Thursday, 28 February 2013

So You Think You Can Dance...With Fire: Arambol Cabaret

It appears as if this year, the acts that didn't make final cut for Cirque du Soleil decided to winter in Arambol, Goa, India.

And since one of their members was turning 30, they agreed to celebrate by putting on a Cabaret/Burlesque Show at Totem, a guest house/ restaurant/bar/performance space at the far south end of Arambol Beach.  And yes, there is a large wooden Totem Pole. Did the Indians confuse themselves with Indians??? and a large circular stage painted with North American Indian tribal designs.

As people strolled in and took their seats at this free event, a dj spun Indian trance music.  children of many different colorings, from many different countries, leapt and froliced about on the stage giggling, twirling, beaming in joyous abandonment like an ad for Bennetton. 

i didn't  try to suppress the grin that spread across my face ear to ear.  what could  i say.  it was a slice of Utopia.

From behind the sarong-hung, makeshift dressing room 3 plumed feline creatures emerged bearing trays of fruit.  they slunk and slithered between the rows of red plastic chairs, hand feeding chunks of watermelon or dangling bunches of grapes before the mouths of the crowd.

the Costumes: imagine a raid on the storage shed of Mad Max meets Cirque du Soleil meets neo-hippie rasta punk. it gives a vague impression of the leather-clad performers - costumes ripped and torn with fashionable unstitched, scalloped edges, buckles and rivets.  and feathers.  lots and lots of feathers.  plumes.   glittering masks.

the Acts: i could never have imagined the art of fire dancing could come so far.
     solo and with partners
     flaming batons twirled
     flaming poi spun
     flaming hula hoops crcled
     flaming candelabras twisted and turned and looped
as zen-like masters slid across the stage manipulating their fire devices in impossible configurations while belly dancing or doing tai chi and even a hot swing dance number straight out of "So You Think You Can Dance," with 2 jitterbugging dancers hot steppng it while swirling batons of fire.

to break up the pyrotechnics, a 'popping' bellydancer isolated muscles never before isolated in public; Johnny Boy from France performed martial arts breakdancing; a man and woman juggling team in black leotards and tights, undulated as one gyrating organism rolling a white, yellow and red ball up, over and across their bodies like pebbles in the ocean; and a Russian pole dancer extended one finely-toned, all muscle, no fat, 5 mile long leg behind her ear while her other equally classic-long lean leg stretched to Mars, as she posed half way up the pole, suspended by her armpit clasped against the pole. 

i had come expecting a few talented individuals amidst a lot of 3-chord guitar strumng accompanying flat singing.  what i beheld was a jaw-dropping, breath-taking display of incredible artistry.

the climax of the evening's performance: the tall blond fire dancer brought out his bow and arrow.  lit the arrow on fire and shot it onto  a paper covered target.  as the paper went up in flames, what was revealed was a heart and OM sign glowing behind.

Arambol -  a tiny beach town in the north of Goa.  between jungle and the Sea of Arabia.  a vortex that pulls the strange, the beautiful and the very very gifted.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Palolem Beach

Monsoon-like downpour in the middle of the night.  Rat a tat a tat of fat raindrops pounding the blue plastic tarp that covers the roof of my thatch-roofed coco-hut. Somehow this thrown together shelter - part palm fronds, part bamboo, part cheapest of cheap particle board - weathered the storm.  But all the locals and frequently visiting tourists mouth the same sentiments: "It's so strange.  It never rains this time of year."

Yesterday evening my friend from Strasbourg, France thrust a pair of leather slip-on shoes in front of my face.  One was conspicuously marked by a huge gnawed-out hole, tiny teeth marks scalloping it's edges.

"Oh my God," I said.  "Something's eaten a huge hole in your shoe."

Marion tramped off to display this travesty to the managers of our huts - Flavia and Louis.

Marion returned ashen.

"Rats," she announced like a biblical prophesy. "I know it's not rational, but I'm scared to death of them."

Louis and Flavia arrived at Marion's hut.  The rotund Louis smiled broadly and laughed.  Usually taciturn, he had never displayed such joviality before.  Who could have guessed that rats brought out the best in him.

Like a crusader dressed in a black and green striped polo shirt, knee-length khaki shorts, and a gold crucifix around his neck to save him from harm, Louis strode into Marion's hut on his pudgy legs.  A man on a mission.

Flavia appeared more shame-faced, smiling weakly and studying the sand around her flip-flopped feet.  She looked up at me, knowing she could count on me for empathy. "Ah, what can we do?  Here it is jungle.  We cannot control.  These things problems everywhere."

"Yes," I smiled understandingly.  I remembered a friend complaining last year about having to share her beach hut with a family of rats that had made their home between the palm fronds in the roof of her Arambol hut.

Flavia and Louis are Goan Catholics.  A tradition started by the Portugese who ruled Goa so many years ago.  The Portugese eventually left.  The religion stayed.  But Goan Catholicism differs wildly from Western Catholicsim.  It has taken on some of the colors and feel of Hinduism.  For instance in the Catholic churches in Choudi, the faithful adorn Jesus with strands of marigolds and other flowers as is common with Hindu followers and their deities.

Louis emerges from Marion's hut grinning.  He puts her leather shoes in a plastic bag and hangs them from a bamboo pole.  "They like to eat leather," he says, his ample belly bobbing up and down with each laugh.  "I'll buy poison tomorrow." He smiles, showing his straight white teeth and wobbles down the three steps to the sand.

"No," Marion says. "I can't sleep in there tonight.  It is not possible."

I understand.  No one wants rats running around where they sleep.  But what can we expect?  We are in the jungle.  Facing out to the sea, a perfectly clean silken-sand beach stretches to the Sea of Arabia.  Every morning local women wearing palm frond hats, cholas, and sarongs sweep the beach clean.  Bending over they create infinity patterns in the sand with their short strands of coconut branches tied together with string. They smile. Chatter together.  Laugh.  Bent over with their short brooms.

But walk out the gate at the back of Flavia's and you enter another world.  A world of villagers.  Blue plastic tarp-topped shacks.  Small cement houses painted pink and apricot and yellow. Long-nosed, slate-gray sows and their baby piglets rooting around in the dirt.  Lucky ones roll around in dirty holes of black mud. Iridescent roosters with flaming red heads, golden necks, shiny green-blacks bodies, and blue tail feathers strut next to yellow-orange hens who scratch the dirt as a parade of fuzzy chicks scuttle about pecking at insects.

Black dogs lie in the shade of tangerine buildings.  Crows hop about shrieking.  Smoke rises from pits of burning rubbish.  Piles of whiskey bottles leaning against the side of the local's watering hole gleam in the sunlight.

One old Goan man seems drunk frm morning to night.  Whether I cross his path at 10 am or 10 pm, he bellows out to me:
"Happy New Years Madam!"   
Ah Palolem Beach. I love it here..