Lanky trees danced to the pitter-patter of rain. The wind was nippy and the smell of the wet earth wafted in the air. Cartwheels, action, dance and drama came together during a practice session of a unique performance called ‘Abertura’ (means ‘an opening’ in Portuguese). I was in BOSCO, a home for street children, watching Heidi Rehse make the newly formed troupe dance to her tunes. The exuberance of the trees seemed to have diffused indoors as the boys grooved to toe-tapping music. Much like trees that stood tall despite the gusty wind, the boys danced gleefully despite being victimized by life’s cruel ways.
Heidi is a professional dancer and choreographer from Germany. In the eighties, she went to Brazil to study dance through a student exchange program. For the love of dance, she stayed on for many years after the completion of her course. As her passion and profession, dance has become a way of life for Heidi. Being an exponent of samba, samba reggae, modern and contemporary dance, she was a part of various dance companies including Afro Dancarte, CIO Afro Danca and Spazzio Company. During her stay in Brazil, she interfaced with children in favelas (shanty towns) of Rio de Janeiro and introduced them to different forms of art. In 2000, she successfully conducted a dance and theatre project called Salamaleque (means ‘lively’ in Portuguese) in Rochina, the biggest favela in Rio and South America. Encouraged by the success of the project, Salamaleque was transformed into an NGO that supports children in education and health care apart from making them culturally aware.
From favelas in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to townships in Accra (Ghana) Heidi used art as a medium to bridge the gaps of race, religion and social status. Abertura was conceived in Rochina and has traveled across continents to Europe, Africa and now Asia. Heidi has worked with street children, children living in slums and immigrants who are trying to find their feet in a new country. “Everyone in the world can dance. Art is where the people are”, says Heidi who has been training people from different strata of society. Immigrants in Germany (in the age group of 11-30 years) who trained under her are going to perform in the upcoming International Youth Festival in Poland in June 2010. Samba Ao Cubo is a group of professional women dancers in Stuttgart, Germany who raise funds for the Salamaleque NGO by staging dance performances.
Working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds is a challenge but Heidi enjoys the experience and that is reason she is here in India. During her one-month stay in Bangalore she will conduct dance and art workshops for the BOSCO boys. "Children should have access to a cultural life. I want to introduce these boys to different forms of music and dance like gumboot and hip-hop. The workshop will include lessons covering the basics of dance and choreography”, she says. Heidi wants to combine the Indian street dance with elements from hip-hop, gumboot and other dancing styles. “We transform anger and rage into dance”, she adds describing Abertura, a performance that depicts violence and then transforms it into a high-energy dance. It is a fusion of theatre elements, non-violent fights, music and mimicry. The workshop will culminate with a staged performance. The boys will also learn to make the props for their stage show. “The boys are making such great progress right now, that I will be able to enhance the show to include a full gumboot performance”, comments Heidi. She plans to organize shows in different locations in Bangalore including two schools and a HIV hospital. . “The performance and experience will help them reinforce their self esteem”, she adds.
Its not just dance, Heidi wants to involve the boys in drawing and photography projects as well. In 2005, Salamaleque handed out disposable cameras to children in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Each camera could capture 27 images. The children were asked to depict their lives through photographs. The little ones composed excellent images bringing to light less known details of their favelas. Selected photographs were displayed in an exhibition called “A Look Inside”, in 2004. The exhibition has traveled to Munich, Stuttgart and Hamburg in Germany, Caxias do Sul and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Basel in Switzerland. In 2009, an exhibition called “African Moments” showcased the photographs by children in Ghana. Heidi plans to exhibit the photographic creations of the Brazilian and African children in India and take the photographs by the Indian children to England, Germany and Brazil.
“These children can show to the world outside what life means to them through their photographs”, she says, as I flip through the stack of enlarged photographs. Each photograph has a story to tell. While some are beautiful compositions others are disturbing. Through the photographs I traveled from the insides of a favela in Rio de Janeiro to a kitchen in Ghana. Schools, garbage dumps, bedrooms, friends, family and shops were subjects of the candid photographs. The dark side of life in our cities does not create the most pleasant of images to exhibit, but it gives us the chance to appreciate, understand and accept people, many of who are social outcasts.
For more information about Salamaleque contact Heidi at email@example.com.
This article was published in Bangalore Mirror on the 06th of June 2010. Below is the link to the online version of the article.