By Sophie Sadler

If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. I certainly had a big surprise when I was invited to the first edition of the Emraizart Festival which ran from 18–23 October. 

As I enter the cork oak forest on a hill in Cotifo, on the way to the Bravura Dam, the delighted squeals of children and laughter are the first clue I’m in the right place. Walking down a track into the woods, I’m greeted by a vision of brightly dressed performers, flags fluttering between majestic corks and groups of children participating in a number of activities that are far removed from the classroom.

Some young children are trying out a trapeze while others are balancing on a plank sitting precariously on top of a barrel – a girl attempts to walk a tightrope while her friend helps her. Scarlet coloured silks hang like magical threads from trees for children to try their hands at aerial acrobatics. In the permaculture workshop, the youngsters are definitely getting their hands dirty as they scrabble in the earth trying to solve the problem of how to change the quality of the soil in order to grow trees. They have picked some acorns and planted them with their bare hands. Horses grazing in a temporary paddock complete the idyllic scene.

The participants in today’s programme are school groups, for whom the daily programme includes three workshops on different themes: permaculture, horses and circus. Berna Huidobro, artistic director of the festival and a performing artist herself, has created a magical woodland world for kids and she has a very specific goal in what she wants the children to learn today. “To have a special relationship with nature – to think that nature is a fun thing to take care of and to observe. To observe the vegetation and the birds. We show them the life cycle of the trees and how the forest is regenerating and how we as humans can learn to coexist in the same environment.”

The artists are friends whom she has met in the performance world, including some from Porto and Coimbra, plus the mentor of the festival, Philippe Phénieux, who has held a festival in France for 20 years attracting 500 children a day. Berna has performed at the festival in France for three years. “You see from the positive vibrations how the children benefit from it and they want to come back every year,” she reflects. “Art makes children laugh together. It’s another way of being together – connecting with art and connecting them to the ground. We are taking the kids out of the classroom and helping them connect with their roots and to the nature that surrounds them in the Algarve. The shows are intimate so the children feel like they are part of the experience and not just observing it.”

Their dream for next year is to have a circus tent so they can have indoor and outdoor shows. “To give us a space we can enter and create a different reality. We want to invite more kids and accommodate a larger audience to watch the show.” She dreams of making the 1.5 hectare site a permanent cultural space.

On the final day of the festival, the public was invited to watch the national premiere of Cabaret do Sul, which brought together the artistic creations of Marionetas Por Um Fio from Brazil and Clown Corazonada from Chile.

The Portuguese Ministry of Culture was a partner in the event through the Programme Garantir Cultura, with the support of the Municipality of Lagos and the Regional Directorate of Culture, among other partners of culture and education in the Algarve.

Berna’s woodland wonderland will no doubt stay in the hearts and minds of all the children who were part of it, including my daughter, who attended with her school and “had the best day ever”. I hope it becomes an annual event.

A Dynamic Double Act

Berna, a circus artist herself, started learning acrobatics as a child, “I learnt my tool to communicate was through my body. You see it and feel it and connect with it.” She studied at the University of Chile, learning about physical theatre, and developed her discipline in partnered acrobatics. She loves to give the audience a sensation of “wow”. She created a theatre company in Barcelona where she lived for six years before travelling Europe with her show. When she met her partner, Tim Belime, in Switzerland, they set up a performance group together.

Born in France, Tim moved to Portugal when he was 11. Then he studied circus and met Berna in Switzerland when they were both working for different theatre companies. They decided to move to the Algarve and try to develop a circus-themed project in Portugal.

When they bought this land five years ago, they had a strong sense of wanting to share it with others and to use it to educate. “We wanted the project to have a special focus on children and families,” explains Berna. She had the idea for Emraizart a year ago and partnered with Nelda, the President of Teatro Experimental de Lagos, who she has worked with for years. “We love to dream together,” she adds.

Watch the teaser for the 1st edition of the festival:

teatroexperimentaldelagos.pt/emraizart

www.facebook.com/TeatroExperimentaldeLagos