As a theatre maker and storyteller of many years, I have attended countless rehearsals – but none quite like last night. My heart is so full of the joy of it this morning that I woke up wondering how I could share it with you.
I was invited by the delightful Nela Trifkovic, to collaborate with Saray Illuminado on an evening of story and music unplugged, at Eagle’s Nest, an intimate venue in Brunswick. Nela described their music as being something like a Balkan take on Portuguese Fado; music of longing, romance and layered rhythmic sensuality. The songs are full of rich imagery and symbol and even if they are not in a language you understand, the music speaks a universal language that is transporting.
This sent me off to do my homework, as a storyteller does, to find stories from the region of Bosnia and Herzegovina that could sit beside this rich Sevdah music. My detective work took me to stories from Illyrian and Slovenish sources, the Sephardic Jewish tradition and the poetry of the Sufis. Next, I had to choose some stories and begin to learn them.
Finally, the night arrived for my first rehearsal with Saray Illuminado. I left home excited, hoping that I had learned the stories well enough to tell them clearly and check that I was on the right track.
We met in Irine’s beautiful home, where I was warmly welcomed. Looking around the table, these were all people I had seen perform over many years and admired their musicianship and drank up their music. Before any rehearsing was to be done, we shared a feast, beautifully spread across the table. The group had not seen each other since before Christmas and it was lovely to be among the warmth of their reconnecting, the sharing of personal stories and much laughter. It was delicious food, shared on small plates, best eaten with the fingers and washed down with strong coffee and the best halva in Melbourne – apparently you can die from over-eating it. So the story goes. A little grappa followed to finish the meal. As we ate, I told two of my stories, which were warmly received and added to with comments about their origins and other stories they were related to from a broad array of cultures.
When it came time for the musical rehearsal, the instruments came out right where we had been eating. No-one left the table. Instead, the same circle that had been warmed with friendship and the sharing of food, was woven round with rich rhythms; sighing, thrumming strings from Ernie Gruner and Irine Vela; the sweet cry of the ney from Kelly Dowall; bone shaking bass from Dan Witton – and Nela’s unforgettable voice that seems to call out to your heart and at the same time tell the tales of the ages – all peoples, all lands and all time – with the earthiness of long-lived wisdom.
I felt the music in my core, feet tapping and body rocking, until the night drew to a close. Instruments were packed away and we left each to our own homeplace, after warm farewells, and left-overs generously gifted into grateful hands.
What a privilege to be among such people of good heart and outstanding skill! I’m so looking forward to telling stories in their fine company.
There are still some tickets left for February 12th, but I suggest you book soon!