About the impossible and the roots – body music in Serbia

The article was written for Serbian portal nova.rs by Ana Vrbaški, about Alice in WonderBand and body music in Serbia.

As someone who stayed in Serbia, while many left, maybe I can speak for those who are still here? Or about the impossibilities, which all of us here had to turn into possibilities, if we wanted to survive? The end of the year seems like the right moment to draw a line, at least symbolically.

There is this madness with New Year’s resolutions and looking back on the previous year, which seems culturally imposed. Is it artificially created or is it natural? The end of the year, the cycle has ended, the death of nature still seems like a point at the end of the sentence.

And culture, as its name suggests, is something that is cultivated, so that makes it partly artificial, because someone has to look after it and feed it. Again, something cultivated must be alive in order to grow. As a worker from cultural area, I feel it as an inseparable part of me: if there were no art, meaninglessness would win. My existence is constantly wrestling with meaning, but the communion with the audience and the love I give and receive makes me believe that meaning exists.

Join us at February 5th at the online workshop on International Day of Body Music, brought internationally with through International Body Music Festival.

I wandered on my artistic path for a long time. I’m a rock and roll kid, but my interests were always very broad, so I was into blues, pop, new music, ethno, psychedelia. I have some classical music training and I found Bach and Mozart endlessly exciting. As a Yugoslav child, I was raised in the spirit of cosmopolitanism and I was equally close to Hesse, Ende and Tolkien. I didn’t find myself into local writers, because I was dreaming about art, and their writings were difficult and painful, often burdened with a socialist narrative, which was suffocating ideologically and was a mantra we ran into everywhere back then.

When I became a mother in my first year of university and decided to move to nature, to Fruška Gora, everything changed. Life happened. Suddenly I was immersed in everyday problems and solving the simplest, and sometimes the most difficult, practical problems of feeding, sleeping, cleaning. In parallel with that, I continued with my artistic experiments and cultural research, in the modest scope in which I could dedicate myself to them. If we fast forward to the next fifteen years, another child, different workshops of physical theater, music, circus, movement, we reach the moment when I was mature enough to choose something new, which could really gather my creative forces in all ways and employ them. It was body music.

This selection was the result of sincere artistic research. To bare myself as an artist and leave only what is basic, which is my body and voice. Because honesty was one of the guiding principles I was looking for, which is why I went to live in nature 25 years ago and why I constantly fell and rose on my artistic and life path. Being honest is an underrated trait, especially in public relations or on the way to the top of your career.

Body music in Serbia

Returning to the body and body music also brought me back to my cultural roots, which I previously rejected and did not value too much. Of course, I liked to sing some of the folk songs, but I always ran after the West, because it is part of our petty-bourgeois culture, to study abroad, to copy everything that comes from outside and to glorify it. Paradoxically, I learned about body music, again, from an Italian, on a European project in Warsaw, and he brought this knowledge from South America.

If we go back to our roots, we will remember that our ancestors in the Balkans, not so long ago, danced together in a circle, beating their feet on the floor and clapping, while singing. Sounds familiar?

It took several years for my partner, Marko Dinjaški, and I to become familiar with the possibilities of body music as a technique in a musical and theatrical – or performing – sense. Yes, we did, we “steal knowledge” (as Grotowsky would say) from the West; although in body music this knowledge comes from all over the world, from Africa, both Americas, Asia, Europe, even from the Faroe Islands, for example. We didn’t stop there, but in parallel we explored our Balkan roots. Then we created a cosmopolitan material that respects the world’s cultural heritage and celebrates the music of the Balkans.

For too long in these areas we have been copying and artificially transferring models from abroad. It is not that there is nothing to learn from the world. The world, also, has a lot to learn from us. I jokingly spoke to a friend from Germany, when the pandemic was at its worst: “Well, now you know how it is for us, you and the whole world. Nothing can be planned, nothing is certain, everything depends on someone else“. And yet, even in such conditions, we who remained, managed to survive and create.

That is why the impossible does not exist. Everything is possible. The only question is how true you are in your desires and efforts, how steadfast and persistent you are and how much you want to give in order to receive. If you give a lot, you will get a lot. I want to believe that. Because without that faith that what we do has meaning, everything collapses. And today we really need faith in love and understanding.

The author is a body musician, singer, composer, music and theater performer. The album RikaTaka, New Balkan Rhythm that Alice in WonderBand released in November 2022 for the German label CPL Music is currently in eighteenth place on the World Music Charts Europe. She has been living with her artistic and life partner for 25 years on Fruška gora. They organize New Balkan Rhythm festival, the festival of body music, for the second time in 2023 in Sremski Karlovci.