The real beginning is in our minds. Each person has his own beginning, and his own foolish dreams, denials, sanctuaries.
What are we going to do with our Utopian dreams? Celebrate!
The spirit of celebration is everywhere.
We celebrate because desire and life are stronger than ideology and consumption.
"La fête, cette hantise", translated loosely as "Celebration, this obsessive fear", was the title taken by the magazine "Autrement" in 1976.
Today, those happy and lively times are remembered as an enchanting interlude.
Of all the desires that fill our world, and God knows there are many, the desire to change our lives is a powerful driving force.
Everything started in Besançon five years before the birth of Cirque Plume.
Four of the founding members (all still part of the company) met in a band on a barge.
They all had a passion for street entertainment and circus arts, encouraged by "L’atelier du marché" and by a juggling book for children.
In 1980, everyone who would later create Cirque Plume took part, along with several other companies, in a mythical Jurassic festival, "La falaise des fous", which brought the art of street theatre back to life. This was followed by street shows, which combined music, circus techniques, sales pitches, theatre, and dance, performed at rural festivals and fairs, on city streets, and in small theatres. In the summer, we complemented our modest earnings by passing the hat around the crowds who came to watch us at public squares, and filled our heads with romantic visions of the nomadic life.
In 1983, we called ourselves "Fanfare Léa Traction", "La gamelle aux etoiles", and "Le magicien de balle". We rehearsed in a barn in Chay (Doubs) and in the hallways of a Youth and Culture centre in Besançon-Palente. In December, we employed all our skills and know-how to create the show "Amour, jonglage et falbalas" which we performed in the big top owned by the "Théâtre des manches à balais" in Besançon.
We had opened up the circus chests and trunks and inside, we had found a treasure.
1984 - 1990
Faced with the ruin of political hope, after Sartre, Guy Debort, L.I.P., the festivals at Larzac, the Bread and Puppet Theatre, Gong, Soft Machine and the Grateful Dead, mind-numbing pot, the Grand Magic Circus, protests, the beautiful years of the sexual revolution, friends who left us too early, those who were never able to fill their lives with enchantment and passed over to the other side,...we were looking for a less-travelled path.
There were nine of us: Hervé Canaud, Michèle Faivre, Vincent Filliozat, Jean-Marie Jacquet, Bernard Kudlak, Pierre Kudlak, Jacques Marquès, Robert Miny and Brigitte Sepaser.
1984 started with a meeting at which Bernard Kudlak suggested creating a circus - a project that would bring together the spirit of celebration, politics, dreams, vagabond angels, journeys, poetry, music, and the human body, all in a non-violent and popular desire for fraternity. The Cirque Plume.
There was already a rough draft for the tour. The show was fragile, amateurish, and innocent. Half the troupe was working "on the side" elsewhere, while the other half also had “real jobs”. It was urgent for us to connect with "real circus performers", so we employed artists outside of the founding group.
We lived in Franche-Comté, a land of forests, cooperatives and utopia situated on the back of the Vouivre. After a first meeting, we immediately obtained the support of the Regional Council.
We purchased equipment that would give any safety inspector nightmares. We painted, glued, welded and nailed. Our heads were filled with dreams. We trained a little, but not enough.
We became producers, riggers, drivers, poster-hangers, administrators, grant application writers, coordinators, circus teachers, lighting engineers, directors, musicians, and circus performers. We shared responsibilities for cooking. Two young children and a few dogs completed our numbers.
The first time the convoy went on tour, the big top trailer was immobilised on the way back and forbidden from travelling. We ordered a new trailer and our first truck at the same time.
Cirque Plume was indistinguishable from other small travelling circuses, except that we looked much poorer with our badly installed big top, our "Nottin" caravans and our 3-speed, extended and revamped "Tubes" Citroens painted the colour of the sky on the horizon between two white clouds. In the same way as gypsies, we found ourselves being followed by a dark blue van whose occupants constantly wanted to check our identities. So many long discussions!
In 1986, our participation at the "off" festival in Avignon marked our entry into the circle of recognised professional companies. Two years later, at the same festival, our big top was set up for the very first time by a proper crew, while we hid in our caravans filled with shame, peeking out the windows, not knowing what do with this lack of activity, our minds spinning. We soon got over that!
Later, the eight associates decided that each person would do the work they were best at. Although this change did not seem to be much, it was, in fact, a major revolution.
During that period we bought four consecutive big tops, three sets of terraced seats and quite a few vehicles. We became independent in terms of the show’s sound and lighting equipment.
When it came to the administration, we introduced methods adapted to our situation until we hired an administrator in 1988.
After our first show in the big top "Amour, jonglage et falbalas" (which we performed mainly around our local area), in 1988, we created "Spectacle de Cirque et de Merveilles", which toured all over France, as well as in Tunisia, Morocco, Belgium and in Switzerland (where we were behind a change in a protectionist law forbidding non-Swiss circus performances). We put together some new acts and groomed our performance and costumes. Everyone became a "professional" and we started to pay ourselves regular salaries.
From that point on, Robert wrote the original music for all of our shows. Brigitte created her first tightrope number, and the sound of Michèle’s voice accompanied her.
In Paris, we were being talked about in the national press. We still divided our time between busking and performances in the big top, but we soon decided to abandon the first in favour of the second.
Our big tops were relatively small and could fit into ordinary venues: Cardinal Granvelle’s palace in Besançon, the royal rope factory in Rochefort, the town hall square of St Gilles in Brussels, the royal salt works at Arc-et-Senans...
In December 1988, we erected the big top in Lutèce Amphitheatre. As night fell over Paris, the waxing crescent moon appeared in the sky and a tawny owl up in a tree next to the campers broke the relative silence of the park. What a warm welcome for us hillbillies! Thank you Paris.
I remember one city where we invited an old man who lived in a beat-up caravan next to our camp to see our show. In "Spectacle de Cirque et de Merveilles", a character spends his time hunting for a ball of light without realising that it is right behind him all along. The children in the audience chanted, "Behind you! Behind you!". The old man got up from his seat and yelled, "You jackass, it’s right behind you. Idiot, this is the tenth time I’ve been here and every night it’s the same thing!!", and sat down again.
In 1989, Bernard and Robert created a two-man children’s show called "Le jongleur de l’arc-en-ciel" that was selected at the Festival of Bourges. A Moroccan tour marked the end of that period: there were now as many as twenty permanent staff members, we had just won the "Grand prix national du cirque 90" awarded by the Minister of Culture, and we were preparing a new show. The troupe became a company, with a board of directors made up of eight of the founders (Hervé did not want to take part in the adventure). During this period, we gained expertise in circus and musical skills, administrative tasks, truck-driving, management and construction. Above all, we learned how to communicate with each other...
Then came the mature years.
1990 - 1998
The idea of new circus was firmly established by 1990. We were members of the board of the National Association for the Development of Circus Arts (A.N.D.A.C.). During this period, the Franche-Comté region continued to help us, the national government gradually increased its participation, and the city of Besançon and the Department of Doubs also helped a little. These grants represented about 15% of our budget. Meanwhile, artistically speaking, we distanced ourselves from traditional circus acts, which had served as a basis for our first shows, and asserted our own style. More than ever, we were a troupe. We were doing what we had always dreamed about: performing for audiences from all walks of life without sacrificing our artistic integrity, all in the spirit of public education.
But as you no doubt suspect, things were not always easy...
In autumn 1990, we changed our equipment, our show, our working methods, and we increased the number of performers, technicians, administrators, but... we kept our own style.
We were taking a gamble, but it was no bigger a gamble than the one we took when we decided to start a circus in the first place.
We bought a second-hand blue big top that seated 850 people, which, in a previous life, had been a large abandoned theatre in southern France. We rehearsed our production "création 90" in Meylan (Isere). Bernard wrote the show with Vincent’s help... In terms of the notion of authorship: we progressed from a guided joint creation to a personal project in which the performers played their full role.
The number of external artists increased, and, for the first time, Nadia created and made all the costumes. The show, in which Bernard’s first act was based on shadows, started with a white line drawn on a black background and ended with an explosion of every colour in the rainbow.
It was a time during which circus for us was as we lived it in the present.
The start was rather shaky, with the first show being cancelled because the new terraced seats were not ready on time!
We performed the next day. The premiere was a mess, with enormous technical problems involving the sound and accessories.
However, the next day, our second show reassured us that, in artistic terms, we had won.
We created a new version in 1991, when the initial project opened its arms to some new arrivals: Cyril (the "man-dog" who really made an impression!).
The "création 90" was given its definitive title "No Animo Mas Anima", in Paris at the Parc de La Villette. We had joined the ranks of the famous.
We gave our all to get people talking about us and it worked: buyers from France and Europe wanted to book us, the press was enthusiastic, and we were full of energy and raring to go.
So, life was great? Not too fast. Let us spend a little time doing some sums: we had spent 3 million Francs on the operation, including rental fees for the space, publicity fees, technical requirements, salaries but... we had only made 2 million!!
What do you do in such a situation?
We closed up shop and hoped for a miracle... And can you believe it? There was a miracle.
It came in the form of a booking for a Christmas show at the Omnisports arena in Paris Bercy, which would attract some 240,000 spectators in 10 days.
This encouraged the bankers to lend us some money to help us to keep going: We were crippled by debt, but we had the prospect of several years of work.
It was time to give our expanding operation some structure, without renouncing our desires. Communication, cooperation and a platform for discussion were more important than ever. That was in 1992, which was also the end of the "No Animo Mas Anima" tour (a total of 223 shows in front of 125,000 spectators).
In 1993 we created "Toiles". In an abandoned big top (the one we had found in the south of France...) characters came together with boxes, veils, and giant shadows. We were not telling one story, but several stories. We were delighted to start rehearsals. Among the founders, Jean-Marie created his first magic act and Jacques trained Zippo the dog. Vincent left the artistic team but remained on the board.
Bernard received a grant from the "Fondation Beaumarchais" to write the show, and Robert’s music was commissioned by the government.
It was a huge success at La Villette.
In August 1994 the beautiful documentary, "Les Plume font leur Cirque" by Christophe De Ponfilly was broadcast on prime time television. According to the ratings it was the flop of the week, but that evening,1,555,000 TV viewers heard about Cirque Plume. We were amazed.
Fourteen children were born in 1995, and we produced a second version of "Toiles"; the women were having babies, so we had to change the show. Some performers were injured and others were growing weary. We finished the "Toiles 2" tour with six new people. But, despite all that, the troupe was surprisingly stable.
With "Toiles" (350 shows to 265,000 spectators), European festivals opened their doors to us (Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Britain, Ireland, Holland, Portugal, Sweden).
In 1996, we created "L’harmonie est elle municipale ?" in Salins les Bains, Jura under a brand-new yellow big top with 1,000 seats. The big top was an original prototype of our own design. Our artistic and technical investment was in line with our ambition. Bernard wrote and directed the show but had stopped performing. The idea: a band consisting of six men meet a group of six women who live in the big top. As the scenes unfold they constantly search for happiness, for harmony... Michèle and Brigitte eturned from their maternity leave, while Jacques left the show (although he remained on the board).
The official (worldwide!) premiere was in Munich, and we then took to the road for a two and a half year tour. Reviewers loved us and the big top was packed.
"L’harmonie est-elle municipale?" ended magnificently in Lyon in December 1998 after 278 shows in front of 250,000 people.
The next project, "Mélanges (opera plume)" was underway, with the casting and artistic decisions already made.
At the same time as all of this, in 1997, Bernard directed a show inspired by Victor Hugo, "La plume de Satan", and, in 1998, he resumed his work on the idea of the "jongleur de l’arc -en-ciel" with Robert working on the music. The work became an opera for three jugglers, a soprano, a tenor, a children’s choir and an orchestra, and was presented at Cannes Festival Palace and Nice Opera in June that same year.
1999 - 2008
In 1999, the last year of the millennium, a new chapter in our history started with rehearsals of "Mélanges (opéra plume)" in Salins les Bains (Jura).
We wanted to combine all the arts - after all that was our trademark - but we also ventured into other areas, such as dance. After a few months of rehearsals, the show was not artistically ready when we presented the preview in Salins les Bains. Despite that, we received a very enthusiastic response for the premiere in Recklinghausen, Germany. Jacques Schneider, who played the angel, injured himself in Portugal in July meaning that we were obliged to present a shortened version... the show must go on!!!
However, reviews in Holland were lukewarm, even negative. It was an ordeal we had to get through. In order to be ready for the show in autumn at La Villette in Paris as planned, we had to replace the injured angel. Two days before the dress rehearsal our trapezist, Sophie, injured herself as well, and we started to think that the show was cursed... but we fought back! We found a replacement for Sophie, and pulled the show together for the Parisian premiere, getting closer to the Plume spirit than we had during the original research. We received rave reviews. Circus reviewers gave us the thumbs up... The storm of 26th December struck during the night: all the big tops in the Parisian area suffered, but ours resisted valiantly, mostly thanks to our technical set-up. We watched as the roof of the Grande Halle flew past us.
That was how 2000 started, the year we had been waiting for since childhood. Contrary to popular belief, the post did not have to be distributed by helicopter. We were working with performers young enough to be our children.
The earth continued to turn!!!
2000 was a year just like any other (we will spare you the details): the tour schedule was full and the team changed again. Jacques and Sophie (the performers injured in Paris) returned. The tour continued... Bernard took a 6-month sabbatical to finish writing the script for a musical show, do some sculpture and think about the future of the company. The opera was never performed.
In 2001, we toured in France, performed in Madrid, and, in July, after a year and a half of hard work resolving technical problems, we finally crossed the Atlantic for a series of shows in New York at the Lincoln Centre Festival. We travelled with ten containers packed with equipment and a special plan for setting up the big top in Damrosch Park, next to the Metropolitan Opera, which did not require us to drive any of the normally indispensable 360 stakes into the ground. Find out more in Bernard’s New York Diary.
On the night of the premiere, Jacques injured himself (again...) as did Fanny, another of our performers. This had never happened before! We cancelled the performance in order to adapt the show (our angel now had a crutch...) and it was a success (very good reviews in the New York Times). In September, less than 2 months after our visit, the Twin Towers fell. The world was in shock and so were we.
In parallel to his work with Cirque Plume and following a meeting with Raoul Lay (the musical director of Télémaque Ensemble), Bernard directed "Variété", a show that combined circus and contemporary music set to a score by Mauricio Kagel. The creation was performed in Nice and the show’s tour included a stop at the City of Music in Paris, where, for two evenings, the delighted composer was present in the audience.
We closed the tour of "Mélanges (Opéra Plume)" in Le Mans in December and we threw a big party to celebrate the 301 shows presented to 274,000 spectators.
The losses incurred during our series of shows in Madrid had weakened us financially and posed a problem for the creation of the next show. Instead, Bernard suggested that we create "Récréation", a compilation of the best acts from our previous shows. The choices made for this mainly theatre-based tour allowed us to devote time to essential research for our next creation.
2002: The rehearsals for "Récréation" started at the end of January.
We were delighted to have the opportunity to hunt through our treasure chests. We decided to add a seldom used element to the show: text. Our friends from the "Théâtre de l’Unité" helped each performer to write a personal text, words of truth, that they would recite during the course of the show.
We welcomed over 14,000 spectators for the premieres of "Récréation" in Besançon, which coincided with "1,2,3 Cirque", a national event to mark the "Year of Circus", a national operation under the initiative of the Minister of Culture.
During this tour, many of our old artists came to perform for one or two nights, and it was a great pleasure to be able to share the stage with them again in front of an always welcoming audience.
As planned, we allowed ourselves plenty of time between tour dates to research "Plic Ploc", the next creation scheduled for spring 2004 (you can find extracts from the "notes from a creation diary" online).
In the autumn, under our small big top erected in Salins les Bains for the preparation of "Plic Ploc", several of Bernard’s intuitive ideas were put to the test: metronomes, transparent tarpaulin, ceiling and floor water jets...
At the same time, in September, the show, "Variété" performed to music by Mauricio Kagel, opened the international music festival in Besançon ("on our turf" as we like to say). It was not the Cirque Plume, but our director was still very pleased!
When we resumed the "Récréation" tour in November, we performed in a theatre for the first time in eight years, and were very happy to do so. After the first six months of 2002 spent in the big top, the next few months of shows were held in theatres, and each venue had its advantages.
At the start of 2003, with the sun shining over the port in La Rochelle, we performed on La Coursive’s large stage, the city’s national stage (we loved this venue owing to its size well adapted to our type of show and the rapport with the audience).
Back in Salins les Bains, we set up our large big top and continued research on the new show. Throughout the entire month of March, we held auditions for new performers. We organised these auditions as a meeting of minds, and included candidates in the research in progress. Even performers who were not selected expressed their appreciation for this unconventional audition method. All the candidates were talented, but we had to choose... At the end of March, the cast of "Plic Ploc" was set.
Elsewhere in the world, George Bush Junior had decided to go to war. We were very distressed.
In April "Récréation" started up again. In Brussels, looking at all the empty seats before the show, we dreamed about Sitting Bull presenting the "Buffalo Bill Show" there. In Salins les Bains, we had a bug in the lighting console and had to cancel the premiere - the worst thing that could happen! The next day though, what a welcome (Thanks "guys"...) in Nantes in the immense "Cité des Congrès", one of our audience members wrote that she had cried during the show, at Recklinghausen Festival, we were on the receiving end of a massive thunderstorm which flooded the tent during the show. Plic Ploc had already started.
In July, amidst the cancellation of many summer festivals, Bernard wrote a text about "intermittents de spectacle" (a special statute for French performing artists) which made the round of General Assemblies around the country. He asked the question, "Why is it salaried employees alone who fund performers, and as a result, the culture of our country?" An interesting question, but no-one wanted to answer it...
In August, a heatwave killed many people in France due to negligence and a lack of resources. It was a studious summer for Jean-Marie, who was planning the set/scenery for "Plic Ploc" which would safely squirt and recover water during the show.
In September and October we were on tour again. In Caen, a new city for Cirque Plume, the theatre director told us after having seen the audience reaction, "It is as if all these people who have never seen you are impatiently awaiting your return...". This re-creation was an absolute recreation for us!
Once again we set up our big top (essential for our creative work since we were still without a permanent venue adapted to our work), inaugurated our water system, and rehearsed with practically the entire cast. The pace was serene, the dynamic was there... we made headway just as we had planned.
It was November and we watched the total eclipse of the moon over the big top. It was beautiful.
In 2003, we finished our tour in style. Recreation was performed 137 times for 130,000 spectators happy to discover or rediscover the essentials of our company. We were satisfied with our new work method, which involved combining theatre and big top shows in order to leave time for research, and "Plic Ploc" was ready to enter the execution phase.
It was 2004, and "Plic Ploc" was on its way! We put up the big top for the fifth time in order to work on the show and we set up camp for three months in Salins les Bains. The team was very motivated and the work progressed well in a studious and calm atmosphere. But at the beginning of March, there was an accident (accidents actually): Martin, one of our Quebec acrobats, ripped the ligaments in his knee (misdiagnosed after a previous injury) and could no longer continue rehearsals. Since he worked with a partner, we had to replace them both, two months into the creation... At the same time, our clown/drummer developed shoulder problems and had to rehearse with his arm in a sling for several weeks! Was "Plic Ploc" jinxed?
Not at all, because the show continued to come together.
The creation was put together step-by-step with much attention and amusement. All the details can be found in the online creation diary (www.cirqueplume.com) and on the DVD "In Progress", a bonus documentary filmed from the wings during the creation.
Three days before the premiere, for the first time in our twenty year history, the show was ready: the new artistic method really was what we needed.
We went on tour and were delighted to be back on stage and under our waterfalls, and rounded off the year in the sun in Lisbon, at the large Centro Cultural de Belem theatre.
Meanwhile, Jean-Marie published his first novel, "Le rire du pendu".
2005: In Besançon, where we had already performed "Plic Ploc" in October 2004 in front of 16,000 spectators. In response to popular demand, we returned in April and more than 27,000 people shared our joy in performing this production there!
We performed twenty shows in Namur, Belgium, then fifty shows in Paris-La Villette, to an almost 100% capacity audience. The public told us that the show allowed them to rediscover the essence of Plume’s performance and to be surprised by a new breath of inspiration after more than 20 years of circus productions.
A structure for the Cirque Plume
In January, the President of our Regional Council relaunched the idea of a permanent venue for our company (a research and training centre where we could work and pass on our skills) by offering to build a structure alongside the new Franche-Comté Frac (Regional Contemporary Art collection), an architectural project where contemporary art and circus art would come together. This was followed by a meeting with the Mayor of Besançon who agreed to support this ambitious project.
However, after a short study, we decided to turn down the offer made by the President, Raymond Forni, which was not adapted to our very large requirements in terms of space (land too small).
Despite this, it renewed our interest in finding our own structure, where, at long last, we would have the perfect infrastructure for preparing our shows.
We started to look for other sites in Besançon, as well as in the canton of Salins les Bains.
We dreamt of a simple and environmentally-friendly building.
On tour in Le Havre, Maëlle suffered from an injury. It was not serious, but she was replaced at the last minute and with great skill by Hugues ("Pedro"). It proved to be the start of a lasting collaboration.
The production notes for "Plic Ploc" by Bernard, illustrated with photos by Anthony Voisin, appeared in bookshops in April (Editions du Layeur).
"Au nom de l’esprit", Jean-Marie’s second novel was published in May (Editions Aréopage).
In the summer, we performed in the beautiful city of Bruges, Belgium and in São Paolo, Brazil, which reserved for us a very warm welcome: Brazilians are friendly, kind and considerate. The city is huge. Posters announcing our performance were posted everywhere.
We toured in France in the autumn.
In December, Robert’s first book was published: "Petite poérésie à l’usage des vents et marées" (Éditions du Vendredi).
A structure for the Cirque Plume (continued…)
In January 2006, the city of Besançon offered us a dream site to build our new workplace: on the site of the former amphitheatre in Besançon, where we were used to setting up our big top when we performed in our city.
In February, the President of the Doubs Department offered us the opportunity of one of the buildings at the Salines Royales d’Arc et Senans as our base.
There were now two sites in the running.
As far as Besançon was concerned, we were worried about problems with the site being listed. But the Municipality’s Technical Director reassured us that there were no obstacles in that respect. On the strength of these guarantees, we decided to work with the city of Besançon and decided to abandon the Departmental Council’s project at Arc et Senans.
A big mistake…
At the Avignon Festival, Bernard, along with the Mayor of Besançon, met with the Minister of Culture to discuss some of the points to be resolved.
10 October 2006: architects from Bâtiments de France (national heritage authority) informed us that they were completely opposed to any building work on the site of the amphitheatre because it was listed for several reasons.
We felt that we been had tricked.
When asked, the Doubs Departmental Council did not wish to renew the proposal which we had turned down.
The project for our own structure was abandoned.
We would be nomadic. It was an end to any dreams we had of a fixed structure. Our Artistic Director was very down.
We refocused our energy on researching our next show and on the "Plic Ploc" tour. We performed 107 times that year, including a series of shows at the Maison de la Danse in Lyons in December, all completely sold out several months before the premiere. Michèle, the general secretary, told us that she was overwhelmed by the fervour of the public, who had started queuing in the early hours of the morning in the hope of getting a seat: “I thought that this type of thing was only for Johnny Halliday!”. That made us laugh. Yes, our audiences are really great!
2007: Start of the year on tour again in France.
In April, at La Chapelle sur Furieuse, we started a research and audition phase in a small studio that we had fitted out for the occasion (because it was too expensive to put up the big top for this preliminary phase, and, we had no fixed place to work (see above!). Our next show would be called "L’atelier du peintre".
In June, we were in Marseilles for a series of twenty performances, all sold out, in our big top at the "J4" facing the sea. Every day, the ferries setting sail for Corsica were a sign that the performance was about to start. The white sails of a three-masted ship sat beside the yellow canvas of our 6 masts. Pierre captured the evocative image on film and it became the picture for our greeting card the following year.
In September, we were in Epinal for the start of the first season of a new cultural organisation (Scènes Vosges), and at Roubaix Theatre in October.
We resumed research work on "L’atelier du peintre" in November, still in the same studio in La Chapelle and we continued to meet performers in order to complete our team.
At the same time, Bernard wrote and created "Le cabaret des valises" with the Télémaque troupe.
In December, we performed at the Auditorium in Dijon, which normally is a venue for classical music and is magnificently luxurious.
2008: During tours we found ourselves in many towns and cities, but it would take too long to mention them all. At each location for a week, a fortnight, or more, we met new people, and visited new venues, bars, bookshops, restaurants, museums, cathedrals, and coastlines. Over the years, each one of us has built up a personal geography of France and Europe.
We installed the big top at Salins les Bains in May to resume work on "L’atelier du peintre". Pierre took advantage of the opportunity to make a short film there, called "Tempus Fugit". This was followed by a series of local performances of "Plic Ploc".
Summer was quiet and Bernard set up an artist’s workshop at the studio in La Chapelle and took up painting, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the task (it’s not useful for the actual show !... unless it is the painting used for the poster).
Invited, along with our big top to take part in the Helsinki Festival, our ten articulated lorries set sail across the Baltic Sea. We received a wonderful welcome from the Finnish public and took advantage of this Nordic adventure to enjoy a sauna.
"Secrets" (Éditions du Vendredi), Jean-Marie’s third novel was published in September.
In November, we spent three weeks working at the Commanderie in Dole (Jura): it was the first time in our history that we had a permanent venue of the right size for our creative work (the first 25 years are the hardest!).
We performed the very last "Plic Ploc" shows in Clermont Ferrand.
Unlike previous tours, this one was mainly French. Times are a’ changing…
"Plic Ploc" was performed 398 times to 395,000 spectators.
2009 - 2012
2009: Year of the creation of "L’atelier du peintre".
We set up our big top again in Salins les Bains for four months in order to produce "L’atelier du peintre".
Performers, stage managers, costume designers, chefs, continuity staff, director, all come together in this manner once every three or four years, to work, exchange and create. A meeting of generations, skills, characters… we get to know all the newcomers.
In total, a team of 92 people are working on this production.
We perform the preview shows here and then set off in June to play at La Coursive – state-subsidised national theatre in La Rochelle – our sole co-producer, and, in July, at the "Printemps des Comédiens" festival in Montpellier: our first official performances at a theatre and under the big top.
After several performances at the Commanderie in Dole, we set up our base and our big top in Paris, at Parc de la Villette. We have performed for Parisian audiences here for many years: we worked out that the oldest members of our team had probably spent a total of more than two years here…
The first audiences were difficult and we were not yet at our best for this show. Unlike the summer press, the autumn and the Parisian press did not let us off lightly. Much of what was said in their criticisms was true. They were useful for us: we returned to our drawing boards, with the help of our friends from the Théâtre de l’Unité. By refocusing ourselves on our company’s artistic essence, we dropped 20 minutes from the show.
The big top was sold out for the longest series of performances (60) ever at the Parc de la Villette.
2010: This century was already ten years old. In the spring, we returned to Besançon, the ancient Spanish city, and our much loved France-Comte audience for a month of performances. This was a triennial event which we particularly enjoy: the pleasure of performing in front of family and friends and long-standing and new audiences: 19,000 people.
Actes Sud / CNAC published "Cirque Plume" by Gwénola David, a book of interviews with Bernard.
The economic crisis resulted in the cancellation of performances in Lisbon and Athens, but not in the Netherlands. We completed a magnificent French tour.
At Rezé les Nantes, we reworked the show for the arrival of Diane, who was replacing Chelsea in the artistic team. With our maestro having been the victim of a road accident in September, it was Benoit (his stand-in) who took charge of Diane’s music.
In December, in Voiron, the premiere proved to be difficult owing to an accumulation of events: sometimes not much is needed to destabilise a show’s subtle balance. But, the following day, thanks to all the troupe members’ professionalism, everyone found their marks and we rounded off the year as we had started out.
2011: At the start of the year, let us summarise: Benoit became the proud father of a baby girl, Dom and Myriam were expecting a boy, Tibo tout court and Caro a girl, and Laura and Mark twins (a boy and a girl).
In Amiens and Rueil-Malmaison, Laura was replaced by two performers: Babé for balancing acts and Osmar for "trampo-pétales", both Laura’s creations.
After much discussion, we decided to perform at the Geneva Arena, a very (too?) large venue. It was our first time back on neighbouring soil in twenty years!
Bernard started writing "Tempus fugit", our next show, based on the theme of memory, transmission and passing time. We drew on elements from our repertoire and a new generation of performers who would make these their own and work on variations based on Robert’s music. “With its passing, time is starting to want to make us older” he said in reference to “Plic Ploc”.
It was at this point… with many of us already having celebrated our fiftieth birthdays, that we started to think about the company’s future.
The tour continued in France up until the summer. Everything was going well and that was good news.
Summer: holidays for everyone!
September: because of a lack of a rehearsal venue, we found ourselves out on the streets. The Director of the Théâtre de l’Espace - state-subsidised national theatre in Besançon – lent us its main stage for three weeks before the start of its season. We worked there on our initial ideas for "Tempus fugit".
In the autumn, we presented a project to our institutional partners for the installation of our big tops in Besançon for a period of 18 months, a project which would bring together a cabaret, meeting centre, host venue for troupes from elsewhere, and two productions. All of this is with a view to a more permanent base in our city.
But yet again, this project, which was so well received, fell by the wayside owing to a lack of funding.
At the end of the year, we performed in Lyons in front of 35,000 people at the Grand Parc de Miribel Jonage, a venue without any public transport in the winter. But, the audience turned out regardless. A big thanks to our public.
Delighted by this great success, the troupe’s members suggested continuing the tour beyond the final date in São Paulo next summer: unanimous agreement!
2012: Dominique got on the phone so that we could continue the tour: after a few ideas which fell by the wayside, we decided to return to Paris in October, November and December, and join Cirque en Chantier at Ile Seguin, Madona Bouglione’s structure.
This year looked difficult.
In January, we continued our research for "Tempus fugit ?" (the Latin tag is emphasised with a question mark, to get the imagination working) which offered many rich and enjoyable moments. We worked on audio and musical objects.
During that period, Robert composed three new pieces. He was very present and very creative…
Bernard launched a workshop with Yann the juggler/handyman (he was the one who made the metronomes for “Plic Ploc”): ideas, models, cardboard, bottles and pieces of string… The scenography started to take shape.
At the beginning of this year, Bernard simultaneously publishes a little book: ’The Studio of the Artist Charles Belle’, the place where he spent time in thought, chatting and among friends during the preparation of the show ’The Artist’s Studio’. Published by Virgile, in the ’Carnets d’Ateliers’. collection.
On Thursday 1st March 2012, Robert Miny takes his own life.
The Cirque Plume loses its composer.
We have to take time to grieve… to deal with our emotions: a sense of loss, mourning, the support of friends and spectators, pain, and anger.
At the Grainerie à Balma (Urban Area of Toulouse), we performed some magnificent shows: we devoted the first one to Robert and to Isa, one of the founders of the Grainerie who died the same week as him.
And we decide to continue the Cirque Plume adventure, with a creation involving time and transfer, a show we want to fill with celebrations and joy,
At Bernard’s request, Benoît (Robert’s replacement since the ’Plic Ploc’ tour) takes over the musical direction, arrangements and composition.
We continue the research work in the theatre for ‘Tempus Fugit?’ at the beginning of Autumn 2012, at the same time as the end of ‘The Artist’s Studio’ tour, which turns out to be difficult financially (see below), despite the enthusiasm of our audiences, and an average attendance of 90%.
After a trip to Brazil in summer, we end this tour on the Ile Seguin, in Paris.
’The Artist’s Studio’ will have been played a total of 346 times in front of 319,846 spectators.
At the financial level, too, 2012 shows itself to be a testing year: in fact, to keep going, (Cirque Plume has only a15% subsidy) we have to use three-quarters of the sum provided by the first years of ’The Artist’s Studio’ tour, a sum which we should have used to finance the next creation...
After almost 30 years of success, all it takes is a single weak year to find ourselves back in difficulties.
2013 - ... ?
2013: Year of the creation of "Tempus Fugit? une ballade sur le chemin perdu".
We’re nearing 30 years of existence … this new show talks about the past, and the way we pass our world on to a young generation of artists who, for sure, weren’t born at the start of our adventure….
The title is long-drawn-out: its second part is inspired by a watch-making term, ‘le chemin perdu’ (in English, the escapement), being the time between the tick and the tock of the movement of a grandfather clock, which horologists also call ‘the rest and the fall’. And we there are: the circus is situated exactly at this point of eternity, between the rest and the fall! However, Circassians from Franche-Comté that we are, the miraculous revelation of this convergence, at the very moment of the creation of a show on the passing of time, is exciting!
It’s right there in the capital of watch-making, at our home in Besançon, that we set up our big top in February, on a site cleared by the town between Citadelle and the Doubs, for almost 3 months of rehearsals.
But this last phase of the creation of ‘Tempus Fugit? une ballade sur le chemin perdu’ was not all relaxation …
Because of the difficulties of 2012, we lacked 400,000 Euros at the time of putting on this show. At the same time as we ask the Ministry of Culture for its exceptional help, we decide to create this spectacle with the firm intention, despite this shortage of finance, of not making any artistic concessions.
This period of creation begins almost on the anniversary of the loss of Robert. We are grief-stricken. The presence of the one we’ve lost haunts the Big Top.
Bernard is living a nightmare, directing a show while having lost part of himself, which died along with Robert.
30 years together … then completely alone.
Alone. "There is only one tomb: it is the heart of a friend", wrote Tacitus.
The theatre research periods of 2011 and 2012 had been enjoyable, and largely effective: about fifty minutes of this new show already practically exists (the middle part did not change in the end).
But when we meet up again in March, under our big top, in these exacting conditions, the artistic meeting between old and new is not easy ... We look at ourselves, we try to understand our differences.
Cyril, the unforgettable polymorphous acrobat of "No Animo mas Anima", visits us for a few days for an "animality course" with our new artists.
Despite this period of acclimatisation, Bernard still feels blocked. He speaks to the troupe about his difficulty in working "as before" when things have become so different for him. He asks everyone to help him get over this painful period.
So every member of the troupe grasps the oars. Yan Bernard was particularly effective in his role as assistant, and much more. The technical team, manoevring, holds the ship together in these stormy times.
Together, the group confirms itself, fuses together, comes together.
So far as the music is concerned, work goes on apace. In a difficult context, Benoît makes the transition work.
So: a lot of work. But also mourning, doubt, uncertainties, anguish.
At the first complete run-through, we realize that the spectacle needs major re-working. We do the analysis during the night, and set it up from the next day onwards. And at the next run-through, the poetry of the show appears… it’s all there!
We are reassured, but time is passing … there are still some changes to make, cutting out some parts which take too long (thanks to Hervée De Lafond and Jacques Livchine, Théâtre of Unité, for their generous and impartial look, invaluable in these moments of doubt) … Have we still time to get ready? We know it at the time of the public dress rehearsal, in front of a stand of 900 people who are close to the company: the show takes off, and is received very warmly.
"Complete Plume", we tell ourselves.
On May 18, the premiere at Besancon reassures us. The programme planners, who come to view our new creation in the twenty showings we give behind closed doors after that, talk about a "great vintage".
We carry on with 31 evening shows at the Nuits of Fourvière festival, with a marvellous first night in Lyons. The revival is borne by the new artistes. The magic has worked again.
But what a challenge, this run!
We have lived through and played out our theme. This spectacle carries all the emotions of its special creation.
The poetry is really there, in the feelings of each and every one of us.
This spectacle takes to the road for a tour of over 300 confirmed dates, while the company blows out the 30 candles on its birthday cake in December 2013.
30 years… already?
Tempus fugit …