous Hindu leader in India called Mata Amritanandamayi Devi – better known as Amma (the “hugging saint”.) Her form of darshan (blessing) is to hug everyone who asks. It is estimated that she has hugged nearly 50 million people worldwide and sometimes hugs people in succession for more than twenty hours.

[NOTE: Tune in next week to hear about our experience meeting/hugging Amma.]

Amma hugs a devotee on her North American tour.

We are not allowed to take pictures inside the ashram, but you can read more and see images on their website here. A large percentage the people at the ashram are from other countries so it is a very international center. There are classes in yoga, kalari, meditation, indian singing and other practices of Advaita Vedanta. If the schedule allows, I’m hoping to take an indian singing class before I leave.

In River to River, there are many musical moments beginning to evolve, including a really beautiful shoka ganam (sad song) that Sen’s Malayalam language teacher wrote. If you click here, you can hear Rag practicing (with me attempting to sing Indian scales in the background – eek!) Also, I wrote a story song called Who’d You Rather Be? I’ve included those lyrics below.


DIFFERENT VOICES

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Morgen (on the right) walking along a path by the ocean, near Amrita.

Another member of our team, Morgen Chang grew up in Hawai’i and now lives in Minneapolis. When she was interviewing people on the Kochi Beach, she was reminded of of the difference in perspective between those who travel frequently and those who live their entire lives in one locale – or, in this case, by one body of water.

“Hawai’i is small and we use the mountains and ocean – mauka and makai – to give directions. For instance: ‘That’s on the makai side of the street.’ When I moved to MN, I thought: there are no mountains and there are little “makais” all over the place. How will I know where I’m going? It never occurred to me to use the sun. Or even a map!”

I asked Morgan about a water memory from her child and if anything has changed.

This picture, taken by Morgen’s sister, is a view of her home island of Oahu.

“Growing up, there was a stream behind my grandmother’s house that my sisters and I would play in.  I remember it full of ducks and fish and crayfish.  A lot natural waterways in Hawai’i have been paved to prevent erosion and flooding.  But when the sun hits the pavement, it heats up and kills the fish which sends the wildlife other places as well.

“That stream means a lot to our family.  When my dad died, we scattered a few of his ashes there.”


COLLECTING PERSPECTIVES: GARLANDS AND GARBAGE

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Kripa (center) dancing with her classmates in workshop.

Meet Kripa.  She is studying Business Management at Amritapuri University and is one of the performers who participating in our workshops.

Kripa grew up in Kolkata.  “When I was in elementary school, I would somedays leave class and go to a nearby pond to feed the fish. The pond was near a temple and people began to throw different worship items (garlands, incense, candles, boxes) in the pond when they were finished with them. Not long after, the fish began to die. I organized some friends to help clean up the pond, but there was too much. The garlands and garbage suffocated the pond.”

People bathing in the river outside Dakshineswar Kali Temple.

There is another very famous temple on the Hooghly River called Dakshneswar. When she was little, people would bathe in the holy waters of the river.  Kripa wanted to put her feet in the water, but it looked so dark and murky, she was hesitant.  Then, she saw a body float by.

“When we read about Ganges in our scriptures, we picture a beautiful river flowing with pure water.  But what it actually looks like frightens me in my heart. Sometimes, it’s difficult to talk about God/spirituality and nature, but I wish people would realize when their traditions are harming what God created.”


WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

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The shoreline outside Amrita.

I’m hoping to interview one of the professors or staff at Amritapuri in charge of their waste management program, but time may not allow.  V. Krishna, Director of International Guests, told us how Amrita University, Kerala has spent a lot of time engaging the community around the University and Ashram to be creative with pollution solutions, but it isn’t easy.  There is still a lot of pollution. Amritapuri recently won a prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation proof of concept grant.

Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wrote: “By applying creative thinking and new approaches to sanitation challenges, we can improve people’s lives. And we have no doubt that these new partnerships with India and South Africa will help us achieve this.  We believe that with governmental leadership, new business models and innovation, we can dramatically increase the progress made in tackling this global sanitation crisis.”


FOOD, ENTAE SNEHAM (MY LOVE)

All of us were pretty sad to leave Le Linda’s (or as we call her Linda Chichi – Sister Linda) as her food kept getting better and better each day.  The variety of flavors, textures and colors was a real insight into Kerala cuisine.  Plus, Linda would often sit with us and sing songs or tell stories.

When we reached Amrita, the Guest Director Krishna was very excited to take us to the Western Canteen.   We respectfully suggested (perhaps too many times) that we’re very happy to eat at the Indian canteen.  I’m not sure he realized how much all of us love Indian cuisine.  In the end, we were able to enjoy both – Western espresso and omelets and Indian lunches and dinners graciously provided by the University.  Sometimes, we treat ourselves to the Indian restaurant half-way between the campus and the ashram called – get this – Lakeview Restaurant (on the river).  It sounds like a lodge you’d find in Northern Minnesota.

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Dosa Masala with banana bread (the dark ball).

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Chappathi, rice with curd, sambar, avial, paneer

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Beet, coconut and jackfruit seed stew

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Banana appam (steamed cake).


ST. GEORGE’S CATHEDRAL: A DRAGON GUARDING THE WATER

File Aug 02, 9 34 33 AMBefore leaving Kochi, we visited St. George’s Cathedral.  St. George’s is India’s oldest Syrian Catholic church, built in 594 AD. It is a very popular religious destinations for Christians and non-Christians and it is tradition to offer chicken or eggs as a gift.

St. George is a myth that is speculated to have roots as far back as Late Antiquity and the story of Horus and Setekh, but primarily tells the story of a small town named Silene where a dragon (or it has been suggested, an alligator) has made its home around the spring which provided drinking water for the town.  Every day, the people of the town would appease the dragon by offering it a sheep or goat.  If there were no sheep or goat available, the townspeople would offer a young girl.  One day, when no sheep, goats or young girls were available to sacrifice, the princess was offered up.  George, traveling through on his crusade, happens to arrive just in time to slay the dragon and spares the princess. The people of the town see this as a sign and convert to Christianity.

The new part of church (pictured) was finished this past April and has a combination of European and Keralite architecture. It one of the largest in India with a built up area of over 88000 square feet with an alter composed of over 36 kilos of gold.

The church courtyard holds a well and devotees believe the water in the well has curative powers.


WHO’D YOU RATHER BE?

Well, I put down a vessel in the mighty Mississip

For to find my fortune on a mighty river trip

I started at the headwaters, clarion and cold

And I tried to stake a claim in her but every one was sold

Every one was sold, o, every one was sold

I tried to stake a claim in her, but every one was sold

So I took my little boat a week or two downstream

And I settled in a city they were callin’ Saint Louie

Every man was thirsty there for somethin’ good to drink

So I built myself a factory right on the river’s bank

I took that river water that was clearer than the sky

And I put it in a bottle that was sure to catch your eye

I sold it for a little more’n water that was free

And I printed on the label: “I have healin’ properties!”

Healin’ properties, o, healin’ properties

I printed on the label: “I have healin’ properties!”

We had to get that water out at such a fevered pitch

I thought another factory might surely do the trick

I built myself a second and a third and fourth and fifth

And the people kept a-lappin’ up that mighty Mississip!

Several years there after on a trip to New Orleans

I met myself a creature that provoked in me a scream

The thing looked like a person that had been turned inside-out

With something like petroleum a-drippin’ from its mouth

And it said:

“I was once a fisherman who fed his family

But now this mess of guts and bones is all that’s left of me

If there’s one thing you remember as you live out all your days

It’s that I was your best costumer

Drinkin’ up that water that your factory had made

“Drinkin’ up that water, friend

Drinkin’ every drop

But not what’s in them bottles, friend

What’s spewin’ from your shops!”

Well…

I retired my vessel from its mighty river trip

And I cashed in my fortune from the mighty Mississip

Few have faired as well as me as you can plainly see

But in my little story here, who’d you rather be?

Who’d you rather be, o, who’d you rather be?

In my little story, friend, who would you rather be?


MORE ABOUT WATER CYPHERS

Water Cyphers: Art, Performance, Science, a pilot for an international arts training, outreach, and mini-festival program, focuses on sharing water stories through theater and dance. The project will be directed by Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, Folded Paper Dance and Theatre (Seattle/Hong Kong) along with project partners Sen Jansen TF (Sacred Heart College of Thevara/Sensations Event Management/Kochi,) Rag Saseendrababu (Sruthi School of Dance and Music, Kollam) and Jebin JB (School of Drama, Thrissur).

Water in Kerala focuses on generating new methods for exploring the intersections of performance and science through participatory cultural heritage experiences, such as storytelling, dance, theatre, musical theatre, and mixed performance modes. This work will increase our understanding of water stories as crucial markers of a community’s cultural traditions, history, sense of place, and relationship to the environment.

United States artists include Beth Graczyk (Seattle/NY), Morgen Chang (Minneapolis, MN) and Aaron Gabriel (Minneapolis, MN).

INDIA, Week One (July 26-Aug 2, 2015)

August 3, 2015
aarongabrielcomposer

INDIA, Week One (July 26-Aug 2, 2015)

750 million people around the world lack clean drinking water – roughly one in every nine people. The water crisis is our number one global risk based on impact to society according to the World Economic Forum (www.water.org/water-crisis). In India, over half of the rivers are polluted, an estimated 75% of the surface water is polluted and water pollution accounts for over 500 deaths every day.


Water in Kerala: Art, Performance, Science and is a pilot for an international arts training, outreach and mini-festival program focused on sharing water stories through theater, music and dance. Along with community members and artists from Kochi and Kollam, our international team gathers stories, creates dances and writes music that illuminates these critical concerns.  Public performances in Kollam on Aug 14 and 15 and in Kochi on Aug 24 and 25.  

The Backwaters, Kerala, India

#watercrisis

#kerala

#india

#theater

#dance

#music

#science

#internationalcollaboration

#bethechange


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Rag and Beth form a movement phrase together.

WATER WORKSHOPS

Our workshops this week explored movement techniques like Laban movement analysis, modern and contemporary dance and Bharathanatyam traditional Tamil Nadu dance-and the way these different techniques (and others) could be combined to tell water stories. Each collaborator brings different backgrounds, lenses and life experiences regarding their own personal water stories. As a first step, we explore our own stories through movement, dance and song. Kanta Kochher-Lindgren, our director, uses a variety of techniques to help us find a common vocabulary to express ourselves.

This week I’ve thought a lot about growing up in Northern Minnesota surrounded by thousands of fresh water lakes, streams and the powerful Mississippi River that bordered my grandparent’s farm.  I remember fishing for sunfish on Connor’s, midnight swimming under a crystalline sky and crisscrossing frozen lakes on ice-skates.  I ruminate on these things as I create my movement phrases, improvise a melody or write lyrics.


Sree Bala Subramanya Swamy Temple in Kollam, India

DIFFERENT VOICES

Our collaborator, Rag Saseendrababu grew up in Kollam, India on the Arabian Sea and remembers fertile rice fields, regular monsoon seasons (it’s only rained once since we arrived) and the pool in Sree Bala Subramanya Swamy Temple that drew water from the Thenmala Dam and returned it to the sea.

The Thenmala Dam is the second largest irrigation project in Kerala, India. It is the longest reservoir in the state and water is primarily used for power generation, but has also become an ecotourism destination, bordered on both sides by the Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary.


A view of the Northern Cascades outside Arlington, WA.

Beth Graczyk, a contemporary dancer and choreographer from Arlington, WA (an hour north of Seattle) grew up in the Cascade Mountains and remembers how the well water smelt of sulfur. She recalls her dad building a trout pond so he could fish at his leisure.  “He wanted to build his own ecosystem,” she told us while she laughed.

As we explore, we work to find avenues where each collaborator’s voice is heard, encouraged and appropriately challenged so that their story is understandable and captivating.  If the story is clear, it’s easier to see how it fits into the whole.

By working this way, we hope to create an effective and culturally competent model that will allow community members (both performers and non performers) to tell their own water stories.  We want to insure our approach is thoughtful, respectful for those involved as well as exciting for those who come to listen.


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Rag interviews a woman from the district north of Kerala.  She says garbage is buried near her house.

COLLECTING PERSPECTIVES

Part of our process included visiting Kochi beach, taking pictures and sound samples and interviewing people. Almost everyone was more than willing to share their stories and had a lot to say. Most interviewees blame the government and poor infrastructure for the pollution problems.

But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi challenges that view.

“Until we focus on our lifestyle and get the world to focus on it, we will not succeed despite all other measures being taken,” Modi told state environment ministers in April.

“[The Indian] people should set an example.”


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Two men empty a bag of garbage into the Arabian Sea.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

While we’re interviewing people, two men haul a swollen plastic bag to the ocean’s edge.  They empty the contents – various glass and plastic bottles – into the surf.  Then, one of the men flings the empty bag as far as he can into the water.  It returns to him on the next available wave.  He throws it again, turns quickly and joins his friend walking to the ice cream stand.

We approach them and ask them about the water.

‘The beach is full of garbage,” they say. “It must be cleaned up.”


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“Humankind is destroying nature, so nature has no choice but to destroy humankind.”

“NATURE HAS NO CHOICE”

Another man sits alone under his umbrella observing the waves.  His bench is a large portion of a plastic children’s playhouse that has washed ashore.

We ask him about the water.

“Nature and humankind are connected.   They are part of a balance.  Humankind is destroying nature, so nature has no choice but to destroy humankind.”

Beth reminds us of The Tragedy of the Commons – a phrase used to describe a situation where individuals acting independently and rationally according to each’s self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource.


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Our friend Nimmy shows us how to eat using fingers.

FOOD, ENTAE SNEHAM (MY LOVE)

While we may not be able to drink the water, we certainly haven’t shied away from the food.  We are staying at Le Linda Homestay in Fort Kochin which also houses our rehearsal space.  Our host mom, Linda, is a very skilled chef (who also gives Ayurvedic massage with her husband and sister.) The food is extraordinary and each day is an array of perfectly balanced flavors.  Linda adds: “All natural food prepared the traditional Kerala way.”

In Kerala, it is customary to eat with your hands and our friend Nimmy is happy to teach the technique. Rice is particularly hard to eat by hand, but most meals are served with pappadam (a fried bread) that you add to the rice as a binding agent.


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Rag and Sen wait for their hands to dry.

KEEPIN’ IT REAL

One day after dinner, Sen and Rag were sat at the table for quite sometime before washing their hands. When asked why they were waiting, Sen informed us that there is a local superstition that says the faster you wash your hands off after a meal, the sooner you will get married.

Both young men waited for the food to dry completely.


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Mussel curry, cucumber curd, green bean thoran

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Pallapum and veggie stew

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River prawn roast, spinach dal and coconut aviyal.

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Chicken soup with rice balls

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Sambar and Idlay

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Coconut pancake (very similar to Swedie pans) with cardamom and sugar

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I’m a mess!

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Fig and honey ice cream 🙂


MORE ABOUT WATER IN KERALA

Water in Kerala: Art, Performance, Science, a pilot for an international arts training, outreach, and mini-festival program, focuses on sharing water stories through theater and dance. The project will be directed by Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, Folded Paper Dance and Theatre (Seattle/Hong Kong) along with project partners Sen Jansen TF (Sacred Heart College of Thevara/Sensations Event Management/Kochi,) Rag Saseendrababu (Sruthi School of Dance and Music, Kollam) and Jebin JB (School of Drama, Thrissur).

Water in Kerala focuses on generating new methods for exploring the intersections of performance and science through participatory cultural heritage experiences, such as storytelling, dance, theatre, musical theatre, and mixed performance modes. This work will increase our understanding of water stories as crucial markers of a community’s cultural traditions, history, sense of place, and relationship to the environment.

United States artists include Beth Graczyk (Seattle/NY), Morgen Chang (Minneapolis, MN) and Aaron Gabriel (Minneapolis, MN).

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