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sforzando    Aritz Branton – translator and contributor to the balde – told me about a special play. In Portugal, local people and a town band had put on a piece of popular theatre. “I’ll give you a recording”. After watching the play, we had the chance to speak with the director, Mafalda Saloio, about popular theatre of this type. It was great to hear that her next project is to bring Sforzando to the Basque Country. How did Sforzando come about? What needs did it answer?

Sforzando was created while I was artist in residence at CCC Theatre at Caldas da Raina in Portugal. It was a show put on by the city’s Commerce and Industry Band. I had wanted to use music as the script, as the motor behind the emotions, for some
time. Philharmonic bands’ and orchestras’ natural theatricality and poetry touch me; the force they have is something like that of the Greek chorus; the relationship between musicians and their instruments – they become a single body – is very powerful.

Bands appear in the most important moments of our lives: at parties, at funerals, at dances, in rituals… Music visits life at the greatest moments. Sforzando was born to find bridges between theatre and society, daily life and art; it’s live theatre which goes deep down and starts to work from the very roots.

Getting musicians – non-professional actors – to act must have been quite a task. What was that process like?

It was very intense personally and artistically. The first step was to go to the band’s rehearsals: I submerged myself in that great
family’s stories. Later we started to work on theatre and dance for the musicians to get involved in the creative process. That was a very important moment because we started to find an artistic language common to the group. But a universe of trust and real enthusiasm sprang up very quickly which made what
had been impossible at first become real… The group was wonderful, the group members were incredibly generous and there was great freedom to create, which was an amazing gift for the performance.

With almost no words, music and movements guide the play… What is Sforzando about?

Sforzando is about the power of music and an orchestra’s creative ability, an orchestra which starts playing music even though everything around it is being knocked down. It’s a hymn to everyone who lives by their effort in this world. The word “Sforzando”, for musicians, means “suddenly and with strength”.
The show is about artistic daily life – which remains alive – and the strength and enthusiasm which people have to do what they want to do, because there are poorer and poorer resources for this daily life… fewer and fewer resources… It’s the story of a travelling orchestra; it tells us about life through the theatre of the absurd, poetry, movement and music.

People’s theatre. Popular theatre. On the one hand it’s collective work, on the other, it’s directing a large work group. How did the participants react to the hierarchy? How did you guide your relationship with the actor-musicians?

The project worked because we had an agreement of confidence and to create together from the start: that confidence was indispensable. The play was the result of everybody’s creativity through improvisation; the musicians brought their own universe to the performance. The band leader – Adelino Mota – was my
creative partner throughout the process. We shared both the dramaturgy and the musical arrangements to bring those two languages together. It was a very large group – 55 musicians plus professional actor Victor Andrade also took part – and their work discipline and skill made everything much easier.

We no experts, but it seems to us that there are two increasingly differentiated tendencies in theatre. On the one hand, commercial theatre orientated to sell tickets; on the other, experimental work which is interesting but also very inbred and intellectual… Where is popular theatre now?

I think that when art comes into a person’s life, and people get into art, reality can only improve; it gives us the possibility to transform things and make them more human. The idea behind bringing theatre and everyday life together is to find a universal language, something outside time and in which there is a new, open creativity and point of view. Popular theatre begins in life itself, in the characters, to reach a new universe in which art exists in streets, in windows, in houses and inside us too.

We have “Pastoral” in the Basque Country. Popular theatre in which the whole town gets involved and takes part. Do you know it? If so, what do you think of it?

I haven’t yet had the chance to see a Pastoral, but I have been to Maskaradak in Zuberoa and I think it’s amazing how a complete town throws itself into making a theatrical performance. It’s wonderful for people to revisit their ancestors’ rituals through dance, theatre, food and coexistence. These events help to mark cycles of renewal in a community and I think it’s important to celebrate cycles in life (nature, farming, the seasons…)

Would you like to add anything more?

Sforzando is the latest work I have done with a community: before that I’ve worked with fishermen, an agricultural village and various community dance groups. I want to develop projects like this in the Basque Country, here where there is such a long tradition of collective organisation, in which different groups are
so active and where, by combining different artistic projects, such interesting things can be done.