4 November 1999


François Devinat

What is the Cirque Plume’s secret? It is hard to say if it is the director, Bernard Kukdlak, or Carabossa the fairy, who wields the magic wand in his spell-binding shows. Mélanges - opéra plume, his latest opus, served up on a tray like one of those elixirs which transform black thoughts into raptured tipsiness, like the warm punch served at the bar with the Comté cheese tart. Such is perhaps the hallmark of one the pioneer troupes of the "new circus": the capacity of the "kitchen boy" artists to rustle up, with hardly a thing in the larder, lovingly and thoughtfully prepared dishes. A show that begins with a strident cry from an electric guitar and ends with the resonant chorus of the beating hearts of the whole troupe, cannot, a priori, be unpleasant. Above all, if in the meanwhile, a really dare-devil angel of No Fixed Abode has taken you under his wing to make the acquaintance of a Cinderella with a witch’s broom, a diva-devastating scarecrow juggler, and a tight rope dancer with a penchant for doing the splits on a musical wire, shadows that embrace only to fade away, a levitating double-bass, women with gold lamé songs and so many more tasty morsels that you have to watch you don’t die of indigestion. A mixture of genres. This apparent hotchpotch has more to do with mixtures - Mélanges, than with opera, you can hear the circus purists thundering, because here we are on the fringe of circus. First of all because of the frontal stage within the one thousand seat big-top and because it looks more like a theatre than the classical sawdust ring. Then, there is the way the company has of reeling out all of its artistic genres and weaving the lot - music, dance, shadow theatre - into a falsely disjointed theatrical act. The circus holds on to its privileges for all that. By its occupation of space, because the show inhabits the inner volume in its three dimensions, thanks particularly to a travelling crane which makes it possible to play on several levels. And also because of the basic circus skills presented - flying trapeze, acrobatics, trampoline, juggling etc. But these "acts" are woven into a tapestry of constant invention, in which the part is never separated from the whole and in which derision always wins over seriousness.

More than just performers, the artists have each their particular humour or temperament, from the beginning to the end of the show, which makes it possible to interweave stories and stimulate the imagination. The whole ensemble, however, constitutes a fragile clockwork, in which no single cogwheel is really interchangeable. So, three weeks before the opening night, an emergency re-adaptation ofthe stage direction was carried out on the quiet, when two of the artists suffering from slipped disks were forced rest."Nostalgia for Paradise" "We are a fragile dinosaur. It doesn’ t take much to become old-fashioned. It’s make or break!" says Bernard Kudlak, one of the founders of the troupe. Much of his inspiration is drawn from a quotation by Henry Miller for whom the circus was "poetry in action". Poetry bearing the particular stamp of rurality common to Plume’s versifiers, natives of the Franche-Comté. "The sun in a drop of water on a spider’s web, that instant there, is also the universe of the Cirque Plume", observes Kudlak. Then again, the Franche-Comté is also a home of utopia, the birthplace of Fourier and Proudhon. Is Plume referring back to the etymology of the word utopia itself - a place that doesn’t exist? "Perhaps, if you consider that the circus is the place which expresses the nostalgia of paradise. But it is also where the mighty power of the child is open to view. At the same time you are never far from ridicule. You think that with a trapeze you are flying, but compare that to a sea-gull…" Today, Plume is at its seventh creation since 1983. The merry bunch of the early days, jugglers or fair-ground fire-eaters, are at the head of real business, touring throughout Europe two hundred days a year. The original core group regenerates itself by surrounding itself with new artists at each departure. "Children are born, people get injured, others embark on new ventures or get weary...". At La Villette, the big-top is full up in advance for ten days. As for the audience, they hang on to their pleasure.