Global Connections at Parade the Circle
This year marks the Cleveland Museum of Art's 25th Parade the Circle event. Since 1990, the Cleveland Museum of Art has been bringing this FREE signature summer event to Greater Cleveland. University Circle comes alive with color, music, and art for all ages. International and national guest artists join Greater Cleveland artists, families, schools, and community groups in a spectacular display of bright costumes, giant puppets, stilt-dancers, handmade masks, and colorful floats. Circle Village, which includes activities, entertainment, and food, is presented by University Circle Inc. Leading up to the June 14, 2014 event, we feature some of the stories that make up the last 25 years of Parade the Circle.
The interplay of global traditions and cultures, in particular the influences from countries with a strong history in the celebration arts, have helped form the spirit of Parade the Circle since its inception. Beginning in 1995 with the help of the Ohio Arts Council and Robert Bergman’s blessing, our international exchange with Trinidad and Tobago began. This web of the international celebration arts culture soon spread throughout the Caribbean, to Europe, Canada, Mexico, other regions of the United States, South America, and Africa—in that order! The artists here each came with a different role to play in these exchanges.
As we were thinking about moving out from the Caribbean to other carnival countries Ana Paula showed up on our doorstep. In Cleveland for a workshop at Cleveland Public Theatre, she found her way to us and eventually led me to Brazil and the many traditions that are celebrated simultaneously in her country.
Mary Jo and Amy came to Cleveland in 2001 via Uncle Bob and brought with them the fine art of bicycle art technology and a wonderful sense of theatrical whimsy. Their history with the Heart of the Beast May Day Parade has brought Cleveland a glimpse into on of only two other comparable events to our Parade throughout the U.S. Sharon joined this duo just a few years later.
Kelvin joined the rank of repeat Guest Artists when in 2003 I began looking for some steel pan artists to come to Cleveland to help strengthen our pool of steel pan players (pictured below). From a small village in Tobago where every child learns to play pan in elementary school, Kelvin grew up with the instrument as a tool for community engagement. He is now my son-in-law.
Faye Hargate, Cleveland Public Theatre’s Education Associate and Program Director of Brick City Theatre, has been involved as the Cleveland liaison for several international Parade artist residencies. She has worked with Agua, Sol y Sereno of San Juan, Ana Paula, and a team from Burkina Faso, South Africa and France.
Abdoulaye is one of our newest international exchange artists. Initially travelling with a company of Bwa masqueraders from Boni, Burkina Faso, Abdoulaye returned to Cleveland the following year to work in the 3 way exchange with France and South Africa.
One of the nice things about Parade the Circle is feeling like I am in a family away from home. I think it is great to be in a northern culture and exchange different ideas and outlooks. My culture has a big impact on the Parade because in the Caribbean “mas” is an integral part of our tradition. I think this Caribbean vibe adds a splendor to the Parade and inspires the other artists who are participating from around the world. People seem to enjoy every moment of the colorful puppets, masks and masqueraders and this reminds me a lot of Trinidad and Tobago. Having another culture be inspired by one’s culture brings joy. For me, as an artist, I have also learned a lot from the other visiting and Cleveland area artists who participate in Parade the Circle.
The opportunity to meet and engage with the international community has always been one of my favorite aspects of the parade. One year was particularly special. For several years back, in NYC, I was a member of the percussion group Maracatu New York, which studied and promoted a relatively unknown rhythm from Northeastern Brazil called “maracatu” and the culture it derives from which is steeped in parade performance, music and dance.
Taking a week off from the band, I flew to Cleveland to participate in Parade the Circle. Working at the tent, building puppets and learning to stilt with my regular puppet group, I was suddenly face to face with people that I had met in Brazil the year prior. Not only were they going to be a part of Parade the Circle, but their performance would include a percussion group playing the maracatu rhythms and would include dancers dressed in traditional style maracatu ball gowns. I was thrilled to see them and know that Parade the Circle was going to showcase this culture. Myra’s voluminous ball gown made from upcycled potato chip bags was a glorious vision of color and reflected light.
In the years that followed, this Brazilian group and musicians from the same area would participate in Cleveland’s parade and then visit us in New York and parade and/or work with us. The environment of opportunity that Parade the Circle creates for international connections helps promote cultural education and, in my humble opinion, is vital as the world shifts into a more global state.
Collaboration. Compassion. Community. Creative Engagement. These guiding principles of Cleveland Public Theatre’s Brick City Theatre program are put into active practice when participating in CMA’s Parade the Circle. Brick City Theatre, an after-school program for youth ages 5-14 years, who live in public housing of Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, has a long history of participating in Parade. For a number of years we have been an outreach site and have had the unique opportunity to work with CMA international artists. Through doing, perceived cultural barriers diminish and empathizing with genuine curiosity begins to grow.
Most recently, we collaborated with Ana Paula Jones of Raízes da Tradição, Brazil. Ana Paula introduced the youth to Brazilian songs, dances, traditions and philosophies. She shared the story of the Curupira, a mythological creature of Brazilian folklore, which was our core inspiration for our 2013 Parade entry.
The Brick City youth also learned of Ana Paula’s work with the youth in the Brazilian favelas. This is where the big AHA moment took place. The Brick City youth know poverty, but seeing it from another point of view triggered some deeper understanding. The Brick City youth have limited opportunities for cultural exposure, so this global exchange left lasting impressions and was a crucial component of enriching the youths’ worldview and expanding their understanding of humanity: We all like to play. We all can work hard. We are all human beings who deserve respect and crave creative expression.
Ana Paula Jones
I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1995, while I was studying acting and theater direction at the University, I met Raymond Bobgan, then with a small theater company from Cleveland, Ohio. In 1996, Raymond invited me to do my first show in Cleveland and there I met another very important person, Massoud Saidpour, then the education director of Cleveland Public Theatre. Massoud inspired me to start questioning. One day, while working together, he raised the question, “Who are your ancestors?” This question changed everything and I couldn't stop until I got to the bottom of it.
At the same time, Robin VanLear, community arts director for the Cleveland Museum of Art, asked me to teach capoeira in the Circle of Masks, a kick off for Parade the Circle. Myself, Baba David Coleman, and the dancers from the Cleveland School of The Arts with Bill Wade, were the first who performed Capoeira in Cleveland in 1997. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian cultural living expression, really a way of life. I was very challenged by Robin’s request. I called my master garrincha in Brazil, and he gave me his blessing and I started teaching it. This became my life, to discover and to answer questions related to my heritage and Capoeira and Parade the Circle was the real beginning of all of it.
I started researching who I was throughout my cultures, my traditions and my heritage. In Brazil I decided to begin a national Brazilian tour of traditional masters, and with this project my organization "Raízes da tradição" (Roots of Traditions) began with the mission of spreading those traditions, elevating those traditional masters to level of fine arts. An international tour followed
In 2005, I returned to Cleveland’s Parade the Circle and organized the First Living Expressions International Conference with CMA's department of Community Arts, at Case Western Reserve University with close collaborators of Raízes in the Brazilian government, and scholars and artists from the USA. In 2006, Robin VanLear went to Brazil, to experience the Brazilian Carnival, and the traditions and rituals of Pernambuco that we had been researching in the last 10 years. In 2013, I was invited to participate in the Creative Fusion program sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation, and hosted by Cleveland Public Theatre and participated in Parade the Circle with CPT.
Every time, I come back to Cleveland to participate in parade is an incredible experience and opportunity. Parade the Circle, is the most incredible space for cultural exchange, creative work, and respect of my traditional cultures that I know. Parade The Circle has been influencing and changing my life as a human being and as an artist.
Mary Jo Nikolai
Parade the Circle follows Wade Oval, a circle that is barely one mile and yet that circle connects artists and musicians separated by thousands of miles. I work as a visual artist in Minneapolis, Minnesota, creating large scale puppets and sculptures for many public art events. What keeps me and fellow guest artists, Amy Ballestad and Sharon Epperson coming back to Cleveland and Parade the Circle are those connections with fellow guest artists from Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico, New York City, Canada and Parade the Circle’s own amazing artistic staff and creative community.
The parade’s greatest gifts are the artistic and personal connections made. One of those connections involved my Uncle Bob, a retired vice president from British Petroleum. When I first worked as an artist on Parade the Circle, Bob, volunteered to help out. Uncle Bob studied mechanical engineering at Yale and once built a small prop plane in his garage. The mechanical and structural aspect of parade building intrigued him, so he often would hang out in the parade’s carpentry shop. There, he struck up a friendship with Murphy Winters, a master builder from Trinidad and Tobago. Soon Murphy and the other staff artists referred to him as “Uncle Bob.” and started calling me and Amy “Uncle Bob’s girls.”
Uncle Bob showed up every morning in his work clothes and stayed until the late afternoon. Bob had really hung out with artists on a regular basis, but now he was on a first name basis with many artists from around the world without traveling more than a few miles from his lifelong home in Seven Hills. Bob died before he had a chance to work on the parade a fourth time, but I know that Parade the Circle was something he looked forward to those last few years of his life.
The first time that I participated in Parade the Circle was in 2010 with the group of masqueraders from Boni in Burkina Faso. The theme of the 2010 Parade was "Zounou Younou Here. A Door Opens." As suggested by the title, the museum's door was opened widely for Africa's cultures and traditions -- the event coincided with the opening of the new gallery of African art in the museum's refurbished 1916 building. I had a chance to return to Cleveland and take part in Parade for a second time in 2011. That year I collaborated with two Frenchmen and three South Africans on the construction of giant puppets which recount the history of Shakuntala. Both my participations in the Cleveland Museum of Art's Parade the Circle have been wonderfully rewarding and highly instructive for me.
Parade the Circle is a landmark for the preservation of world culture. It is a grand event ideally suited for aesthetic expression and for the showcase of artistic talent and traditions. It contributes to a sharing of culture, of creativity and of innovation. A crossroad of cultural diversity, through its Parade, the Cleveland Museum of Art awakens and brings to life cultures and traditions, allows for the exchange of ideas, and enables social cohesion between artists from a variety of backgrounds, while at once stimulating their development.
Parade comprises demonstrations, ceremonial actions, rituals, traditions of various origin, masquerades, and dances. The music is as important as any other element; the multitude of musical instruments deployed is amazing, with the barrel drums among the most impressive. The savoir faire of the artists harmonizes beautifully with the infatuation of the spectators. “Vive Parade the Circle!”
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> BLOG: Parade the Circle: 25 Years Later and Looking Forward
> BLOG: Parade the Circle: In the Beginning
> Learn more about Parade the Circle
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