Cirkopolis: Not Standing – Through the Grapevine, Work – Tight Body to Body
The Cirkopolis Festival was held in Prague for the ninth time. This year's edition offered three domestic titles and five foreign ones, many of which touched very intimately on issues of the body and corporeality. The body is, of course, inseparable from circus, and it was the Belgian Alexander Vantournhout's duet Not Standing - Through the Grapevine and French director Claudio Stellato's project Work that broke it down into micro-particles and exposed it to extraordinary challenges.
Body, measurements, qualities
The intimate performance Not Standing - Through the Grapevine was one of the highlights of the festival. Belgian dance and circus icon Alexander Vantournhout last appeared at the Ponec Theatre two years ago with a successful free adaptation of Daniil Charms' Red Haired Men. In his current duet, his focus on the limits and proportionality of the body is a deeper follow-up to the solo Aneckxander, which the Cirkopolis Festival presented in 2017.
On a stretch of white-coated floor, framed by a black surface to create a passing perspective, there were two exquisite male bodies, only necessarily clothed. At first glance, they struck one as being of the same height, and presumably of similar weight. They developed the theme of physical proportionality from subtle cues such as the span of the arms, the reach of the fingers in the swing of the arm, the height difference between the two men when seated, the number of displacements (leg lengths) for the area of the dance floor, and gradually revealed many other incredible possibilities for measuring each other. Their ideas did not slip into cliché, they did not appear illustrative or competitive, on the contrary they came to life in a very original way, even in the case of measuring themselves against the wall!
The performers Alexander Vantournhout and Axel Guérin, in close proximity to each other, searched for a relationship between physical availability and innate dispositions. They offered virtuoso variations of statics and balancing elements. No first-rate provocations, but thoughtful punchlines of creative "laboratory experiments" made for a pleasant environment in which the audience did not resist a chuckle. Through the mirroring effect, previously imperceptible or minimal anatomical differences seemed to come under the magnifying glass. It was enough, for example, for the two sinewy artists to stand opposite each other. When Alexander Vantournhout reached out, he could not reach his partner. Otherwise, Axel Guérin patted his colleague on the shoulder. The former leaned forward and swung his torso into the void, the latter bumped into his chest. Simple as the above descriptions of the miniatures sounded, they bore the imprints of detailed creative work, revealing the obvious but essentially hidden secrets of the two of them, two bodies of equal height and yet so different from each other.
The duet of touches, often accompanied by slapping against the skin and audible gasps, generated geometric lines in space that evoked images of kinetic images based on the principle of biomechanics. They animated each other and could even give the impression of appropriating each other's body parts. They used differences in the location of the centre of gravity or in the lengths of limbs to constantly develop atypical shapes by joining and intertwining, moving away and coming closer again. Acrobatic passages transitioned just as organically into dance choreographies or into "just" being together. Choreographer Vantournhout surprised once again, with perfection in all the minimalist-purist staging levels.
Body, work, challenges
What physical activity can do to the body was explored by four limitless adventurers, who from the first minute led the audience to admiring amazement. The director of the Work project, acrobat and juggler Claudio Stellato, went for the materials and colours, but paradoxically left the "craftsmen" at their mercy. They found themselves in a workshop or on a strange construction site where on the one hand there was a euphoric immersion in the activity and on the other an unpredictable chaos. In the opening part, for example, a performer in a full-face mask was enthusiastically engaged in hammering nails into a beam, while the next action revolved around a board wall that was being painted, plastered, reinforced..., all the while developing gags from a set of black humour.
The stage of the Palác Akropolis quickly succumbed to the cramped DIYers (three men and one woman) who, regardless of the space and themselves, took on the task of "working" in any way they could and from the sight until total death. In a performance where nails fell, splinters and wood chips flew, paint splattered, walls crumbled, where cutting, chipping, painting and stapling were done, something was always happening, and that "something" suggested nothing of what would or even might follow. There was an elusive logic to the sequence of actions that made the show escalate into absurd turns that made it an original and humorous séance about survival of all kinds. The actions of the versatile performers, variously disguised from the start - hidden "under a protective layer" - gave little indication that they were stepping out of their comfort zone, even as they placed themselves in situations in which any mortal would react to pain, dirt, restricted movement or slippery surface.
The poetics of the work was reminiscent of circus groups (e.g. Cirque Inextremiste, which the audience encountered at the Letní Letná festival), whose repertoire benefits from the manipulation of heavy machinery and whose focus is on craft, work, production and very often destruction. The borderline, risky, admirable and in a way perfect swirling of jack-of-all-trades, moreover, really resonated in the Czech community with reference to the animated series Pat and Mat.
Written from the performance on 14th February 2022 at the Ponec Theatre and from the performance on 16th February 2022 at the Palác Akropolis.
Not Standing - Through the Grapevine
Concept & choreography: Alexander Vantournhout
Performers: Axel Guérin & Alexander Vantournhout
Created in collaboration with Emmi Väisänen & Axel Guérin
Composer: Andrea Belfi
Dramaturgy: Rudi Laermans
Light design: Caroline Mathieu, Harry Cole
Technique: Rinus Samyn
Costume design: Anne-Catherine Kunz
Set design: Bjorn Verlinde
Cast: Joris Baltz, Oscar de Nova de la Fuente, Mathieu Delangle, Nathalie Maufroy
Writer/director: Claudio Stellato
Administration and touring: Laëtitia Miranda-Neri
Production: Compagnie Claudio Stellato.
Translation: Kristina Soukupová.
The Czech version of this review was published on 4 March.