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Juggling Under the Trees

Undertree combines three things: a few street theatre performers, film production and a travel blog. On their travels, Eva Mulej and Uroš Marolt share their art of contemporary circus, especially juggling, and street theatre. They’re artists and educators. Eva is a student of family psychotherapy and a social pedagogue who likes to spend her free time crocheting and playing music. Uroš teaches in the lower grades of primary school and likes to hike in the mountains. Together, they write a travel blog that goes by the name Undertree and uses Trees travel slowly as the slogan. When they started travelling, they mostly slept out in the open, under the trees. The idea for the name of the blog therefore came naturally. Their work is always linked to nature and Uroš also shoots short experimental (forest) films, and even when they met trees were something they had in common. People often think they’re siblings, so they like to joke around that they’re joined at the hip.

They started performing in Slovenia and then continued throughout Europe and Africa, but they made their first steps out into the world together when they visited Europe’s largest primeval forest of Peručica in Bosnia. That’s when they first performed together on a street and put on a humorous impromptu performance in Sarajevo. In August 2018, they went on a one-year trip. They travelled to Morocco by car, taking their ceramic toilet with them, since it was part of their circus performance back then.

How did you end up doing street circus art?

We completed our education Street Theatre School ŠUGLA. It’s a two-year non-formal education under the auspices of Ana Monro Theatre that organises the Ana Desetnica street theatre festival each year. During the studies, you gain knowledge about various fields of theatre, such as physical theatre, voice, rhythm and sound, partner acrobatics, interaction with the audience, the use of public spaces, and the play under the tutelage of Slovenian and foreign artists. Street theatre appealed to us with its uniqueness (it happens here and now), unpredictability (each performance is different), exploring of the public space and communicating with the audience that might otherwise not even visit theatres. Getting the attention of the audience on the street requires special preparation and engagement. You have to be wholly present in the moment – if a cyclist drives through the stage, as a performer, you have to do something about it because that cyclist just became a part of the show. And you get to know the city in a completely different light. Working in a public space is also a kind of activism because we’re not interested solely in entertaining people.

How do people react to your performances and workshops? What does your typical day look like when you perform? How do you prepare yourselves?

People react differently, depending on the surroundings of the performance. In Senegal, people’s reactions were different from those of people in the Canary Islands or in Slovenia. The most special experience for us was our performance in the Jemaa el-Fnaa main square in Marrakesh, Morocco, which already has a centuries-old tradition of these sorts of street attractions. During the day, you can see snake charmers and monkeys on chains, and in the evening, there are acrobats, magicians, musicians and comedians. If you take the time and wriggle through the circle of the local spectators, you get the feeling of travelling back in time. As performers, we found ourselves in the middle of these circles a couple of times. The audience consists mostly of men. One of the few local women came to Eva at the end of the show and recommended her to Allah. A woman’s performance in Morocco is a powerful gesture of emancipation and equality.

We were filled with lots of different emotions. It was inspiring to hold street theatre and circus workshops for Islamic girls who otherwise weren’t allowed to express themselves. It was chaotic and stressful in Senegal when we had to do an impromptu workshop for 100 children, who spoke only the local Wolof language, using props for 20 children. On the other hand, running workshops for grown-ups in a modern urban environment in the capital of Gran Canaria is a completely different matter. The challenges of running a workshop change depending on the environment and the target group, but that’s exactly what makes it appealing!

A day with one performance (sometimes we do more than one performance per day) passes calmly for us. We prepare the props and costumes, talk about the particularities on stage and do some good warming up exercises. Then we wish each other good luck and enjoy the show.

What places would you like to visit in the future?

When we talk about our future endeavours, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, India and Mali often pop up. When it comes to our projects, though, we secretly wish to go to South Korea and Svalbard.

What do you find most appealing when travelling?

Definitely nature and culture. In each country, we devote particular attention to nature – exploring forests, jungles, the sea, deserts and, of course, hills. The true bottom line, though, is people, sincere connections we establish and meeting man to man. Attractions aren’t the goal on our journeys, but if there’s one nearby and we find it particularly interesting, like the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia, we gladly visit it.

Which one of your trips the most memorable and why is it so special?

Senegal was the most memorable because it is the cradle of culture, has welcoming people and is a rollercoaster of contrasts. We spent a month in a cultural centre in Saint Louis, a city on the outskirts of the Sahara, near the border of Mauretania and right next to the Atlantic Ocean. The sandy streets are dotted with grazing sheep and locals sitting, chatting and unravelling fishing nets. You can haggle with colourfully clothed women in the market, the air is filled with the smell of fish and, if you’re lucky enough, you can sport a pelican at the junction. While staying at the cultural centre we admired the incredible sense of rhythm and movement in young boys and girls. We ate thiebudjen (rice with fish) together with our neighbours from a plate placed on the floor, and we had to learn French on the spot so we could successfully communicate.

We could see at every step how the community still lives and how people are connected to each other and to nature. Fishermen go out fishing in their colourful boats each day and the beach is horrifying full of garbage, even the household waste women bring there on their heads and then dump into the water. We were constantly surprised and were always stressed at workshops for children that were frequented by more than one hundred children at a time. A completely different side of Senegal revealed to us when we went to Casamance, the tropical south, by boat. We visited small villages, hidden in the mangroves, where animist communities dwell.

“We find it important to maintain curiosity and inquisitive spirit, regardless of your whereabouts, and curiosity, to us, usually means testing and learning about our limits,” said Eva and Uroš.

If the article got you excited about juggling and street performance, then go on and pay them a visit on their next show or workshop. You can also follow their adventures under the trees on their blog: https://undertree.org/.

 

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