The mind of the juggler gone walkabout. It's a broad one, but assorted manipulation is a catch-all for those artists, often jugglers, who take the spirit of circus – which is mechanically subversive, and upside-down and inside-out and extroverted – and invests that spirit within everyday objects. This is a little different from puppetry. Where a puppeteer might animate an object as a character, the circus artist animates the object as a circus performer itself: an ordinary garden broom, or a hardback book, or a hosepipe is brought to life to execute feats of great skill and virtuosity.
In her last show P.P.P. the juggler Phia Ménard worked with ice — a substance that couldn't be held and that couldn't be dropped, and that would, slowly, change its state if left untouched; a substance that was 'unjuggleable'.
'I think the show started off quite innocent, and that, even though it had dark undertones from the beginning, it got progressively darker and darker. I'd been sending them these e-mails about Clockwork Orange, and we'd had this discussion of whether it should be the boys spraying Doreen with paint. I liked the idea that I could put them in white boilersuits and it would be quite violent, but it wound up being the two girls that did the scene and it ended up, in a way, being quite beautiful as she got absolutely drenched in this black paint.'
Gemma Banks on her work designing the costumes for Gandini Juggling's Blotched.
The company, eleven of them this time, thread through the crowd. Sean Gandini comes close and rustles past looking like a piñata, his voluminous, papery coat and trousers layered pink, purple, yellow and orange, with a turquoise band settled at the waist as the cummerbund of this evening's attire.
I was told beforehand that Kimmo Pohjonen once mooned the Queen, or some Royal, at a Proms performance in London. I don't know for sure, but I can credit it. With a low mowhawk, bare arms and a sweeping dress he's salty, earthy, tanned, strong; onstage he has a clear, unwavering confidence in whatever he happens to be doing, which could feasibly include mooning the Queen.
At the start of Motet there are juggling balls of all sizes and colours lying on the stage, and it's very dark. Sakari Männistö, wearing voluminous, brocaded trousers, treads daintily among them, moving from one edge to another, staring out and not in, waiting for something perhaps.
Two characters, a man and a woman, are undergoing a rehabilitative process, alone except for the ambient voice of a calm, insistent psychiatrist. The man remembers a terrible accident, and struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide; the woman's memory slides away whenever she comes close to its pivotal moment.
For all that Jay Gilligan stands by the door and greets each audience member as they enter, Objectify isn't inviting work – it's uncaringly individualistic, highly and minutely developed, and intellectual in that way that is perhaps a little impatient with your ability to keep up.
Different nations have different kinds of stage nudity, I think. Australian nakedness is blokey and exhibitionist, Scandinavian is black and white and full-frontal, Eastern European is durational and probably smeared in something, while the French variety is matter-of-fact, broad, comic, casual – family nudity.
There's excellent music choice. As tiny flickering lanterns, held one to a finger, are drawn sinuously through the air like the carriages of a train or the body of a lighted serpent: a French chanteuse, a singer in the night.
Baguettes, coats, bags of onions, wicker hampers, a double-headed broom, a picture book, coffee cups and saucers, spoons, plastic funnels, cardboard boxes – everything can be juggled, everything will be juggled in Les Apostrophés' lengthy and exhaustively inventive Cabaret Désemboîté.
Les Argonautes are, in essence, a troupe of musical clowns, ‘making circus, where movement is king and speech sleeps’ as they charmingly put it.
'I think the Pina Bausch thing ended up being stronger than we imagined—in my mind it was lightly inspired by Pina Bausch and it came out strong. I'd say it's only recently that her influence has come in. I'd say that maybe our early work was closer to our other hero, Merce Cunningham. Maybe NightClubs was a little bit more related to Merce's work and mathematics and complex space and all of that, and certainly all our early work was working with complex spatial arrangements. With Pina actually it's terrifying when you see her work because you just realise how much everyone's got out of it. Kontakthof and Café Müller are extraordinary and beautiful works. They hover at the back of your brain those pieces...'
Sideshow talks to Sean Gandini about Smashed!, the commission piece from Gandini Juggling's 2010 Watch This Space residency, and a work of beautiful destruction and perversity.
'I go to Stoa; a cold afternoon, a light rain. Walking out the back of the building where they load and unload the stage equipment there's a rank of entranceways with drawn-down metal shutters. No numbers or signs to differentiate the doors, but something catches the eye out on the concrete steps in front of one: two big lumps of ice, not sculpted, side-by-side, creature-like with melted runnels and reaching limbs. They're a little beautiful, and a little ugly, not really scintillating now in the weak sun, and they put me in mind of a throwaway replica of the stone statuettes that certain families place at the end of drives or on porches: for the time being at least, Compagnie Non Nova lives here.'
Sideshow goes to Helsinki to see Philippe Ménard's Position Parallèle au Plancher, a work of fear, elation and longing played out within a stark landscape of ice.
Bring on the gallows! A trapdoor in the floor is thrown back and the gallows carried in, fixed in place over a tank of water, and strung with a perforated metal box that contains two animate badger skulls (brothers). In punishment for their disobedience, they are lowered into the water and held there for several minutes.