Hello amazing projects in Kolkota!
It is a simple fact that there are some inspiring and heartbreaking projects happening in this crazy city of Kolkota. It has been a real joy to work with many organisations and get the chance to meet so many people doing such great work with the children and young people of the city. This past two weeks we have collaborated with Hope Foundation, Barrackpore Schools, Aboni’s Village and Future Hope. Ding-dong! It has been a busy time, full power workshops, performing, improvising, exchanging, discussing, playing, dancing, walking, smiling, music, reading, meeting, laughing, and photographing.
Where to start writing about all the experiences is the sticky bit, how to share the best or most poignant stories with you. So, I spent a week thinking about it, writing and jotting in my notebook on the train to Varanassi and concluded my thought on the Ghats. So here is my brain splurge about our time in Kolkota, continuing from Livi’s previous blog where we left you on a cliff-hanger; about to do a show outside Hope Foundations headquarters…
We walk from hotel Maria…up the street…turn left, go forwards, down the steps and onto the metro. Bump along…squished and smelly pong…up the steps, out onto the street, jump (literally) into a tuc-tuc and whizz down the road…leap out onto the corner and walk some more. We turn a corner in a road we know. Transformed! They have decorated the street with paper chains, giant posters of clowns, stalls of children’s crafts, music and some kind of bingo game. A team of five, we improvise the entire show. With a crowded audience in 360°, we have many discoveries about what we like to do and what this audience likes us to do, we do it again. And it usually comes back to the honking of the horn! A cracking finale to our work with the Nabadisha projects spread across the Kolkota districts, the children show off their new circus skills and make our jaws drop with their incredible hip-hop dancing.
We continue our collaboration with Hope Foundation over the next few weeks. It takes us to some brilliantly inspiring projects around the city. We also worked in two different Girls homes, one for girls 3 years to 13 years, and the other 13 years to 18 years. They were both equally brilliant spaces, impeccably looked after by the girls. We had a gorgeous exchange with the young girls’ home in Caspa of performance in the setting sun on the rooftop of their home. We are back on full power team members and perform our show surrounded by pot plants, metal cage, washing lines and wonderfully smiling young girls. After we spin the fire dry, we are presented with a huge bouquet of flowers and a big thank you card. So touched by this gesture, we are ushered to sit down with lemonade and crisps and they do a show for us. Up popped the scarecrow and Traditional Indian dance totally blew me away; the littlies are so cute with one child always going the wrong way, whilst the older girls showed us some of the fastest Indian gesture dance I’ve ever seen. Whatever sorrow or misfortune brought these girls here they are very well looked after and supported to explore their individual and unique talents. We leave this wonderful evening so happy and appreciated, and I got the sense that this feeling was reciprocated.
A week or so later we visit the older girls’ home. By now we are learning so much about the teams teaching qualities that we are able to respond to each new group we meet. These girls had a strong dance and music interest. During our day we spent with these girls we crammed in all the workshops we could. Anke ran a cracking dance session, the girls loved it and it even got our team leader Andy grooving up and down. Livi hula hooped it up which the girls picked up quickly whilst Andy taught spinning plates. There was one older girl who had one of the best smiles I’ve seen. She spent most of the day trying to spin a plate and getting so much pleasure from not doing it! We shared a lot of laughter. Simon ran an impromptu hip-hop dance workshop which we all thought was brilliant, popping and isolating our bodies. Early in the day we learnt they like to sing, so I ran a singing session, ending with the classic “I like the Flowers” round. Although a lot of these projects are one-offs and only one day, the exchange and interaction runs deep.
The team also went to the Boys Home (although I was classic India sick that day), I hear that it was a great workshop and there was some budding circus talent. The teams’ one word responses include; loud, fun, cracking, sweet, and comrade.
The final project we visited through Hope Foundation was in the train station at Sealdah. Cini Asha provides a safe space for mainly boys who live in the station and some girls come to the drop-in too. Traipsing through the densely crowded station, through the bustle of people carrying huge baskets of goods on their heads, down the slither of platform between the massive parcelled goods and the train carriage, following a smiley chap in a shirt we arrive on the other side of the station to a small room with lots of big eyes waiting for us to do a show. Sitting in a long line down the edge of the space, we prepare our props, connect with our bodies, the space and finally with each other before telling our School Daze story. A small room, we are told to keep as quiet as possible as there are offices all around. The twenty or so children aged between 2 years and 16 years were soooo well behaved. It was such a joy to see their reactions to the show, throughout there was a lot of smiles, many laughs, some furrowed eyebrows and a natural transition from the show into a workshop space where I take lead with ‘follow my leader’. So much fun to be had just with playing breathing in and out and connecting it to movement. This naturally led into games, and wait for it……..FACEPAINTS made their debut with these kids. As we left the train station you could see clown faces dotted between the fast moving legs and baggage. This project was a real eye-opener to how so many children are forced to live their lives. It is always a fast hit in the face when one moment you are engaged in flow play and sharing such genuine laughter and the next you see the poverty and hardship they experience in the reality of their day to day life. It is relentlessly confusing how much poverty and wealth lives side by side.
BARRACKPORE project in the manner of spoken word
Three-in-one, in between we did run.
So many children in spaces made fun.
A giants school yard, dusty and firm.
The train travelled journey, it did not arrive early.
Rush rush do a show, cut it down, don’t break our flow.
Hot hot midday heat, cram in a van, to a nursery we peep.
Tiny tiny, bambaninos, little people stayed entertain-oed.
Double lunch to spice our ears, to the sweetest orphanage.
We could stay for years.
Tucked in the side of a noisy run-way,
these open children, a safe place for a long stay.
Some sleeping Grannies stir awake,
upstairs they come for the show we make.
Together we laugh and really connect,
Ducking your goose,
All spirits runs loose.
This two day expedition was one of the most welcoming and welcomed experiences I have ever had. We went with Aboni, who has become a dear friend but not quite sure how we were first introduced to him. Picking up food from the market on the way to the village, we pile into a road van wagon, hoops, acro mats, fire toys hanging off the roof and an extra addition of a French man with a guitar and didgerdoo. We trundle into the village, which is the polar opposite of city life and fall into a dreamlike state of interactions, performing outside a church, meeting the whole family and being so humbled into many people’s homes who want to look after us. We run workshops with the curious children…
Mud huts, homecooked food, watered squares, hands no spoon.
Handed baby, climbing trees, eyes awide, inquisitive, brushing hair,
Two days divine, welcomed muchly, patted a lot, pig, dog, duck, goose,
Chicken, cat, bug, bug, bug, kingfisher, frogs, toads,
Fish, dragonfly, firefly, animals so much.
Although PWB had been to this project for the whole month in previous years, due to exams we could only come for a one day workshop and show. It was great to meet the kids, although their chants of “Easy! Easy!” were slightly disconcerting. We ran a lovely free flow workshop, starting with warm ups and games, having introduced poi, balls, plates and acro balance we create a space in their sandy playground where the children follow their impulses to play. We bammed out a cracking fire show in this big space that wowed the entire crowd. Big spin offs and a never before rehearsed poi trio between Abi, Anke and I. At first thoughts it would have been great to spend the whole month working with Future Hope, but as this was not possible, we have been in the position where we have met a huge range of projects that run around the chaotic city of Kolkota. All of which have benefited hugely from PWB and the playful interactions we are spreading.
As a lovely full circle to our time in Kolkota, on our last day before leaving, we return to the first project we began with. The Children of Topsia. During our week we spent with them I taught them a song as part of my movement and sound workshop, with Simon’s beatboxing. Little Banana, composed by the lovely Verity Standon, captured the hearts and minds of Los Ninos. Kika had told me after our week work with them they were all “Banana crazy” and “p-t-tsk-p” sound making. YESSSS! The power of singing and the voice. I decided to make a big poster with Little Banana words to leave in their slum classroom. They absolutely loved it! Simon also wrote up some beatboxing patterns that will leave them practicing for a long time. Kika and Achktar who co-run the ship had made beautiful certificates for the children who had participated in ‘PWB in the Park’. As we hand these out to the very proud children, I also give each child a banana badge that I designed and made out of the classic paper, card, glue, safety pin and masking tape. Watching all the children leave the space with their smiles, bananas and certificates, I really feel like we made a difference to these children, they have certainly made a huge impact on me.
As we pack up and leave Hotel Maria, we are all ready to have some cleaner air, but as always it’s really hard to leave the children. My head buzzes with all the faces, the frustrations, the tears, the acceptance, the laughter, the stories, the traumas, the humbling welcomes we receive run deeply into us. We have definitely made friends for life here.
Until the next blog,
Big smiles and Shiva Power!
Francesca ‘Chez’ Dunford
X x x x