"Suitcase" filled with joy
When she was 16 years old, a palm reader told her that she was a woman of seven arts. It seems that the fortuneteller was right. Among the many creative hats she wears are those of singer, songwriter, musician, puppeteer, painter, sculptor, writer and visual artist.
Most people know Bella, a woman of many talents who insists on using a single name, from her job at Mocha Mott's in Vineyard Haven. "I love what I do," she says. "It's not just a job." She's been working at Mocha Mott's, baking and cooking breakfast sandwiches since the coffee shop opened in Vineyard Haven. Even there, she creates theater, arriving like a constantly changing character, in different costumes daily. She impresses customers with her creative expression as well as her apparent joy in everything she does.
Bella moved to this country because she was seeking change. After a brief say in New York she came to Martha's Vineyard and decided to stay. She explains, "I got a very friendly reception here. It made me feel very comfortable."
Photos by Gail Tiptin
Bella, who has been in the United States for nine years, still sometimes struggles to find the words to describe the mundane, but when speaking of spiritual matters she has a rich vocabulary accompanied by a tendency to use her hands and facial expressions to emphasize her point. "We should think about our mind and our soul and how we are living the moments of life," she says.
Gesturing toward an approaching sunset, she points out that there is a good sign to be found in the drastic change in weather, from the stormy last day of the previous year, to the bright beginning of this new year. "It's like a renaissance," she says. "The main thing is perception."
Her latest project is "The Suitcase," a short musical play she will perform every Tuesday at Che's Lounge in Vineyard Haven.
Actually, it's a combination of music, puppet show, and performance art. The theme of the 10-minute show, delivered in English and Portuguese, is that life is short and time passes quickly. "I like the idea of a moment in life," Bella says, laughing. She adds, "My suitcase is full of energy and joy."
Bella premiered the show at a puppet festival in West Tisbury at Polly Hill Arboretum last summer. Audience feedback helped it evolve. "I love to have people talk about the performance," she admits.
Like the show's central prop, "The Suitcase" is a show that can easily travel to any location. "This kind of musical is easy," says Bella. "I can set up anywhere." All she needs is a child's accordion, a boom box that plays recordings of her singing and playing her own compositions, and a small suitcase full of surprises.
Last year she performed her original samba tunes every Tuesday at Che's Lounge. She says the idea for her current show is to offer something for people to enjoy after their day's work. After the show she plans to host an informal open mic night: "an open evening, very warm and inviting." She notes, "The chair doesn't belong to just myself. Always someone else has something to say or to play."
In Brazil, Bella designed window displays for stores and worked as a music producer. Although she did not perform, she says that she has always played music for herself. She is proficient at the guitar, accordion, and the cavaquino, a four-string guitar originally from Portugal that is now popular in Brazil.
Her dreamlike oil paintings, recently displayed at Mocha Mott's, include misty landscapes and soft, hazy portraits - most of them images from her imagination. One of the two pictures she is currently working on is of Lake Tashmoo. Says Bella, "My favorite place to paint is in the kitchen. I like the smell. I feel like I'm cooking."
For her children's puppet show, "Arakataka's Little Band," Bella made all of her own puppets. "The puppets are my kids," she says. "They have a soul."
Explaining she enjoys keeping busy, Bella is also working on a children's book. "This kind of energy was in my calendar for this year," she says.
Often, as with "The Suitcase," she combines art forms, including many elements created as a unit, rather than piece by piece. "I think of the whole process, and it comes to me naturally," says Bella. "It just comes together."
And as her show begins, she announces, "My suitcase is full of energy and precious things."
"The Suitcase" is performed Tuesdays at 5 pm at Che's Lounge in Vineyard Haven.
Gwyn McAllister is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.