Do you know? ...Paulina Derbez

I recently had the immense pleasure of experiencing Paulina Derbez's performance Shika. It was coming full circle for me in a way: a few years ago I heard this incredible woman rehearsing with voice and violin in the studio next door to where I was working with Fujiwara Dance Inventions (on EUNOIA, which recently premiered in Harbourfront's World Stage 2014, and is nominated for 3 Dora awards!). I knew something really different and intriguing was going on in there.

Fast forward a little, my son Pablo began daycare with a fiesty young girl named Isabella whose mother was a violinist. Guess who?  Paulina Derbez of the haunting voice and violin permeating the rehearsal studio walls at Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre. She had been creating Shika.

As a performer who often straddles disciplines not only over my career but within individual performances, I feel compelled to know more about Paulina's process. She moves, vocalizes, plays, shapeshifts and channels simultaneously and continually in Shika. She is singular. Details of her show coming up on June 25th at the Heliconian Club (yet another place Paulina and I have both worked in!) are at the end of this blog. I highly recommend getting out there for an unusual and unforgettable experience.

Here are Paulina's answers to my questions about her creative life which includes and exceptional and compelling book, recently published in English translation, about a new approach to musical training and practice.

How do you prepare your body for your performances, since it is such a physical act, more than the traditional level of physicality for musicians?
Preparing my body is of key importance for my performances. As you mention musicians don’t prepare their bodies as much as actors or dancers. But this is vital to play an instrument since we do play with our whole body. So before a performance I do a routine that includes strength exercises, stretches, breathing exercises and meditation as well. I also do this before any practice. Is like bringing my self into my body, mind and emotions, in a way that let me perform in a deeper and natural level.

Your work is unique, how do you place yourself in the music/performing arts community in Toronto?

I am a classical-avant-garde musician. Both, classical and avant-garde, enrich each other in a profound way. I play with the Ontario Philharmonic, with the Mercury Ensemble and on the avant-garde side I have my solo Shika:out of the silence the sound is born and the duo with the composer Barbara Croall Altri Suoni. The avant-garde work allows me to transform my self into a sonic character on stage and the classical world gives me the right technique to do so. 
Next Wednesday the 25th June at the Heliconian Hall we actually are presenting our CD Altri Suoni among classical pieces from Bach, Mozart, Shubert interacting with the visuals of Jaime Luján and the paintings of Emilio Giossi.  Also I love multidisciplinary works. Part of this is my interactive book Depictions of a Concert, published by Editorial Ink, where my music interacts with the visual arts of Jaime Luján.  We launched this book at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara 2013.

You've written a book "The Conscious Musician". How did the 'conscious musician' come about as an idea/approach/philosophy?

When I was studying in Lugano, Switerland, I realized that I did not know how to practice violin! At some point due to several tensions I had to stop playing for 2 months. One day, thinking about my relationship with my violin, a thought came to my mind. It was… “Everything is in your mind”… it was a breakthrough moment! I close my mind and I saw my self playing tense. 

Since my teacher was telling me that I was tense, I believed this and so my unconscious mind made it a reality. I realized that if I wanted to change my way of playing I had to correct it not in a physical level but in a mental level. Every problem either with technique or musicality has to be solved first at a mental level. This is called visual motor rehearsal and it is used by athletes and NASA( I just found out about this after years of working with this powerful tool). 

My next revelation were my emotions. I remember my teacher telling me that I had to be more expressive, but he did not tell me which emotion I should express or feel. So one day I was walking in the woods of Lugano and started to play a melody but just in my mind, not with the violin. Then I had for the first time a real contact with my emotions and realized that I had unlocked my emotional world! Therefore I found that to be expressive means that you have to feel an exact emotion, like the actors do, before playing. And then, my body started to be relax at last as an answer of the work with my mind and emotions. 

Because we do perform with our minds, emotions and bodies and the balance between them is vital for a musical performance.

How did this develop into a book?

After years of using all this tools, teaching them and applying this new musical vision I realized that if I wanted to bring it to the next level I had to share it in a wider way. So when my husband and I got to Canada in 2006 I felt very strong the impulse of writing all that I have worked during the last years.  After a few years all this became of what today is my book published by Editorial Ink: The Conscious Musician.

In seeing you perform, you radiate an immense pleasure in the moment, is that how you feel inside it?

Yes and thanks! Over the years I’m more and more convinced that the emotional part of music is the most important one since this is what  the audience will take with them after a performance. To be as authentic as possible on the stage and to develop a profound emotional level in a performance I work with nature images and define the characters I want to express through the sonic world. I find that when you place an image in your mind, this will give you an exact emotion and this will take you to a natural and powerful performance.

What's next for you creatively?

I’m working on my solo performance Shika: out of the silence the sound is born and taking this work to festivals in Canada and other countries. Jaime and I are launching Depictions of a Concert next Tuesday at the artscape of Wychwoodbarns, also a quite unique work, and planning to bring this work to a wider audience with my group Altri Suoni. I’m working with the Italian painter Emilio Giossi on new multidisciplinary works to be presented in Europe. And I’m very happy of working again with Maria Rosales, a great pianist, on a Mexican classical music concert that will be presented on 2015. Regarding The Conscious Musician I’m preparing talks about the book and workshops based on the methodology and vision of the book.

Link to Paulina's book

photos courtesy of Paulina Derbez


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