Le Télégramme
28 April 2019

Cirque Plume: The turning of a chapter

Cirque Plume. Une page se tourne | Le Télégramme (presse_lds) {PDF} Interview

Plume is a circus that is "alive like life." For nearly 40 years, its poetry has enchanted audiences, attracting followers who believe in the balancing of a feather, in human exchange, in the fragility of ideals. The internationally renowned circus is taking its final bow.

It is a circus that was born out of a dream, in the forests of the Jura, like a promised land, by outsiders in caravans out to emulate Molière. A circus whose festive spirit has embodied a post-1968 dream of democratic education: "intrinsically utopian, on the margins of society,” sums up Bernard Kudlak, director and co-founder of Cirque Plume. "Socially, the circus was and still is, in the contemporary imagination, a social sub-space, crowded with the riff-raff. We hear circus spoken of disparagingly: ‘What a circus!’” says Bernard Kudlak.
Founded in December 1983, Cirque Plume reinvented the genre. No animals, but instead, theatre and music mixed with traditional arts. Its name, born in the mind of Bernard Kudlak — like all the shows, whose geneses came from ideas — evokes the pen of a poet, the feather of a bird, and the weight of a soul weighed by Osiris in ancient Egypt to enter the kingdom of the dead. Born in 1946, Bernard Kudlak recalls that "barbaric humanity had triumphed and ruled unchallenged shortly before our birth: we were seeking poetry, fragility, humility, responsibility and joy; we wanted to share the experience of being alive. All this, by absolute necessity," he recounts.

“A powerful dream”

At the time, Bernard Kudlak was a musician in a street band. His masters were Camus and Spinoza and he dreamed — "it’s powerful, a dream" — of an art that allowed for the mixing of social classes. "A show without a glass ceiling," where each of the artists, autonomous in their own fields, would be both an actor and co-creator of the piece. "The circus is transversal, the spectators’ sensitivity matters more than their knowledge," he states.

No animals and no circus ring

For him and for Robert Miny, co-founder of the troupe and composer of the shows (deceased in 2012 and now replaced by Benoit Schick), "music is very important." "As soon as I had an idea, I would call Robert," Bernard Kudlak remembers wistfully. With contortionists, jugglers, zoomorphic acrobats, and "young virtuoso artists," shows were created in three-months during the period between 1984 and 2004. "No animo, mas anima" (1990-1992) would be the first structured, full-length piece, and would open doors. The show "Plic Ploc" (2004-2008) is still today considered an original and thrilling masterpiece.

A pioneer of nouveau cirque, without wild animal acts, without a circus ring and with very elaborate themes, often around ecology, Cirque Plume garnered an international reputation and became one of the biggest and most beautiful circuses in the world. 2500 international performances, 2.5 million spectators: it resisted reality and played with danger like an acrobat on a high wire. "Every three years, we would roll the dice again. If we screwed up, we were dead," recalls Bernard Kudlak.

A childlike freedom

The productions mixed "acrobatics, juggling, clowning, music, dance, choreography, comedy, mime, light, and sound with other more dreamlike, philosophical and political materials," says Bernard Kudlak. But most of all, they revisited the "childhood of the world." "The circus makes extensive use of the free play of children, an essence of creativity, and it is in this childlike freedom — a freedom in which one can think of a world without limits, in which one can pretend one is infinite — that circus exists."

For Bernard Kudlak, the notion of surpassing oneself and one’s own human condition is inherent in circus arts. "Even by a few millimeters," he says. The glory and genius he is so renowned for are to take shows that claim to promote strength, courage, solitude, or values of virility, and to stage this fragility into them.

Dernière saison: a show as light as a feather

It took Bernard Kudlak more than 30 years and this last show to juggle with feathers: "Dernière Saison is inspired like other our other shows by nature, by emotions created by the song of a forest or the course of a river. From this real link, we wanted to refer, at the same time, to nature’s seasons, but also to TV series, and to the desperately stupid state of the world, to the deadly impact of its narcissism on the planet." Joyful and nostalgic, colorful and dirty, deep and light, messy and precise, the production is making its way with lightness and subtlety through two-year tour.

Artist Bernard Kudlak and the Cirque Plume are taking their final bow. "Artistic creation is great, but the 40 employees, the ten semi-trailers and the big top are all significant costs. It’s also not bad to have a moment in your life without these responsibilities," he admits. For the moment, no one is thinking about the last show. "We are in the present, the energy of the moment," he says.
The pioneering company is about to make way to a new generation and to some 400 circus troupes in France born from its vision and dream. The transmission has already happened, and Bernard Kudlak dreams of “turning back poetically,” asking his audience not to cry, to accept finitude because, "even stars that love each other must leave each other," he says, citing an 18th century Japanese poet.

Guénaëlle Daujon