El Berrinche Ambiental by Aileen Lawlor
Categorised in: Nicaragua 2014
By Tour Updates
Phew! We are settling into Leon after an exciting week at the 5th annual El Berrinche Ambiental festival, held in Granada. La Casa de las Botellitas and the Escuela de la Comedia y el Mimo are the venues for this event, at the helm of Diego Gene, a man that everyone in the city seems to know. This festival brought in international talent from Costa Rica, Mexico, Germany, England (Us!..well, I mean, I guess Valentina and I are from the states…) etc. When we rolled up in a bus, some of the kids that Emily, Bags and Jake had known from last year’s tour came outside, instantly greeting their old teachers with warm hugs and high fives, telling old jokes and saying hello to the new volunteers (Justin, Penny, Valentina & I). It was really sweet; these kids spent perhaps a few weeks with those 3 last year, and knew them all by name and acted as if a year had not gone by in between.
We kicked off the week with a celebratory parade through the streets of Granada to the main square, drumming up interest, stiltwalkers dancing and singing, hooping, juggling and clowning all the way to the Casa de Los Tres Mundos, a cultural center of Nicaragua. It was there that throughout the week we got to watch what the other artists had prepared, as well as perform the 40 minute PWB show that we put together in our first 7 days! The week culminated in creating a grand show, including all the artists, to showcase at the end of the week to a theme relating to the environment.
The presentations from everyone, including the young children from the Escuela, had a mind blowing level of acrobalance, clowning, storytelling, comedy and theatre. It seemed to me that people here hold great reverence for clowning & mime. I was so impressed with the skills and physical storytelling present in their acts. I watched some workshops that included great acting and improvisation games, disciplines that contribute to the well-performed clowning apparent among the children and Costa Ricans.
I didn’t understand what the name of the festival represented, so I asked Fito, a super spirited guy that seemed to be central to rallying all the international artists for a meeting every afternoon. He told me that “Berrinche” refers to a child with much rage, with the need for attention, a tantrum. After spending some time in the city, and working with some of the kids in the local barrios, that name took on a profound significance. We witnessed the streets filled with orphans or troubled kids that clutch onto old plastic bottles of glue under their shirts and huff it, resulting in a lost, glazed look over their eyes, gray-faced, stumbling straight into the center of a street show, oblivious to the people around them and only mesmerized with the performers. It was a jarring sight. One night I was getting ready for our show in the Cafe, preoccupied in my mind about the acrobalance bits, when I noticed a young boy standing behind me, watching me put my makeup on. I could smell the glue from a couple feet away. I greeted him; he was very polite with me, and held up his bottle and asked me if I knew what it was. I replied yes in Spanish, and I asked him why he had that stuff. He told me he didn’t have a mother and father. He waved his bottle near my face asking me if i wanted it. Firmly declining, I continued talking to him for a little while longer telling him about the school, about all the kids involved in juggling and performance. I was no longer preoccupied about doing well in the show, but reminded why Performers Without Borders is here in the first place. It was a moment that sobered the dreamy-eyed gringa that I am, from everything so beautiful and rich with culture, to being checked with reality, feeling sad and slightly discouraged.
That moment aside, the show ended up going really well, and the smiles and applause from the locals, other artists, and the children of the school were all encouraging. The participants were all easy going, the children affectionate and smiley and instantly warm. Workshops were taught to 50 kids that walked over a mile in the hot afternoon from their barrio to learn body percussion, tumbling, “hula hula” (how they refer to the hula hoop), juggling, and more skills offered from the artists. All the performers were able to share their skills with each other as well, and
I was delightfully challenged to teach my first contact staff class in Spanish to a group of beginners. It was a highlight for me, even though throughout the week I really struggled with comprehending people. The accent and slang here are very different, and I’m out of practice. I found myself having to really listen and sort out in my head how to articulate things I know I learned over the course of 14 years in Spanish! However, that was also the beauty of teaching disciplines rooted in the body; it has a language of it’s own, and the kids are like sponges & actors, observing what you are doing and through mimicry, picking up the hoop or juggling moves.
I found myself outside the little pulperia one of the last nights with a celebratory group of artists and kids. There was a lot of laughing, eyes sparkling, wonderful drummers and guitarists, singing and dancing. My heart just about burst out of my chest with love for all the quirky people of this festival, and the contribution of time & energy into passing that spirit and fervor for art along to the next generation.