I first experienced Samadhi Hawaii at their 2008 showcase. I had just begun living on Oahu full-time, and was coming to better understand the dynamics of this urban concentration in the middle of the ocean. This island's cultural mosaic brings together international, local and indigenous elements expressed at many levels: in Asian-influenced popular culture, world class dining, Chinatown during any First Friday, and the vinyl graphics people decorate their cars with. Seeing Samadhi at that event, and many times thereafter at various festivals and performances on Oahu added a whole other dimension to my experience.
If before I left San Francisco you had asked me: "What if your son participated in an ambitious artistic performance experiment that combined Cirque du Soleil, Hip-hop dance, Hawaiian music, chant and song, plus local kine talk story vaudeville?" I would have laughed at the possibility of such an thing in Hawaii… but I would have also been intrigued. Luckily my son was so impressed by troupe member Jamie Nakama's aerial work at the showcase that he began training with Samadhi. When Artistic Director Andrea Torres announced that she was going to develop a summer prototype of her dream performance art school, we were all aboard!
Contemporary Hawaii is a simultaneously fragile and resilient place. Though almost exclusively dependent on the outside world for its survival, it is nourished from within by a profound respect for nature, the human body, and organic social networks. It's appropriate that Samadhi would operate above a triathlon and multi-sport outfitter and trainer, be connected to a dense knot of mid-Pacific Brazilian culture, and marries the desire to run away with the circus to the deeply personal connections that develop in a halau.
Every day for a month during the summer of 2010 a group of local children and young adults trooped into BOCA Hawaii, past the bikes, shoes and nutritional supplements. They climbed stairs lined with images of local athletes and press clippings featuring their instructors at various performances, and emerged into a space that is also home to Capoiera Besuro. There they met with the "What if…" instructors: Andrea Torres (silks), Jamie Nakama (capoeira), Nicole Young (trapeze), John Signor (music), Lorenzo Perillo (Hip-hop performance), and Tara Campehos (drama).
Thanks to a universal teaching approach that emphasized collaboration and personal expression, four weeks later everyone in this diverse bunch would find their niche. But not before having gotten a taste of everything that the program had to offer. They went in as young people but came out as cats, camels, trapeze artists, rappers, silk climbers, dancers, comedians, stick fighters, singers, and players. The "What If…" troupe learned problem-solving, collaboration, negotiation, respect for a director's vision and each other, new creative expressions of the body and voice, and the critical (seemingly unlikely) pairing of trust and improvisation.
For there was no script in the beginning! Only the delicate balance between a teacher's experience, what students were showing themselves to be capable of, and the structure of a show in the end. The "script" would evolve and unfold, developing more like a coral reef than a planned community. This should be understood as contrasting strongly with a traditional educational model which, through its rigors and standards therefore presents no risk, few questions, and rarely that of "What if…" That the students built their show from the ground up is a testament to the quality of the workshop teachers themselves, and a demonstration that young people are not entirely helpless in the face of disciplined improvisation.
For the dynamic interdisciplinary approach of the "What If…" troupe and teachers almost perfectly exemplifies the skills expected for success in college and the professional world. Fortunately there's something deeper operating her. Hawaii's resilience and fragility is connected to its people, and I believe that when the inevitable shortages and cut-offs begin, the people of this state will turn to each other for support. Our children were fortunate enough to participate in an investment in our future. Because "when the lights go out," and we can no longer rely on our phones, televisions and chain restaurant menus to create community, it is they who will not only entertain us, but sustain us.
Samadhi has given us a tremendous gift, a gift of survival rooted in aspects of the planet's great traditions, and it is not one of dogma or ideology. It is a gift that encourages each of them to look within themselves for the ability to build something new out of bits and pieces of what exists, to know that their bodies – not cars or computers - are the laboratory for this new alchemy.
Enjoy this program, because it is literally just the beginning.