When Culture thrives in the Forests of Catalonia

A new tradition has been established for watching ‘clown’ theatre culture.

I was invited a few days ago to a very special and beautiful initiative from two performing artists in the verdant Catalan village of Arbucies, which is more or less a half-way point between Sabadell and Girona. And what a joy and rich discovery this was….LA VINYA – a one-day festival conceived and executed with qualitative success by Maria Soler & Pau Palous. In their back garden you could say, as it all took place in a number of cleared spaces on their land around their self-renovated house. The sun shone down all day without mercy on a brave hundred or so punters who came to witness the event and later in the early evening quite a few hundred more arrived as a light breeze gave some welcome respite. The standard of the acts for such a small and unsupported event was staggering. ‘Funny’, ‘breathtaking’, ‘spectacular’, ‘moving’, ‘outrageous’, ‘charming’, ‘impressive’ were all words I heard repeated during the day (in Catalan mainly!). I also had some very complimentary comments myself as I witnessed some incredibly professional performances.

Although I wasn’t personally so excited about the music acts on the program, the audience responded well to the Catalan poetry and songs performed. The circus and comedy performances were however for my taste, top class.

Performing as the majordomo Churry.Clown joked and jigged through the day like a defiant trooper, constantly present in her synthetic biker outfit as she spluttered around on her mini Harley-Davidson. She pounded the bike up and down the slopes during the whole event in the heat and relentless sun. Her presence alone made it all worth while as she switched from hilarious improv to crowd animator with ease.

Three women called the Bobas caused uproar with their version of a funeral ceremony which goes haywire when they discover the corpse has gone missing. A brilliant fools study with dedicated and advanced characterisations that clearly demonstrated how excellent women have become at musical comedy and slapstick. Their insistence in grovelling in dirt, eating wads of earth and immersing themselves in chaotic dust whilst seemingly uncaring about their safety or comfort exemplified their true fool tradition which was an absolute delight to witness and a pleasure to see.

The solo artist, Sara Pons, performed a classic clown piece as a luckless gardener designated to clean the piles of leaves from the forest floor: gentle, poetic and underplayed she welcomed her audience’s attempts to help as she handled the half hour with aplomb and leaf-annoying dignity of the clown dancer she is.

The evening program was highlighted by the immaculate performance of La Corcoles on a high wire of about 6 metres. An example of the absolute in a performer’s career. Not one foot seemed wrong. A perfection of circus art. Situated in a clearing behind the house the height of the trees added to the spectacle – see the featured blog image above.

A wild and high energy performance called Shake, Shake and Shake, featuring two guys with their contrasting macho behaviours and an audience girl-victim (a set up) who was never allowed to return to her seat and eventually became integrated to perform excellent comedy trapeze. Some really funny stuff from this well traveled international act.

Then, finally as total darkness fell around the forest, Gemma Sabaté performed an eloquent and poetic diatribe about her own personal and familial liberation. Stripping off the various levels of her trapeze costume of corset and tights and then down to utter nudity in a way that transformed her aerial act into a magical expression of complete innocence. How brave that was I thought! Her refined and assured circus-talent served perfectly to reinforce her statement.

The day’s events lasted more than 12 hours with a very delicious paella served in the afternoon to those who wished it. The evening also featured organic food, with a choice of burgers made from meat or vegetables. Throughout the day the atmosphere was one of peace and respect both for performers and nature. So much work in such heat for the voluntary team of helpers but served all day with smiles and calmness.

In my earlier performance days it was always a dream gig to play at the medieval Barsham Fair in England or at Terschellings Oerol Festival in the Netherlands, since it meant the chance of staying some or at times many nights and performing in the heart of nature. A chance to see many performances from all over the world. Performing at such events also enabled actors to try out various characters which they would otherwise maybe never have the time or place for. An great opportunity to improvise with the public to create memorable, funny and risky scenes of interaction. At Barsham Fair I used to spend each day for hours on end as a medieval joker, as a cheeky philanderer, a priest and so on….which was invaluable as my own apprenticeship in learning the tricks and repertoire necessary for clown, the fool and the public extrovert.

On my 50th birthday I decided to plan a three day event where I lived in Djursland, Denmark at the time. It was fantastic. Annie and Helge Sorensen owned an organic farm called Havergaard near Stenvad. I lived there in their summer house for some years. A paradise very much like the Catalan environs of Pau and Maria…. At that small festival, in the summer of 1998, theatre and music groups from Sweden, Denmark and Holland played, artists from the USA, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Amsterdam, Barcelona and guests and friends from all over the UK plus of course many locals from around Denmark. Three days of great fun and fresh organic food.

The clown flourishes in nature: heart-based energy is the driver of the clown. What better place to communicate than with the limitless magic of the Creator…? As an interesting phenomenon circus theatre and clown creativity continue to bloom in the Catalan mountains and forests in this raw and untouched region of Montseny. Indeed the climate and the tranquility of the lifestyle must be a major factor in the performer’s various processes of creation there.

Left to Right: !) Sara Pons, 2) Las Bobas 3) Early morning set up on the site.

The result shown at this day event mounted by these two charming Catalans shows that the talent and creativity in the region around their house is perfect for the audiences both local and from further away. With the right amount of financial and technical support, this yearly event could become an absolute must on the cultural calendar. And the energy around the participants was welcoming and relaxed, with kids and pets equally cared for. I would be happy to perform there too. Clown energy is heart energy and the nearest heart energy is found in nature…..

Below the organisers Maria & Pau & Riu give their reaction.

Fotos by Johnny Melville & Carolina Feliu. Video by Carolina Fel

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