They call her the muse of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival. She insists that she is a missionary.

Standing just over 5 feet tall, the little titan is primarily responsible for the stilts explosion in Rio, having trained more than 1,000 children and adults over the last decade.

Article content

RIO DE JANEIRO — Standing 9 feet tall, Raquel Poti regularly appears on the covers of Brazilian magazines and newspapers, and on Saturday the artist donned a luxurious feather dress and lacquered her body with gold glitter. At one point, she charged through the street party, flapping her rainbow wings as if she were about to take flight. It was the last of her charismatic stilt performances that led some media to call her the muse of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival.

Advertisement 2

Article content

But on a recent weekend, she had shrunk to her natural small size and patched jeans. During a class outside Rio’s modern art museum, she ordered a group of students to look into the eyes of a classmate. Each couple remembered someone who shaped them and shared their dreams. Then they hugged each other. Some cried, one as she told how her grandmother taught her to smile.

Article content

“You were not deceived,” Poti, 40, told them. “This IS a kind of mosquito. And it has already begun!”

The class is at the center of his enormous footprint in Rio, which includes managing several government-funded social projects to teach stilts, theater and performing arts, running a production company and recruiting members of his ever-expanding network for performances. at events.

Standing just over 5 feet tall, the little titan is primarily responsible for the stilts explosion in Rio, having trained more than 1,000 children and adults over the last decade. That boom has altered the landscape of the world’s largest Carnival, where hundreds of mosquitoes tower over the many raucous parties that occupy and dominate the public areas.

Advertisement 3

Article content

For Poti, walking on stilts is much more than a spectacle; it is ancestral and ritual, and a springboard for people to radically change themselves and their lives.

The self-discovery exercises were not what many students expected from the agile Carnival queen with the radiant smile. Forcing them to consider their vulnerabilities is key, Poti said in an interview, since the striders’ ability to charm comes from being comfortable with instability, and they must be aware of what they will communicate to a crowd.

“It could be a lot of pain, it could be a lot of love, it could be anything, but it is what is inside of us. That brings people closer to our humanity,” he told The Associated Press inside his apartment, where elaborate costumes hang from every available space on the multicolored walls, and the purple ceiling is marked by fingerprints from a stilt-walking session with his son. .

Those in Poti’s orbit speak of her with reverence, as if she were a mystic who, on her stilts, gains access to some vaulted realm of wisdom. It is a very high thing to swallow given that, for many, Carnival is escapism or unruly bacchanal. But more than glitz and glitter, she said, it’s to lift people up.

Advertisement 4

Article content

“She inspires me to think about how I am going to impact others and get my message across to them,” said Camille Campão, 35, a former student who now performs for children as Fada Folha or Hada de la Hoja. “It’s something that goes beyond her and she is totally in service of it.”

Poti, who sees herself not as a muse but as a missionary, teaches throughout the city, from the parks to the poor, crowded neighborhoods known as favelas and the small fishing village in the westernmost corner of Rio where He grew up under his grandfather’s networks. . Her cousins ​​still go to sea every day.

He attended a top university and, weeks before graduating, his partner died of cancer. She says her deep grief derailed her intended course and she set out to travel the world, first encountering a circus troupe that proved her life could be different than what she imagined.

“When I saw stilts for the first time, it was a very important find. I saw the possibility that they were an instrument that could bring people together to build relationships and a society that people believe in,” he said.

Poti researched popular culture and community relations for four years, then returned to Brazil in 2013 and founded his stilt workshop. The captivating performances proved to be effective advertising. Campão quickly signed up after seeing Poti at the Friends of the Jaguar Carnival party, which today brings together some 40,000 revelers.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Back in her class outside the museum, Poti was explosive from the start. She jumped off the ground, limbs extended in all directions, for the first game that connects students with the element of play that is vital to Carnival festivities. After the “interactive dynamics” (Poti’s exercises similar to group therapy), she taught the stilt technique and then the class was strapped into the unwieldy apparatus. First helped by former student volunteers, soon everyone began to wander around her account.

“I’ve wanted to do this for years,” Danielle Mello, a 43-year-old psychologist, later told the group. “I didn’t know I was capable.”

Some are in the midst of trouble and overcoming something that was previously considered insurmountable can be transformative. Many perform at Rio festivals.

Gabi Falcão, 37 years old, was one of them. After separating from her husband of 10 years, she took her two young children and moved in with a friend, then enrolled in Poti’s workshop, an experience she said was “emotionally profound” and exactly what she needed in that moment.

“Your project changes lives. She pushes people, she has the tools to take people out of her comfort zone,” said Falcão, who now performs at more than 10 Carnival parties and volunteers in Poti’s class. “She has the power to do magic.”

Advertisement 6

Article content

Falcão and many other striders interviewed by the AP described Poti as someone who opens doors and wakes people up. Some even went so far as to say that she has ancestral energy and that she teaches others to think and act collectively. Two of them called her a witch and one said that she seemed able to stop time. Most noted her ability to be present, demonstrated by intense eye contact in interactions and offering every ounce of herself in Carnival performances.

Several also described her as a smart organizer and promoter. Her workshop has a production team of five people, with planning meetings for communication and sales. A photographer is there to record the beginners’ experiences, which Poti says can be like a baptism. She films all of her projects, of which there are about 15.

“His work in the city is unparalleled in building an empire, and he is still building it,” said Carol Passarinha, one of the 30 stilt walkers Poti gathered to parade this week with the reigning samba school.

And Poti juggles her efforts as a single mother raising a 7-year-old boy. She acted up until three days before her water broke. Six weeks later, she was back on the stilts at Rio’s most iconic concert venue, Flying Circus, and breastfeeding in her dressing room.

Advertisement 7

Article content

Toward the end of the Saturday morning party, Poti walked away and crossed a freeway overpass, still on his stilts and weaving through revelers shouting praise. He quickly returned to his parked car, packed with costumes and 15 sets of stilts, and then drove off while insisting that a producer fix a problem with assigning photographers for the next party. That one would have more than 75 stilt walkers, many of them wearing folkloric costumes, and Poti is its artistic director.

Its hustle and bustle helps explain why it is always the biggest sensation at Carnival. He also invests considerable sums in his costumes and works among the crowd. One photographer said it “creates moments.”

Over lunch at a vegan restaurant a few days ago, Poti recalled that the editor of Rio’s main newspaper once showed him all the photos of the Carnival coverage and, with some amusement, complained that he would once again have to feature it in The cover.

The spotlight doesn’t bother him. In fact, she appreciates it. After all, she was a pioneer, she has fought for a decade and is receiving recognition, she said. But she wishes more people would look beyond her, to what causes her and the change she seeks to bring about.

“The cure is more important than appearing on the cover,” he said.

Article content

Leave a Comment