Condemned to success! Even worse, to triumph. And it has lasted for thirty years. Thirty years, during which, for every performance, the audience has risen to its feet to hail the Cirque Plume. On the programme of the Nuits de Fourvière since 28 June, Plume’s new show, Tempus fugit ?, has been a huge hit: a total of 30,000 spectators with two extra evenings added to meet demand. The punishment could be much worse.
The troupe chose the feather (plume) as its emblem in reference to birds, angels, poets and “the spirit of the dead, which, in Egyptian mythology, should always be lighter than a feather”, explains Bernard Kudlak, the troupe’s manager and director. A few white feathers fall to the ground beneath the big-top set up in Parilly Park in Bron (Rhône). As the grand piano suspended in the air gradually descends on to the stage, a metal crate starts to chatter its teeth after being struck by a barrel that purrs like a saxophone. A great racket for rigging out the vessel.
Huge white patched sheets bring a breath of piracy to the circus performers. And, as always at Plume, a feeling of DIY, something that has been cobbled together, a feeling of untidiness, a carefree spirit, but always good enough, especially when you add the acts, which are as beautiful as mirages, and the great circus feats. The jazz and pop-rock music which has become Plume’s artistic trademark offers brass instruments which transport the audience without asking anyone’s permission.
Tempus fugit ? is a magnificent birthday cake that is packed with different tastes. The Plume diet never tightens its belt, and rightly so. However, its preparation has been far from easy. The sudden death of the composer Robert Miny on 1 March 2012 was a great shock. “When I entered the big-top to start rehearsals a year after his death, his disappearance suddenly hit me” explains a very emotional Bernard Kudlak. I thought that I was never going to be able to work again." But, there is no question of slowing down when it comes to celebrating thirty years of circus. The team, comprising several long-term members, including Pierre Kudlak, Brigitte Sepaser, Jean-Marie Jacquet, has stuck together. Tempus fugit? That’s the way it is, that’s life, so welcome to all the new young performers!
And what talent! From Brussels, Montreal and France, eight highly gifted circus performers have plumped up the feathers of this troupe, which now has thirteen performers. Gregoire Gensse gets the audience to click its tongue as he taps on his throat and brings forth hilarious sounds. Mick Holsbeke combines a clown’s temperament with a juggler’s talents. Maxime Pythoud whirls around in his enormous Cyr wheel giving a virtuosic display. "Maxime and Grégoire came to see Plume when they were young”, explains Berbard Kudlak, so “it’s a pleasure to have them with us now.” And, as for the girls, dressed in the style of a group of gypsies on holiday, the same as at the very start of Cirque Plume, they are quick as lightning when it comes to the tightrope or the trapeze.
Tempus fugit ? travels back in time, goes to the troupe’s roots. It looks back at the ten shows. It remembers. The workers arrive on stage in overalls, a reminder that circus is manual work. It is also a nod to the working-class roots of the Kudlak family based in Valentigney, near Montbéliard. The father, of Polish origin, used to work for Peugeot, the mother was a housewife. Four children. The two brothers spent their time in the woods. At the age of 7 years, Pierre played the bugle in the village band; Bernard opted for the saxophone.
The desire for popular theatre was devoured by the hopes of May 1968, as was its deception. “The history of circus and street performance in the 1970’s is very specific” explains Bernard Kudlak. “At the time, we had no technique. We learnt as we went along. We walked on ground glass, on beds of nails, we ate fire. There was no room for us in official venues. We had to find new and promising lands. And that was circus”. With references such as Bred and Puppet, the Living Theatre, Chagall, Baudelaire and Prévert... And an outstretched hand to beg as Pierre Kudlak used to do during shows. "Circus will always be marginal” adds Bernard Kudlak. “This marginality actually protects our art and allows it to continue to be honest and alive.”
Among the original pioneers of the new circus, there is still Igor, Branlo, Bartabas and a few others, and, not far from Bernard Kudlak, his brother Pierre, and their friends. Although popular success continues to give them top billing, day-to-day life is more delicate. The Cirque Plume survives by up to 87% from its own income with 110 performances a year. “We are advancing on a fragile but stable wire” explains Kudlak. I sometimes prefer not to think about the future and to carry on in my own way".
At the end of "Tempus fugit ?", Bernard Kudlak offers the audience a gift. A pendulum installation of glass balls which outlines an infinite interlaced design in the dark. A magnificent clock to pay tribute to the region of Franche-Comté, where he still lives.