Pupik: In conversation with Yael Karavan and Naomi Silman, Part I
Pupik is a new multi-layered, visual and physical two-woman show that travels through time and space, unveiling layers of personal stories, tracing a line from the personal to the universal. Ahead of their performances at Tara Theatre on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 May, Claire Wearn sat down for a chat with collaborators and friends Yael Karavan and Naomi Silman. The show is a co-production between their award-winning companies, LUME Teatro (Brazil) and The Karavan Ensemble (UK).
Read on for the first part of the interview...
Could you tell me more about the word Pupik; what it translates to and how it became the name for the show?
Naomi: Pupik means belly-button in Hebrew. It is the point in the centre of our bodies that connects us through the umbilical cord to our mothers, and thus to our ancestors. In a way, it represents the point through which we look into ourselves and to our past, to who we are and where we come from. The idea of the show initially was to look into our personal life stories, to try and understand how that contributes to who we are. Through our umbilical cords we are all connected, right the way back to the first human beings.
The challenge for us was to make a show that was very personal and almost self-centred in its research and premise, yet that unearthed something universal that other people could relate to and maybe even inspired them to explore their own stories.
Since Hebrew is sort of our ‘private’ language, we always referred to the project between us as “pupik” but when we came to think of a name for the show we couldn't think of anything better that meant more to us than pupik. We liked the fact that people don't know instantly what it means and it sounds a bit foreign, like us…
Photo credit Adalberto-Lima
The Karavan Ensemble seems to have collaboration at the very heart of its practice. Yael, as the Director of the company, can you tell us more about working with Naomi Silman in this instance. What is unique about this partnership and collaboration?
Yael: Naomi and I met on a staircase at the Philippe Gaulier school of physical theatre in London 21 years ago. People would point out our similarities, but we were both quite sceptical. Maybe it was the uncomfortable feeling of meeting oneself in the mirror! We started to collaborate soon after and did a big project in France, which we brought to Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1997. After that Naomi moved to Brazil and joined the acclaimed Lume Teatro in Campinas near Sao Paulo.
We continued to exchange our work research and experiences. I often travelled to Brazil to train with her company and bring my flavours of Butoh and physical theatre, which soon became an annual trip to Brazil; touring festivals, directing companies and teaching workshops all over that beautiful country. In 2007 Naomi directed a solo of mine ‘The Way Home’, which won an award. Since 2011, we have dedicated about a week per year to work on a show together.
Photo credit Arthur-Amaral
How did you bring together such diverse life and work experience?
Yael: Naomi and I have so much in common, in our ancestry and in our nomadic lifestyle, having both moved so many times, needing to adapt ourselves to foreign places, cultures, languages etc. So we began working on our similarities over great distance and deep friendship, …though working together also brought to the surface a lot of our differences!
This project also gave birth to a new theatrical language in both of our practices. Naomi being more of a clown and also used more text in her shows and myself being more of a physical performer, I often worked in site specific contexts with strong visual elements. Pupik is a very special amalgamation of a deep friendship, of diverse and complementing performative languages, as well as spoken languages dealing with extremely relevant, current issues of migration and the notion of foreignness. I think this is what is special about this specific collaboration.
Photo credit Adalberto-Lima
Pupik explores an international narrative and is also touring across the globe. Are there any similarities in audience response, whether it be Sao Paulo, London or Tel Aviv?
Naomi: Pupik was first created in Brazil for a Brazilian audience. We had many work-in-progress showings while we were building the show over a period of four years, which helped us understand what the audience related to, which cultural references worked and also how to use language, which is a key element of the show.
We discovered that audience reactions varied greatly depending on where we were. In the huge metropolis of São Paulo, it was very different to performing to an audience in a small town in the interior of the North-East of Brazil. We had to continuously adapt at every presentation, to adjust slightly certain cultural references and the energy and delivery of the performance.
When we began to adapt the show for the UK and Israel, we realised we had to make adjustments not only to cultural references, but also to the playing style and use of language as well. So the texts in the show have been considered for each place we show it, while at the same time, we are trying to construct an international, universal narrative.
We have performed to school children and elderly groups. In all countries and age groups, people seem to identify with the idea of friendship, the connection between the two characters and the evocation of our memories. There’s one interactive scene that deals with borders and nationalistic fanaticsm. Some audiences are very participatory, others less so, but it’s a scene that touches a nerve for everyone, no matter which country or background.
Wherever we perform, people are visibly uncomfortable when we speak in languages they don't understand, but audiences everywhere seem to have a similar response to the non-verbal scenes that are more based on images and movement. Maybe that proves our point that the international language is that of the body.
Photo credit Marina Wang
Claire Wearn is a freelance arts manager based in Brighon.