Sunday, 12 October 2014

Chapter 41: CASA Festival - Clowning around in "Come Visit Argentina"

"So, what are we going to do again this afternoon Mum?" The kids faces fall, their father's already resigned, as I explain to them we are off to watch a couple of Argentine clowns talk about their country. In Spanish. With subtitles. "No really" I insist "Trust me, you'll love it." And then I cross my fingers and bribe them with an ice-cream in the foyer of RichMix in Shoreditch.

"Come Visit Argentina"/"Visite Argentina" is the work of Jorge Costa and Julia Muzio "on a mission to tell the rest of the world about the amazingness of the glorious and exotic Republic of Argentina, with its gauchos, steak and tango" (CASA programme). While I'm not sure the invitation would extend to Jeremy Clarkson right now, muppet of the moment last seen driving around Argentina in a Porsche number-plated H982 FLK (what the flk was he thinking?), as soon as we stepped over the threshold we felt right at home. Su CASA es mi casa, after all.   

And here's the thing, there's a bit of a history of Anglo-Argentine collaboration in clowning around. After all, the origins of Argentine national theatre - the gaucho (cowboy) drama - has its roots in the circus of Brighton-born clown, Frank Brown, in the 19th Century. He stopped off in Buenos Aires on tour one day, fell in love with the place and settled. His circus show reflected the love he had for the country, and cemented (adopted) national pride, by always ending with a story about the gauchos, complete with horse-tricks, singing and dancing. The gaucho drama then moved from big-top to theatre and evolved from there. Legend. I'll be sending a copy of his biography to Clarkson for Christmas.    

"Come Visit Argentina" was introduced and interspersed with pre-recorded video messages from the most-illustrious (ie. hapless) itinerant Minister of Tourism for the itinerant country, with his chain-smoking secretary as foil, introducing the couple in various guises of Argentine cliché. The waiters, the folk-dancers, the maté-sipping gaucho and his china, and the tango-dancers. In each incarnation the comedy was physical and slapstick, lots of clouts and tumbles, and this non-verbal cartoon language of thwack, bang, wallop was an instant hit with the children. Phew. They said they loved it all, but one of the highlights for them were the waiters juggling their trays, then turning them into Mickey Mouse ears, and the stunt tumbling down the whole flight of auditorium stairs. For the adults there was the comedy of sexual politics - the gaucho taming his wild stallion, the tango dancer showing us the dance step The Mare as she is reined in by her partner (but not for long). For Spanish speakers there were the linguist plays on words and Argentinisms (ché, vos cachís, no?) to enjoy. For my husband and I the tangueros reminded us of our own comic attempts many moons ago to learn the dance (we both like to lead, we quickly discovered!), and flying around the dance-floor. Not always intentionally. 

As with Friday night, and the Chilean company Caldo con Enjundia in the previous post, it was the physical energy, presence and chemistry between the performers that kept the momentum going and attention riveted. There was never a dull moment, and laughter throughout. I had not originally intended to bring the toddler (and nor by default, my husband, the babysitter) but a chance encounter with Julia on the festival's opening night, when her own toddler had pulled me by the finger in search of grapes, assured me that mine would be welcome, and have a playmate to boot. And so there she was, laughing and clapping all the way, and then after the show, the music still playing, an impromptu disco ensued with her new found best friend. Now that's what I call building bridges for the future. 

Oh, and as a postscript, it turned out that an old Spanish friend staying for the festival, had the winning ticket for the raffle afterwards. The prize is a meal for two at a local Argentine restaurant, and while the kids are at school tomorrow he is very kindly taking me and his surrogate grand-daughter (the toddler) out for lunch. Olé! Lots to digest, my bombilla of maté is calling ...

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