Underbelly Circus Hub, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 11th August 2015
Darkly disturbing, the brand new show from Cirk La Putyka, Dolls, premieres in Edinburgh and brings a theatrical world of stark dereliction to the stage of the Circus Hub’s Lafayette venue.
The fabric of society is broken down in both the scenography of portentous urban decay and the inability of the five company members to forge relationships that keep us human. A strained community, filled with desperation and determination, exist in the cramped tiled rooms that form the set at the back of the stage. Perhaps neighbours, perhaps a family, they are characters of aggression, drama and fear.
Iesu Escalante is an isolated figure in possession of a voodoo magic, conjuring icons from a glowing pit beneath his half demolished basement, only to be claimed by others as substitutes for reciprocal affection. Choreography draws upon martial arts, breakdancing and acrobatics, and his character later becomes a focus for the dissatisfaction of the others, as he is violently manipulated into a human marionette, cartwheeling and crawling through tethering cords.
The company’s heritage is strongly linked with puppetry, and the visual elements are sumptuously considered. I wonder if there could be a further acrobatic use for the spawn of Giger-like cables that rise to the height of the tent, but they are not out of place in this almost-otherworld.
Bellina Sörensson and Josa Kölbel, who caused a stir at the start of the festival with a publicity stunt that hearkens back to public circus promotions of old, perform on the trapeze, returning later to their act in a grotesque parody with an especially impressive performance from Sörensson, maintaining the pose of a mannequin in a warped attempt to secure Kölbel’s affections.
Coline Mazurek and Valentin Verdure form the other dysfunctional couple, going through the motions of conventional relationship progression, including a wedding that culminates in an exciting hand-to-hand number performed entirely with their two arms bound together. Later, when Mazurek flips herself over and over from her partner’s raised hands we see again the high level skills of the pair. There are moments of joy in this relationship, but they do not last. Likewise, there are moments when we’re given room to laugh at the ridiculous extremities of social inadequacy, providing levity to contrast with the over-riding grimness of the Dolls world.
Sound composition brings vitality into the carefully crafted misery onstage, and is carefully worked out from electric guitars and horror movie soundscapes to music box tinkling and the rhythmic interjections of vocal characterisation.
The company’s love of experimentation and discovering places they can push their art further is clear from the show, and director Rostislav Novák explains more:
How does Dolls differ from your previous work?Each time we play I try to arrange the show differently, searching for some new ways. Dolls however is a really specific and extreme show, as to the performance as such, or to its topic. For the first time we have been dealing with a really great scenography, working with world-famous choreographers Jozef Fruček and Linda Kapetanea. Also for the first time none of the actors are Czech, (they came from Mexico, France and Germany), with rehearsals taking place in Sweden, Greece, France and only after that in the Czech Republic.
How long has been the company working on that show?
Initially there were several laboratories that took place: in August 2013 in Norway; in January 2014 in our Prague premises Jatka78; after that in Circus Cirkör in Stockholm; in the Isadora Duncan in Athens; following that, in CREAC, Marseille and lastly in Prague and Trutnov.
How would you describe the Cirk La Putyka’s production style?
We are different, if not only thanks to the fact that in Bohemia the “New Circus” tradition is not too old. We are not tied by regulations and rules, everything we discovered we did so just amongst ourselves, without any help from outside and without any professional background restricting what we could achieve. We are still playing with all the eight shows that we created since our formation.Each of the shows is based on a specific theme and last year we performed 120 times in Prague alone. Apart from that we performed in the USA, Brazil, France, and many other places. We founded Jatka78, an artistic centre of our own and are preparing a feature film. We would like to try the limits of a “New Circus” genre, and we like to keep busy!How would you describe Cirk La Putyka’s working processes?Everything has changed a lot during those six years following our formation. As a director I am building on my actors’ experience – puppet theatre (I belong to the eight generation of Matěj Kopecký family), site-specific projects, cooperation with dancers, companies and film). All that experience is reflected in my work.Our performances are ‘authorial’. It means there was purely an original idea at the beginning and a desire to communicate it; and only afterwards came the searching for an ideal artistic language. With Dolls I knew I needed artists with a contemporary dance competence, having a sense for work with material AND also possessing an actor’s abilities AND also top acrobatic skills.Casting included workshops with Gambian dancers, Slovak folklore dance, actors and motion improvisation, dramatic art according to the traditional Russian method and so on. However, everything dealt with the Dolls theme, meaning returning to our roots, to the simplicity and purity, moving away from disintegrating relations that are compensated by various fakes.Compare to that, work on the up-to-date project Family is completely different. There will be 22 people on the stage coming from three different generations. The first rehearsal was (without actors knowing it) straight away performance for selected spectators. In short: I am permanently seeking and trying to surprise myself as well as my working surroundings.What have your past experiences of Edinburgh Fringe been like?Once I did experience the Fringe as an actor with the Archa theatre, however, compared to La Putyka‘s performance at the same festival this was not as much fun. La Putyka was really a huge experience, which I could really recommend to every actor – to play, distribute leaflets and posters, speak to the people at the street, be ourselves all the time and not to get lost in the crowd, keeping all the time our professional level. Edinburgh seems to me as a huge risk – going there and not to be really sure about oneself seems like a suicide to me.Do you sense any change concerning British attitudes and expectations towards circus?I am not an expert as far as British audiences or situation of local groups are concerned. Nevertheless, certainly I perceive the fact that Circus Hub will be present and central this festival positively. It is really excellent that the festival is so eventful that everyone can find their viewer.What does circus mean to you right now? And how this differs from what it meant in the past?I come from a family where a remote family branch dealt with traditional circus. As a child, I loved it, however, I encountered the present day circus as late as 2001. I saw the Que-Cir-Que performance and I think this was a breaking moment, regardless of the idea of seeing myself than as a film or a stage actor. When I was a child, circus meant for me the door to the world of imagination. Today it means desire, a dream, a challenge as well as amusement. Sometimes it is however closed, an inaccessible world, Cirk La Putyka is trying to cooperate with artists outside this genre or possibly take an inside to other things, e.g. to already mentioned film.What has been your favourite moment when working on DOLLS?There were so many wonderful moments; I really wouldn’t like to mention just one or two. We are still working on this performance (written July 24th. Ed.) and are really looking forward to the experience within Fringe….!Is there anything in this production that scares you?The performance is acrobatically really demanding and, moreover, I am insisting that actors approach all the choreographies with great energy and accuracy. I fear for actors, not within the show, but from the long-term point of view, not to be betrayed by their bodies. In that way, Fringe seems as a real burden and therefore, I am worried of their injury. It is not easy to replace actors, especially if entire project was tailor-made for them.Anything else you’d like to add?I would like to invite everybody to our performance; however, the whole Fringe programme will be again AMAZING but really worth it to see us!