Say it enough times and it comes to mean anything you want. Chi Chi Bunichi is one of the nicest theatre / dance / music experiences of the year that welcomes audiences with tiny glasses of peppermint tea and little paper cups of halva and makes everyone sit in a circle like an evening gathering around a campfire. The performance blends the genres in a beguiling mix of sound and movement, in an atmosphere of such warmth and affection it's hard not to feel upbeat and moved by this evening of Ladino song and specially created dance.
Ladino is a dying language that is only used now in songs called romansas and cantigas. This Judea-Hispanic oral form is better travelled than most people, bearing influences from Spain, the Balkans, the Ottoman empire and Morrocco and hearing it for the first time is quite special. It's like a mix of flamenco and gypsy music, with touches of traditional Jewish music; the kind of story telling that it encompasses within its songs and the kind of stories around the songs themselves is fascinating, and makes for a rich performance carried out with passion and pleasure.
Chi Chi Bunichi is based on director Daphna Attias' discovery of two recordings, one from her grandmother and one from her great-grandfather, singing the same Ladino song. With a multi-instrument musician, a singer and two other performers, Attias presents stories of her family, of turning up at a Turkish wedding without any money to pin on the bride, of the origin of the name Ayse and of past boyfriends embodied in various potatoes scattered around the stage. Solo dances with accompanying stories and music, ensemble pieces that fill the centre of the circle with sweets and strings of lights, a wandering musician switching magically from trumpet to harmonium to guitar to ukelele all blend together beautifully for a night that feels intimate, meaningful, ultra-traditional and contemporary at the same time.
By the end of the performance, everyone was invited to join in with a bit of stage swooning which made us want to stay in the circle until dawn, sharing stories, sipping tea and singing along to whatever instrument had been picked for the moment. A very special insight into a little known language and song form, by very special talented artists. Catch it if you can.
Chi Chi Bunichi, at Oxford House, Bethnal Green, Thursday 29 November. For more information and to book a place, go to the website here.