28 October 2019

Interview with Bernard Kudlak, leader of the Cirque Plume tribe

Rencontre avec Bernard Kudlak, chef de tribu du Cirque Plume | Sparse (presse_lds) {PDF}After 35 years of artistic productions, exchanges, inventions, and revelations, Cirque Plume is bidding us farewell. One of the cirque nouveau pioneers is stopping, and doing so with grace. As he was passing through in Chalon-sur-Saône with "La dernière saison," Bernard Kudlak spoke to us about the show, himself, his life, Greta Thunberg, and philosophy.
Here we are before Bernard Kudlak, co-founder and director of Cirque Plume. The type of person who looks you right in the eye, and that in itself says a lot. He does interview after interview. We know that, but we’re going ahead with another one all the same. We’re looking for a different approach, an original question, but all of them have already been asked. This time it’s the last of the last of Cirque Plume’s shows. A show that bears its name well: "La dernière saison” (“The last season"). A show full of metaphors, on tour since the end of 2018 and continuing through June 2020.

Bernard Kudlak and his tribe are bidding farewell. Audiences and the media hurry to see them. So do we.
Of course, "La dernière saison" references this final tour, but also it also evokes the expression’s initial meaning: the transition from one season to another. Autumn, with its new wine and its beds of leaves, winter and its snowflakes, spring, summer... and a fifth season: a season of plastic. Bags fall from the sky, invading the stage. The show speaks — very poetically — about ecology. It’s not about making those watching feel guilty, but about subtly alerting them.

"The title is intimately linked to nature. I wanted to talk about that. ‘La dernière saison’ is the season of plastic, the season of the Anthropocene. Man is destroying ecosystems. Let’s cut the crap. What are we leaving our children? We’ve got to listen to Greta Thunberg. That kid is Joan of Arc. Honestly. We are stealing from the earth, from life.”
The show brings us across seasons, across phases of humanity, across ages. Ages: let’s talk about them. They too are omnipresent. To leave, to exit the stage openly, is also to accept one’s age and to go against the grain. This youth-obsessed society does not like ageing. Bernard Kudlak has taken on the cause. He is stepping away, saying goodbye. "We pretend that the end doesn’t exist, but there is one and that’s fine. We’ve done our job, and now we’re making space for others.”
Time passes, bodies change. "La dernière saison" features slender and muscular silhouettes along with less slender and older ones: athletic, big-bellied, blond-haired, grey-haired, small, tall, thin, brown-haired, shaven, young. The performers play on who and what they are, with no false pretenses.

“We have the right to exist in reality and not in the image of reality. Yes, we have big bellies, yes, we are our age. Shit. We live in a racist society that does not tolerate extraordinary people. A stupid society. We are sold an ideal image: appearances take precedence over all the rest. The clothing makes the person. We consume images. Art can contradict this, because it comes from another place. We can touch upon what is most sensitive. We can reach a true form of exchange, from one human to another. Everyone has the right to be what they are. I am reclaiming a noncompliance with the norm in this show. I am reclaiming the value of all bodies.”
The characters flaunt their diversity. They poke fun at themselves, collectively. There’s a feeling of human warmth, of group spirit and a desire to have fun. "Salut et fraternité,” says Pierre Kudlak at the end of the show. In these few words, is everything said? “Salut et fraternité [greetings and fraternity]: that’s the spirit of Cirque Plume. There’s a troupe spirit, that’s true. When we’re on tour, we live together. When you join the company, you know what to expect, it’s part of the deal. The show is a poem that has no meaning other than to be shared, among one another and with the audience.”

Collectivity, exchange, celebration, dreaming, poetry. Mythology, nature, involvement, politics, society. Athletic performances, aesthetic qualities, music, living scenes. Bernard Kudlak’s touch, Plume’s touch. "We need to observe and reinterpret, to bring an aesthetic. To seek fragility, precision." "La dernière saison" embodies this approach perfectly. "I was very precise in how I approached this show. I wanted it to be beautiful. I wrote the entire script and drafted the scenography before the artists arrived. They then added their touch. There are many things in the group scenes that were built in rehearsals. The meeting point with each artist is important. Artists are creators. They have great freedom within a canvas.”
How is this canvas built? Does Bernard have any writing rituals?
“I walk regularly. Thoughts come. When they’re ripe, I put them on paper. Incidentally, I’ve put my notes in the creative notebooks that we’ve published.”
Walking to think better. Nature, always. On a related note, Cirque Plume has never left its initial stomping grounds in Franche-Comté. “Plumians” don’t just talk about ecology, they live it. "We are attached to a certain rural way of life. The post office works when it wants to. I tend my vegetable garden. The technical manager produces his wine. We keep in contact with the land. We made that choice, we didn’t go to Paris. This suits us. Franche Comté is a land of utopia, with a particular spirit.”

Bernard Kudlak’s eyes light up as he talks about his rural roots. He studies you with the look of a happy kid. A kid who’s succeeded at living his life the way he wanted. Forty years ago, he was making shoes at a clog maker’s and thinking he might do well in the circus. And now here he is. He’s been in the circus and has achieved consecration. He made his mark with his style, with a team spirit, and with uncompromising commitment. What lessons can be learned from this? That reaching your dreams is possible, that pushing your ideas forward a little bit isn’t so stupid, and that the genie who fulfills your wishes just might come out of a shoe.

Erika Lamy
Photos: Thomas Lamy