June 26, 2017
Julieta Rubio and Charles Beauchamp are constantly preparing floats for the streets. It is a job they have been doing together for about 30 years. Their ability to gather people and to make them part of a collective dream of colour, music and fantasy, is the key to their success. They met at the atelier Heighter in Paris, as young artists and printmakers, and from there, they moved to Suffolk, to the country house that Charles had inherited from his father, a French immigrant to Britain. With two small children, in the mid 80s they decided to leave Suffolkfor London, where their careers as ‘carnavalistas’ started.
The beginning of Mandinga Arts the name of their organisation- was very informal and grew from around the kitchen table with some friends that by chance they had made at the Spanish classes of their children. With Luz Helena Caicedo, Eti Marin, Eti’s sister and their husbands, the parents of the ‘compañeritos’ of the Spanish classes started a folk dance group and put on some presentations at the Surrey Hall in Stockwell, now demolished.
What it followed was an invitation to participate at the Notting Hill Carnival. For Julieta to see so many people coming to help was amazing. In the garden we were rehearsing our dances and building a carroza. Although the majority of the people who joined them at that time were Colombians, she remembered a carpenter, an English carpenter, who built the ‘armadura’, the framework of the floats.
At that moment, things for Julieta and Charles were definitely changing in a new direction. Until then they had worked independently but for a couple of collective exhibitions, the last before their appearance in the Notting Hill Carnival.
It was the beginning of ‘Mandinga Arts’ too. The name for the group, Mandinga (a little devil) whose origin is African, was her idea. It was a way to ‘recover’ not only the stories of Mandingas but of many other mythological stories she heard in El Libano, Tolima, in Colombia, where she lived as a little girl.
Both, Charles and Julieta love Latin music especially the ‘salsa, which is a word to describe cuban music in general, or vallenatos, the story-telling music of Valledupar, a city from Colombia known for its traditional music festivals. Salsa and vallenatos are in occasions part of their repertoire in their performances in the street.
That is the music that usually marks the rhythm of their dancers who walk or jump playfully with their customs originated from Latin America, or European traditions
What appears to be so spontaneous in the street, it is an accumulation of knowledge, experience and research from their part. It begins in a sheet of paper, with a very detail proposal of roles and sections and finishes in a final triumphant integration and synchronization of giant puppets, a float or carroza, and groups of dancers, musicians and circus performers. In total more than 100 people in all.
People of all sorts are part of Mandinga’s Carnivals: children, adults of all ages, amateurs and professionals, dancers and choreographers, and people without any experience of acting or performing: “There are people who join in who don’t know the talent they have for performing in the street,” explains Julieta.
The themes of the Carnival, are in occasions tributes to countries, or to important and abstract topics, They define rhythms and performers: Cuban rhythms, Cuban choreographers and Cuban dancers or Brazilian rhythms, Brazilian choreographers, Brazilian dancers and Brazilian characters.
Julieta and Charles love to search original sources for their themes and they travel often to places to investigate and enrich their creative work. In one occasion, for example, when they chose Art as a Carnival theme, they visited the Prado museum in Madrid to look in detail at all the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. They went to Oruro, Bolivia, to the Diablada Boliviana, or Festival of Devils, they enjoy the spectacle and learned the techniques and use of wires to animate the puppets, as well as the use of embroidered costumes.
The idea is to make hats, and clothes that shine and attract the eye of their spectators: In their work there are hats created with exotic orchids, with parrots, with flowers, butterflies, and fireflies made with cloth, wood and other materials; there are curious objects from Africa and the Amazonian mask which belonged to one of Charles’s uncle. There are also pictures, like the one painted by the Cuban Manuel Mendive, and the one painted by Julieta, to honour those Mexican women who followed their men on the battlefield in the Revolution.
Apart from building models, Charles delivers talks and workshops for teachers and artists interested in making figures for events in open spaces. Both, Julieta and Charles, want to share their knowledge and experience as much as possible. which in Charles words is the result of ‘putting together’ two different cultures, something that Charles resumes as “the joint of the Latin and the European worlds”.
What started one day with a small group of friends, has become a big enterprise, a celebration of colour, and music, and imagination, that congregates hundreds of artists of any type, and brings happiness to many others in many streets and in many countries (England, Ireland, France, Italy, Colombia, Cuba, South Africa, Denmark, Germany and China). Julieta and Charles are now celebrating to have received once more the support from the Arts Council England. The National Portfolio was announced on Tuesday 26th June.