Circus News

Breaking the Walls at CIRCa and Beyond

The CIRCa festival is the mecca of contemporary circus. As it’s director, Marc Fouilland likes to call it “le rendez-vous du cirque actuel” which I will translate to ‘The summit on current circus.’
So I left behind the Great Michigan Lake shore rides, Andrew Bird and the inimitable American enthusiasm for roundabouts, exchanging it for Bobby Lapointe and the inimitable charisma of the south of France to visit the Festival.
Sketch of a circus artist by the author

Four baroque beings apostrophize us about essential matters. From the top of a children’s height, with an extravagant gravity and exuberant silences, they ask us directly about the vertigo that mures adults.

I need to use sideways ways. Especially when it comes to writing about something as complex as a circus creation, in a circus magazine, that could end up in hands that intimidate me.

It’s a cloudy morning. I only notice the red rooftops of the buildings around our hotel. We are in China. I wonder how people feel to  live here. Shanghai has about 25 millions inhabitants, Montreal (as the most populated city in Quebec) about 1.7. I wonder how they do it. How do they live with the weights of conformism and of the immense past and present populations? What do they do to feel unique? What is the ambition of a Chinese 28-year-old woman who is artistically inclined? I wonder, but I am kind of annihilated before even getting out of bed. While the sunrise colours the smog a rosé and gold.

Last June, Barcode participated in the G7 summit. A few minutes before our performance, it seems to me that the stress that flows in my body is not necessary. I wonder, while  Bird on a Wire  is being sung by a local singer, how would my own song hero feel if he was singing? My nerves calmer, I can better appreciate this strange and unique moment. I feel closer to the words. Despite the snipers on the roof of the Fairmont Hotel, despite the red tie of the King of Fools and despite the rain that has just begun and could make me slip and fall and die in front of seven world leaders–the instant frees me.

Already two weeks have passed since CIRCa

I wait. So that time would write for me. When the sea withdraws, shells are waiting to be picked, if you bow low enough. I decided to start by the end, to not wait anymore.

Sumbiminati Corporation
Photo courtesy of Sebastien Armengol. Subliminati corporation – Deixe Me

Deixe Me  by Subliminati Corporation is my favorite. It is also the last show I saw in Auch at CIRCa .

The week’s exhaustion turns into a light happiness. The city hall, where there is an authentic Italian theater, is full. I’m delighted. The show is funny, clever, colourful and messy!

“Deixe me” means “laisses-moi” which means “let me”. During the hour plus that the show lasts, I try it and I am, like the rest of the audience, absorbed. The tone is set: civil disobedience. We are placed in front of what nobody says. Our ignorance, our silences, our do-gooder marketing solutions, ourselves and the nothingness that lives in all of us. Where irony must be observed, they impudently connect us to an absurd fresco that illustrates the world we live in.

Raw and almost primitive, they put together pieces of my humanity, with the poetry it requires, to tackle what is difficult to change. I laugh a lot. I let myself be reflected in those four buffoons. They talk to me about where I am in a rhythm impossible to dislike. The dialogues dance with the acrobatics and the echo of their intelligent words guides me to a line;  we are all conscious about our absurd ways of living, however we act like we aren’t. The show mirrors our obtusity, confronting us in a sideways way about political corruption, wars, ecological peril, ambient misogyny, technological auto-slavery–showing the complicated interrelation between circus, art and entertainment, social acceptance, mental health and so many more existential matters. They do this without ever serving us a moral, rather inviting us to do like them. To let go of expectations, cheer in a bathrobe and zoom out of ourselves.

Deixe Me is a tale. It’s a carpet, a bunch of clothes and wigs, four humans in a lean set design, who from their genius, are giving us a little slap behind the head. Helping us to recall how precious is time– and how creativity, as zany as the show may come out, talks to imagination, the way science or reason can not.

It reminds me about the insignificance that inhabits me when I think of history, the impotence that takes me when I think of the environment, the vertigo that paralyzes me if I linger to measure my place in this world that my brain struggles to imagine entirely.

Questioning Contemporary Through Traditional

It’s the third day. I meet Victor Cathala on my way toL’absolu  (from company Les Choses de Rien) and he is on  his way to their red and yellow big top. He is coming back from the city. His Doc Martins broke during yesterday’s performance. He laughs, as he shows me the price tag, and admits who is broke now.

They encourage “l’écriture sous chapiteau” – the fact of writing an art piece especially for a circus tent.

I am certain I saw the shop on the day I arrived. It’s higher, near the cathedral, in a perpendicular street to it that used to be one of Auch’s principal arteries. Recently, the shopping activities were moved outside the city, regrouped in small/medium malls, killing a bit of the vibe.

Surplus américains 6 rue Dupouy photo courtesy of Alex Royer

I think of this narrow street I ended up on, on my first day. There were few tourists, a nostalgic local and every corner was soaked in fall morning sun. Time felt slower. Romantic detours seemed possible. Like by resting, the past could slowly unfold.

Now the shadows of the students are juggling on the Lacaserne d’Espagne, a building in the festival. The shadows are almost as long as the line to enter the chapiteau. It is dark and cold, but I am also shivering with excitement. I feel lucky to be able to assist the newest show of Cirque Aital. We enter the warmth of the classy tent the company recently bought. We find a good seat. I’m with a friend from Cirque La Compagnie. We are trying to catch up, but I can feel his attention, like mine, having a hard time doing anything other than embrace the vibrant red ceiling, the rich ground that fills the ring and the hundreds of other people who are, just like us, shining with an inner contentment to be there.

I’m usually more fond of avant garde than nostalgia. However, I grew up looking up at Aital as a role model and there is here something related to the memories of ‘what is circus’ that moves up my spine.

The show begins and the experience of the artists and the company never stops impressing me. Surprise and audacity dance with humour and incredible images. The background is set in the everyday life of circus, letting us imagine narrative tracks between the characters. The clowns are the protagonists of that crazy company. They give us their now iconic acrobatic duel, defying all laws of fragility. It’s a caricatural combat where height is not determining the weight. Bodies and dust are flying every which way and the musicians accompany this brutal ballet with their white faces, and instruments.

Set concept sketch of Saison De Cirque by the author

I love to see the things that compose their real life; the plastic sandals that covers the acrobatic shoes, the weight of the huge ring rug one decided to carry back and forth (and even up to the ceiling) every show. I love the smell of burned horn that is filling our noses, while the horse is shod. And the thrill faced by a romantic gentleman juggler, sent onstage in a hurry, who has to juggle with clubs to preserve dignity. Soon I am not able to distinguish anymore what’s from the tale and what is reality. It makes the circus somehow more exciting. And to know that the acrobat who does the triple salto on the Russian bar is 54 years old doesn’t take anything away.

The show ends. I exit happy. Eyes and heart very full. Actually there is something I’m chewing on still.

I look at this immense circus vessel. I imagine the trucks, the setting up and tearing down, the horses to take care of, the company and the family. Victor and Kati are smiling at me, a few minutes ago they were screaming, jumping and playing in the dirt, in what looked like the most traditional circus art. I chew because I thinkSaison de Cirque uses its nostalgic aesthetics to talk about the present. It’s hard to hold on to this feeling because it is so subtly suggested.

It places the question of new circus in it’s own heart. Putting the ‘modern’ into traditional shoes to show what’s ‘ old’ now. It puts to the test contemporary’s progressive ideas and its critical reflexes. It reminds me that criticism slowly forms inactivity. That history is a stamp. Harder or weaker, when you press on it, it gives the same print.

I look at the performers a few hours later, at the circus bar and they appear like giants. As engaged artists doing something more motor than intellectual in their discussion. They work so hard just like traditional circus artists but they participate fully in the artistic dialogue as creators. They encourage “l’écriture sous chapiteau” – the fact of writing an art piece especially for a circus tent. But they question actuality, our own actuality, in the end. Which leaves me with the question that woke me up tonight.How can we examine what has its place on stage without giving the impression of ‘knowing better’ or moralising? Basically how do we bring up important and intelligent topics without being hypocritical? How to let go of criticism for its own sake and yet not to be falsely positive? Perhaps it is by examining what we love instead of what displeases us, like our friends at Cirque Aital have done so well.

Footnote: Quote from “Miley Cyrus et les malheureux du siècle” from Thomas O. St-Pierre

Feature photo of Sublminiati Corporation courtesy of Sebastien Armengol

Alexandra Royer
Circus Artist -Canada
Alexandra Royer is a member of the circus company Barcode. She describes herself thus: "To write, I need to use sideways ways. I wish for shows that present poeple who want to share who they really are or something they actually believe in, on stage.
I take a lot of baths because I do a lot of shows.
The shows I do at the moment are not the one I wish for.
The show we are preparing is named "Sweat and Ink"
I had the idea for this title as I was running on les plaines d’Abraham, two Januarys ago. I wanted to resume this idea of a dramaturgy written in Circus language.
I’m rarely mad because I can adapt very easily--when it happens I usually ask somebody for a cigarette.
I think change is a good thing.
Cigarette use to make me very mad as a kid.
I love to listen to Leonard Cohen, Anderson Paak and Barbara.
I love to read David Desjardins, Michel Tournier and Persian poetry.
I let the books be chosen by some kind of external force cause I have a hard time making plans.
I can be on time and drive a car, but it’s still a work in progress.
I often found myself thinking stuff like "I hope the wonderment that often deconcentrates me will never cease to exist."
I let the way unrolls itself under my feet, instead of trying to control it. I guess that's a side effect of being a russian bar flyer at night. "

Alexandra Royer

Alexandra Royer is a member of the circus company Barcode. She describes herself thus: "To write, I need to use sideways ways. I wish for shows that present poeple who want to share who they really are or something they actually believe in, on stage. I take a lot of baths because I do a lot of shows. The shows I do at the moment are not the one I wish for. The show we are preparing is named "Sweat and Ink" I had the idea for this title as I was running on les plaines d’Abraham, two Januarys ago. I wanted to resume this idea of a dramaturgy written in Circus language. I’m rarely mad because I can adapt very easily--when it happens I usually ask somebody for a cigarette. I think change is a good thing. Cigarette use to make me very mad as a kid. I love to listen to Leonard Cohen, Anderson Paak and Barbara. I love to read David Desjardins, Michel Tournier and Persian poetry. I let the books be chosen by some kind of external force cause I have a hard time making plans. I can be on time and drive a car, but it’s still a work in progress. I often found myself thinking stuff like "I hope the wonderment that often deconcentrates me will never cease to exist." I let the way unrolls itself under my feet, instead of trying to control it. I guess that's a side effect of being a russian bar flyer at night. "

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