Circus News

WeLAND: Contemporary Circus in Italy Tackles Topic of Global Warming

With the project “Climate of Change”MagdaClan company sets off for a journey to a new era.

“We would like to sensitize young people, aged 18 to 35, to the climate migration issue through a strong visual impact show of contemporary circus. We want to bring the audience into the center of the problem and, without preconceptions, plunge it into the heart of the decision.Thus spoke Flavio D’Andrea, dramaturge ofWeLAND, the brand new production by MagdaClan, one of the most iconic contemporary circus companies in Italy. 

After almost ten years of circus productions under the big top, Italian collective MagdaClan recently embarked on a massive co-production with FLIC Scuola di Circo. It is part of the project #ClimateOfChange, funded by the European Union (#DEAR Programme – Development Education and Awareness Raising). The project #ClimateOfChange is a joint venture of 16 European organizations led by We World,  an Italian independent organization operating in 27 countries, including Italy, to promote and guarantee the rights of women, children and local communities through development cooperation and humanitarian aid programs.

The purpose of the project is clear: to engage “youth to understand the complex relationships between climate change and migration to create a movement of informed people, ready to change lifestyle and demand new development policies”.

Since the beginning of 2020, We World has been devising not only research and debates in schools and universities but also a pan-European communication and awareness campaign, online and offline, which will affect millions of teenagers and young adults aged 16 to 35 living in 23 EU member states. How to reach this goal? How to engage such a broad and challenging audience? The answer is simple: through contemporary circus. It is the biggest challenge ever faced by MagdaClan collective, which was selected as the producing company.

MagdaClan's Annalisa Bonvicini laughs amongst friends
A portrait of Annalisa Bonvicini, communication manager of Magdaclan. Photo credit: Tomasz Kulbowski

“At the beginning, I was scared,” says Annalisa Bonvicini bluntly. She is the tour and communication manager of MagdaClan. “When I joined the collective as an organizer in 2016 we were just a group of people ready to set up a tent and tour around Italy. At that time my professional figure was unknown in the Italian circus panorama and many of my friends thought I was crazy. But at the same time, I had the strong feeling it was a necessary thing – and still, I think it is – despite the difficulties. We worked hard, many colleagues from other realities in Italy put a lot of effort into contemporary circus. We established alliances and things are growing. Look! We are now the leading company of a European project speaking about climate change.”

Created in cooperation with FLIC Circus school, WeLAND is a contemporary circus show which deals with the key issue of climate migrations. The #ClimateOfChange tour will reach many European countries from July to November of 2021, crossing countries like Greece, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France and Belgium. The show has three main features: it is not built under the traditional MagdaClan big top but on a huge structure evoking a post-apocalyptic scenario.  The structure is enhanced with side-actions from the circus performers to increase public participation. (“street guerrilla actions”), it establishes bridges between circus professionals and young amateurs through workshops and on-site performances with the locals.

The Show
A flash of lightning strikes the WeLAND stage
A photo of the stage and a force of nature from show director Petr Forman

Directed by Petr Forman, the show WeLAND is a giant itinerant machine built on a large stage space. While the scenario is the rough and ferrous setting of a rusty harbor full of cages and empty metal boxes, the acrobats undergo sudden dress changes that turn them into living allegories – Lucas Elias wears sandy brown clothes for desertification, Elena Bosco escapes from the rising of the sea levels through hair suspension in blue clothes,  Davide De Bardi represents the thawing of the arctic permafrost, Tiphaine Rochais wears red clothes for wildfires, Daniele Sorisi embodies the rich capitalist, and Giulio Lanfranco is the helper who facilitates movements of people escaping from natural catastrophes. Their poor costumes clash with the shimmering and psychedelic jackets of the music band and the presenter.

“The unconsciously widespread idea of treating everything like merchandise brought us to organize our world on the basis of a massive displacement, ruled by ruthless economical priorities,” says Francesco Fassone, set designer. “Despite this, most of the wealthy populations of the planets seem spoiled by this system, anesthetized and imprisoned in golden cages of unawareness.”

The scenography itself is one of the protagonists of the show. “We’d like to create a symbolic context, where the public can identify itself, its daily life, its way of accepting, ignoring or fighting this condition,” continues Francesco Fassone. “Everything in our scenography is metaphorically represented by elements and tools commonly associated with handling, shipping, storage, selling, consumerism, production — to the global market in general. The world itself is shown, in our scenography, as something that can be canned in billion of boxes cataloged to give a sense of safety and security to the subconscious of the wealthy society, blinding it with false myths of tranquility. Are cages something protecting us or something limiting our sense of reality and compassion for the outside world?”

Circus is the playful element that reminds us to stay human and creates an ironic gap among the elements at play

Of course, circus has a key role in this dehumanizing scenario. “Circus is the playful element that reminds us to stay human and creates an ironic gap among the elements at play,” says Giulio Lanfranco, one of the leading artists and founders of MagdaCLan. “It shows us a happy and carefree world which is the counterweight to the harsh issue of climatic migrations.”

Contemporary circus displays an unconventional relationship with all the elements (barrels, bamboo), which catalyzes the attention of the spectators. The visionary direction of Petr Forman creates a perfect blend with all the elements at play through powerful images. The research on dramaturgy together with the dynamism of the circus and the strength of the images plunges the audience into an immersive — and sometimes disturbing –  journey. Also, live music plays a key role in the show. The soundscape is another key feature- – the rising of the sea, the breaking of the ice, or the melting of the permafrost. All the sounds are not just samples, but the balanced mixture, in-between live sounds and music. The use of the “radio effect” brings into the show real news from different parts of the world.

Building Bridges With Local Circus Communities
A juggler juggles three bowling pins in front of the WeLAND workshop booth
A moment of WeLAND workshops/preshows with locals in Poland

An intriguing feature of the whole project is the “glocal” (“global + local”) approach. Far from being a simple tour, every date is the occasion for FLIC Scuola di Circo to establish an international cooperation with the local circus schools and to engage amateurs in creating performances, and pre-shows. The main aim of all of the subjects involved is not only to build a network, but a living community of young people actively engaged in the global concerns on climate to become in turn “ambassadors” of the mission of the project. In addition to performing opportunities for local artists, circus workshops are promoted to establish international bridges and narrow the gap between circus professionals and young people.

Street Guerrilla Actions

Street guerrilla actions are used to enhance public participation. In the days before and after the show, MagdaClan devised an activity called “the barbershop”, a real way to change your mind, and another one called the Moss graffiti workshop. Of course, the guerrilla actions take place in the public space and they are aimed at maximizing the impact of the campaign. The “barbershop” is a physical metaphor of how we need to change our head. While a hairdresser literally changes people’s hair – yes, there is a real hairdresser cutting the hair of the participants — questions, facts, suggestions about the climate change issue are being spoken out loud. The barbershop is a real hymn to change your mind to and to start doing so in everyday life. The “Moss graffiti” workshop is aimed at teaching young people the importance of caring by spraying natural paint made of moss on a  wall that will grow. The message is quite clear: we need to commit to the change we want to see in our future. If we take care of things, beauty will grow out of it.

For MagdaClan WeLAND is a big change of pace. “What strikes me the most is the ability of the company to turn on this enormous machine with the small resources that contemporary circus still has in Italy.” Annalisa Bonvicini says. “I think that we as a collective made a professional leap that we couldn’t expect to do without such an impulse from Europe. We had to take ourselves seriously and be 100% professional, otherwise we wouldn’t have nailed it. It was hard, but now that the tour is almost over I can say it out loud.”

WeLAND has come home and reached Milan on the 1st and 2nd of October. “Not an easy task to find the right location for such a big project. But Carroponte in Milan (a former train depo) was the right spot also for the scenario we want to evoke” says Bonvicini. “I am proud and happy to say that in every country we went to, we managed to gather people in  public spaces and to establish connections among different communities… as an organizer, this is always the greatest of joys.”

What Bonvicini liked the most was the role of music in the show. “It surprised me a lot how the musicians worked with the acrobats. Nothing was taken for granted. They establish an artistic dialogue, music supports the whole structure with personality, it’s not about tunes in the background.”

It is hard to say what to expect after the end of the tour. “For sure a well-deserved holiday for all of us” says Bonvicini. “Then we will be back with new projects and renovated energy, be it bigger or smaller. And for sure with new professionalism for the Italian circus, which is a thing we really need. After such a challenge we are ready to welcome what comes. With open arms and open hearts, as always.”

Resources

Climate of Change Project

Annalisa Bonvicini

Scuola Flic Youtube 
Gaia Vimercati
Academic, Cultural Project Manager -Italy
Gaia Vimercati (1990) got a MA Degree in Comparative Literature at Trinity College Dublin and a BA degree in Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Milan. She works as a cultural project manager for Quattrox4, a circus organization based in Milan which promotes contemporary circus through its practice (courses, seminars, residency programs) and its vision (shows, work-in-progress presentations).
Together with Filippo Malerba, she created CENSIMENTO CIRCO ITALIA (2015), the first map of circus companies in Italy. Since 2017 she is the curator of FUORI ASSE- circo contemporaneo a Milano, a showcase of contemporary circus shows organized in cooperation with theaters in Milan. Her main research topics revolve around the relations between contemporary circus and dramaturgy. She was among the contributors of Semiotics of the Circus (2015) and in 2018 she attended the project Research Creation Methods in contemporary circus at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada).

Gaia Vimercati

Gaia Vimercati (1990) got a MA Degree in Comparative Literature at Trinity College Dublin and a BA degree in Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Milan. She works as a cultural project manager for Quattrox4, a circus organization based in Milan which promotes contemporary circus through its practice (courses, seminars, residency programs) and its vision (shows, work-in-progress presentations). Together with Filippo Malerba, she created CENSIMENTO CIRCO ITALIA (2015), the first map of circus companies in Italy. Since 2017 she is the curator of FUORI ASSE- circo contemporaneo a Milano, a showcase of contemporary circus shows organized in cooperation with theaters in Milan. Her main research topics revolve around the relations between contemporary circus and dramaturgy. She was among the contributors of Semiotics of the Circus (2015) and in 2018 she attended the project Research Creation Methods in contemporary circus at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada).