Cage sings the blues

Frans Poelstra on The Caldeirão Highlanders by Vera Mantero
Vera Mantero, The Caldeirão Highlanders © Luis da Cruz
Frans Poelstra on The Caldeirão Highlanders by Vera Mantero

Prologue – written before the performance without reading any publicity about it

It’s late spring 1997, a dance studio in Loule, the Algarve, Portugal. The first day of a two week residency, the first day of the rehearsals for „The fall of an ego“, a piece by Vera Mantero, and also the first day of my working experience with Vera. On that day we were checking out the rehearsal space where we should spend the next two weeks. “We” were 6 performers, including Vera – most of us new to each other. It was a comfortable studio.A great place to work. It turned out that it was the only day we went there. The following days we would go with a car to the countryside of the Algarve, away from the beach; park the car in the middle of nowhere and started to walk in the nature; no specific direction, just walk, no road map or whatsoever (no GPS in 1997). Most of the times we got lost, but somehow we always found our way back to the car and went home again. In the evening we cooked (we lived together in one apartment), talked, read, discussed, danced, sang, watched videos. After two weeks of getting lost we left the Algarve to continue our rehearsals in a studio in Lisbon. There were a few producers from abroad who want to see “something” of Vera’s new work-in-progress. We decided to improvise, because we didn’t have anything to show and somebody suggested to put a CD of John Cage’s “Music for prepared piano” to accompany us. We started. Sometimes things just fall on their place and everybody senses: “this is it”. Although we had no idea yet what “it” was. There was a camera recording our improvisation, afterwards we looked at the video and we decided to exactly copy our movements. The improvisation became the first 30 minutes of „The fall of an ego“.


The Caldeirão Highlanders – written 24 hours after the performance

It’s a little bit of a reunion when I enter Halle G: smiles, kisses from friends, colleagues and, believe it or not, it’s heartwarming. Vera is already on stage, sitting on a bar stool, a music stand in front of her, behind her a big screen. I sit right in front of her. We haven’t seen each other for years. She sees me and we joke a bit without words. She pretends she is nervous. I know she is nervous, but I also know that she doesn’t mind. She plays with her nervousness. The lights dim. Vera starts to sing in the dark in Portuguese. I immediately get tears in my eyes, I’m a sucker for the Portuguese language (although I don’t understand most of it). It has been a while since I’ve heard it and, on top, Vera can sing. She holds a hollow trunk on her head.It’s the bast of a cork tree. During the performance every now and then I will think “How did she manage to get this thing hollow?” A video starts, images from the Algarve, shot from a driving car. I’m back in 1997. I feel the wind through the open window. I feel the heat. I hear the crickets. I smell the lavender. I listen to the voices, Portuguese voices from my colleagues. “Keep on talking” I think and my mind drifts away. On stage Vera starts to explain the video in English. She talks about what brought her to the Algarve, the empty land, the silence, the mountain people, their work (farming), their (non) believe, their singing, their singing while working. We shift back and forward from Vera talking, to watching short videos: old footage shot in the 1920ties of the mountain people, men  and women singing and working on the fields, a woman singing with a fragile voice while walking on a treadmill to collect water, women herding their sheep and singing with voices which sometimes represent the bleating of their sheep. Singing is all over the video. Vera tells her wish to incorporate singing more into our daily live. Suddenly a photo of John Cage appears – I’m shocked. Vera explains how the photo of John Cage popped up on her computer screen, when she was transferring data from her old computer to her new computer, just like that. She decided John had to stay in the performance because of “silence”, his good spirit and the fact that he appeared out of the blue. One has to recognize a good omen. (John was laughing on the photo). The performance continued and everything was good, maybe a bit too good. Everything was, how should I say, you know: Vera was Vera, alive, serious, witty, sharp, but the whole thing became more and more melancholic, almost like a pastiche. I started to get suspicious, something was strange here and I couldn’t believe the end where Vera was dancing and ended up lying on the floor as if she was dead in front of the screen. Meanwhile above her, a video of two men that we had seen before singing a beautiful song. It was all too perfect for an end. And indeed – it wasn’t. Yes, it became dark and there was an end applause, but when she came back to bow a second time, she urged us to silence. She had an announcement to make.



Lyrics for a song which came into my mind this afternoon. Choose your own melody and rhythm – sing and record it, send the recording to All songs will be posted HERE. Thanks!



(repeat till you start laughing)


P.S. I know now how the trunk of the cork tree became hollow.


Frans Poelstra started his career as a dancer when he was 25 and over the years he evolved into a more versatile performer who is constantly questioning (his) life and (his) art in all its absurdities, drama, playfulness, boredom, duties, surprises, awkwardness and still is enjoying this questioning. Since 2004 he lives and works in Vienna.


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