Interview with Bernard Kudlak
By Patricia Coller, in Artiste Pluriel (December 2004 - January - February 2005)
between actions and poetry
Twenty years ago, Bernard Kudlak made a proposal to his troupe of amateur street-performing friends to take their dreams and poetry on the road. The Cirque Plume put up its big-top, had a party, brought together a disparae audience, and made the eyes, ears, imagination and desires vibrate... A meeting with an inventive artistic director as well as an inventor of a circus that is most definitely alive.
Why did you chose the life of an artist?
That is a vast question. The choice to be an artist probably comes out of a necessity. Can you live without being an artist? No. There you go, it’s settled. It really is an absolute necessity just like feeding yourself.
The search for a demanding and popular show brought me to the realm of circus. When we discovered circus, just about twenty years ago, it was pretty much a wilderness. The death of circus was a topic of conversation. Soon after we discovered a repertoire and an extraordinary world which was really interesting to explore. Today, with Cirque Plume, we have succeeded in doing the very thing that got us to devote ourselves to this path. We put together demanding shows that appeal to a very diverse audience.
Is it all about conjugating artistic need and the encounter with a popular audience?
Yes, it really is Jean Vilar’s dream. The second reason, just as essential as the first, maybe even more, it that the script in the circus is not a narrative one. It is, instead, a poetic script. We recapture Henry Miller’s words, "Circus is a poem in action".
How did you get started?
Mostly by chance. Self-taught. I was a puppeteer. I learned how to juggle doing Petrouchka by Stravinsky as a puppet show. The piece never got done, but I wanted to go through the door that was open a crack. Afterwards Cirque Plume was born, and I am on of its founders. From the beginning I was the director, and for a long time I also juggled and played a clown character.
What we call "new circus" was born with Cirque Plume...
We really created an artistic form, a style, but we were not alone. There were four or five companies at the time. Effectively, after us came what is referred to today as new circus. The circus arts are one of the art forms that is most recognized in terms of image. In any child’s toy, you can find a clown or a lion... These circus forms come from the 1930’s. All the same, that which makes up the work, the training in circus - balance, acting, juggling and so on - can be used as material in a myriad of creative ways. It can go from a show that resembles contemporary dance to the Cirque Plume show to a hip-hop show. It brings together everything people can imagine starting from physical circus training and its imagery. Imagery and circus mythology remain very important.
So there is some continuity with traditional circus...
It is different but there is certainly continuity. Just like there are many different forms of theatre, there are different forms of circus.
It is an art that is difficult to define because it is multidisciplinary and favours creative intentions...
Yes. One of the elements that, in my opinion, define circus is time. Circus inscribes itself in a particular time that is not that of theatre, but a time that is more immediate, the time it takes for an action. Like dance. There is a big difference between that and narrative time, which is time in theatre.
What is your role as stage director and artistic director?
I write the shows. I make propositions for different scenes, on the theme of the show, on the set design, on the direction taken and the fundamental elements. For example, for the show Plic Ploc, I imagined shadows, water, and structural elements for the show. Then I drove the creation starting from improvisations for which each individual is a creator. The invited artists bring their techniques and compositions with them in the form of acts that are sometimes used as is in the show.
It is not a narrative script?
No, it is a poetic script more than narrative. But there is still a real scripting that can be seen, I believe, in the show. But I can’t explain. You have to come see the show. It is the result of the exercise.
How do you reconcile the artist’s freedom and the coherence of the show?
That question is the same for all forms of creation. I guess for someone writing a book, everything must be coherent from start to finish. The clearer the fundamentals are, the better we know where we are going and where we want to go, even better, we can compare the two in cases of doubt. Also, after twenty years with Cirque Plume we have created a vocabulary that we can work with. In the same way as a painter, a writer or an actor makes his mark using a certain style, the Cirque Plume definitely has an identifiable style. Every element contributes to the ensemble. There are no contradictions. You can draw a comic book and put photos inside, and nobody will say that it’s contradictory. If the invisible underlying theme is very solid, the artistic choices remain coherent.
Is your role different than that of a theatre director?
There is also a strong director’s fingerprint in a circus show. The artists propositions are numerous. There are hundreds of choices to be made every minute because at the beginning there is nothing. The director decides with the help of the material at his disposition. Every one of his choices constructs the work.
Is circus impacted by the work done by the technicians...
Our show works with magical elements. We always have the desire to create totally surprising elements. Creating things that don’t exist represents the base of artistic work.Thus, like in theatre, there is a lot of machinery which necessitates a particular technical competency. Cirque Plume brings together technicians that specialize in, for example, aerial work. There is also very important work done in the shadows to ensure that no strings are seen. And today, the show Plic Ploc plays with water, water droplets, water jets... Domesticating water and its leaks is an enormous task. As a result we needed to install a new water management system. In addition, at the same time as the creation, we built a device that permits us to adapt the show from the big-top to a theatre.
Do you have a team working backstage during your creations?
We have fabrication workshops and specialized people with us. When we create a show, we need welders, woodworkers, decorators to design the decor, builders to fabricate the decor, costume designers... For example, for each creation, we setup a costume workshop that employs five people. On Plic Ploc, because we were working with water, the stage technicians who go on tour with the show also participated in the creation.
How is the status of professional seen in the circus world?
It is complicated to answer that in two minutes. I am rather embarrassed by the fact the the profession is financed by the Assedic (translator’s note: the Assedic is a government unemployment program). Simply because the professors, the civil servants, the entrepreneurs don’t pay into the Assedic program. So the profession is funded by a small segment of society that on top of everything, never goes to the theatre. I think that the role of funding our culture belongs to income taxes, but the status of intermittent (translator’s note: an intermittant is a live performing artist who benefits from the Assedic system while not performing) is precious and the latest protocol proposal was nonsense. I have written a text on the topic.
What would you say to people who are thinking about getting into the What do you think about amateur practice?
I come from the amateur tradition. I am definitely in favour of it. We should raise the value of this practice and give amateurs the means to work. It is something very important for social relationships, for a certain type of creativity that is different from professional practice. Today we have the illusion that everyone can become a professional. But it is not because your are not professional that you can’t express yourself using art, quite the contrary. For certain reasons, I think that amateur practice is precious for every artistic discipline. It is fertilizer. Today there is confusion which leads to whoever wishes auto proclaiming themselves to be professional no matter what their level.
How do you tell the difference?
It is not my job to define that. I nevertheless regret that entry into the profession is only defined by the law of the market, by a certain number of contracts needed for inscription into the Assedic system.
What would you say to the people who turn to circus arts?
If you have the desire to do something artistic, you have to do that thing. Really. Simply to do it, for the desire and the need and not for the projection about what you are doing. You have to sing for the pleasure of singing, because you need to sing. Art starts from inside and must answer our needs, our necessities and our desires. In the circus arts, like elsewhere, first and foremost is the desire to learn, the pleasure of practice and training, the pleasure of saying something through a medium such as flying trapeze.