Ay Ombe: Angels and Sambistas

Ay Ombe was our first big international residency at Infinite Souls. It was scheduled for January 2009 and we’d been working like fiends to get the El ready in time for them. December was a blur of curtains, cooking utensils, Fasiullah’s beds, Sohail’s shop in Richard’s Square, sheets and Avenue Road. Chairs, rugs and soap dishes from Dastakaar. What did we do for Christmas? Can’t remember? Oh yeah, Kai and the gang were here. Madan's dense, dark chocolate torte for desert and Midnight Mass at St.Mark's. We didn’t even make it to Nanu’s beach house for the new year, that’s how crazy it was.

And then they arrived. Josefina and her gang of angel-sambistas. Time watched with bated breath. Every evening as the sun went low, we’d sit on the verandah - Anjula, Kuki and I – and think how fortunate we were to witness their delicate and ironic improvizations. Once, a mad improv , using the same cooking utensils that we’d bought from Sohail and one of Fasi's beds that was lying out in the open. Anna and Paulina peering through a cheese grater, while Alejandra lolled on the bed tapping absently with two pans. Feminist resonance? But of course!!! Another time an improv through all the doorways at Infinite Souls. Yet another time, a lyrical movement through the banana grove. Lines of women in white and the green of the banana plants

In the morning they awoke at 3 am and began their day with an hour of silence. Once I opened my eyes a crack and saw a drift of women in the dense 3 am fog, hooded against the cold, making their way to the Round. They came in for a Kalaripayattu session with Mothi straight from the silence, so were imbued with a special buzz. Vitality in white.

Then Meyerhold technique with Josefina or chithaara with Radha or konokol with Kuki. And if ever there was any danger of melancholia, snap! Josefina got everyone dancing. DJ fresh from Harlem, she hit us with Shirley Bassey, Miles Davis, Beyonce. And samba was never far away. Josefina - Caribbean-Indian soul sister, fellow traveller, laugher, lover, dhal-eater - played for us Gilberto, Jobim - tut, tut, tah/ tut, tut, tah...wind it like a clock!

The thing to really dig – Josefina facilitates a process that helps actors develop their own stories in the duration of the workshop, then leave - develop them, perform them, change them, improve them. Ay Ombe members come from a variety of countries – Chile, Cuba, The Netherlands, Germany and meet once a year to renew their practice, take direction, build skills. So the whole process remains alive and dynamic. No office, no administration, no overheads. Each one responsible for one soul, but plenty of sharing and collaborative spirit. Viva la Compagnie!

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