PSiRC is probably one of the hits of the moment in Europe. The company and the artists themselves are at the beginnings of their career, but their first production reveals honesty and considerable achievement in circus expression and poetics. Their intention is only to perform what they are. Is it naïf circus? Or a sort of circus degree zero?
Anna Pascual: At the start of our performance there was the will to produce our own circus show and to do circus only. Sometimes artists want to become part of another company and they do whatever they have to in order to fit in, but then sometimes they prefer to create their own company and perform what they really want on stage, even if it means they have to start from zero or if in some cases like ours have to pay for their lack of experience. Then they have to keep learning from the process itself as they show the performance over and over. That's what’s happened to us: we wanted to do something of our own, we started from nothing, and we’ve learned a lot from it.
Adrià Montaña: Actually it's difficult to say what the start of a creation is when an artist is making work from the stomach. Maybe just the will of sharing something that was within us was the seed of our show.
Pascual: And the desire to make the circus a tool to express this interiority of ours. We wanted to use the circus techniques to generate feelings in the people watching us, so we created images and movements to reach spectators through their viscera.
Many scenes have been discarded or have merged into another sequence. Not only during the creation process, but also after Acrometria’s premiere and during the tour. At one point during the creation we arranged around 70 minutes of linked scenes, so we could begin to polish it and bring the show under 50 minutes. We removed all the things we considered superfluous or that didn’t express exactly what we wanted – we cut off all the empty moments.
Montaña: We got rid of any theatricality in the show in the sense of having a plot. We didn't want to tell any story or drama and just used the techniques and movements as symbols for the creation of metaphors. Acrometria is actually a mix between the movement of acrobatics and the figures of geometry. Later we realised the idea of working from the emotions was missing in that word, so we added the subtitle ‘Geometry of Emotions’. I think the scene we’ve selected gives a clear picture of it.
Acrometria’s creation process took a visceral approach first – we created instinctively, then reflected on what we’d made. That’s how we created all the symbolism. To think about the sensations we were experiencing helped us a lot to form images, movements and choreographies. On our website, we’ve put a quotation formulated as a criticism of Descartes’ ‘Discourse on the Method’: ‘I feel, therefore I am’, which expresses our intention to displace the centre of knowledge from the abstraction of concepts towards the concrete reality of sensations and feelings. In this sense, we’ve been inspired by Surrealism.
Wanja Kahlert: In fact, there's much of the unconscious in the whole process. We've worked without constraining ourselves or the show. We didn't want to extract a meaning from it – from the techniques, the circus language, or the props and objects used on stage. Instead the show is a sort of autonomous living creature and we've had a reciprocal relationship with it: we make each other grow, but we never forced it to represent anything and it doesn't oblige us to do what we didn’t want to do. It has its own inner logic and set of rules.
Montaña: For us it's been a continuous learning process – not only because this is our first production, but also because we've been flexible enough to adapt it at any moment to changes in our personal situations. Somehow it's a reflection of our lives expressed through wooden compartments and acrobatics, and here again we work with metaphor.
Pascual: Yes. For example, at the start Acrometria was a creation by only Adrià and Wanja, and when I joined them new things were introduced – not exactly as an addition, but rather as a complete shift in the way of creating, because the relationship between them changed too. All the moments and the emotional, psychological or physical states we passed through while building the show have a concrete basis. In this sense, we’ve been surprised by the fact that what we developed together first ended up being the final part of the show, a scene in which we work as a real trio. We had the last scene quite clear in our minds and found it easy to make – then all the rest came as a consequence of that, a way to reach this point.
Kahlert: The three of us had met before this project, but once we were inside the creation process, and spending so many hours together creating or thinking about the creation during the small amounts of free time after the rehearsals, we shared so much of ourselves. The months we spent working together before presenting Acrometria were a time to know each other deeply. This is what Acrometria is about and it’s been the most significant process that’s shaped the show.
Pascual: Each of us has a definite reality: the movements on the unstable Chinese pole which open the show are my particular space, for instance, and then each of us has his own part. Adrià and Wanja have their hand-to-hand acrobatics act. and scene after scene you can see different individuals, but... doing one thing together. To be conscious of that has been the biggest discovery of the creation process. I think we've gone one step forward from the simple meeting of three people.
Kahlert: In the selected scene there's something of it. As it begins, Anna has already performed her sequence on the Chinese pole. The first part of the show is more the expression of Anna’s personality, whereas all those boxes come from the type of exercises Adrià and I were practicing before Anna joined us. So the scene begins at the moment in which two circus universes cross: hers and ours. She comes down the tower of wooden boxes to sit between Adrià and me. What happens next, the passing of those compartments and the whole choreography, is about this new gear that changes the whole system. A perfect assembly is very difficult to reach, so we tell the trying of it. At one point, Anna is alone and wants to collect the pieces of her pole, which has been dismantled; she is confused and disarrays the boxes as if they don’t belong to her. This happens because those are no longer for Adrià and me to play with, but for the three of us. It is something real and a representation at the same time.
Pascual: This scene for us is the beginning of the end. The space of Acrometria is an empty room, a no-place, with only the props that identify our work. As we use first the pole and then the boxes, these elements are no longer required on the stage; we push them to the rear and perform the last act of all, the acroportes. Then we are only the three and no more, and in between we’ve changed as individuals. So this scene here is just before that last moment, the requiem for the past — it’s the beginning of the end, although it feels like a new beginning.
Montaña: At the end of the acroportes act we stand in a hug and the show is over — it’s an image of the acceptance of the other. Again, it’s a symbol.
Kahlert: We’ve worked alone for most of the process and we created all the ideas and the dramaturgy ourselves. The show certainly has a progression – it’s not just a series of circus acts, and has a precise tempo too. In some moments, we had some external help. Alba Sarraute came when Adrià and I were still a duo only, and then again one more time when Anna was already in the show. We used scale models of the wooden boxes to set scenic compositions and develop their possibilities. In the last stage of development Johnny Torres came to cast an eye over our work. Roberto Magro helped us as well... but none of these people can be considered directors in the typical sense. They didn’t create the show, but it’s always necessary that someone spends a couple hours thinking about it and helping you to think about it. Roberto Magro, for example: we talked a lot with him and he made our images clearer.
With the music something similar happened – music is particularly important in this show. Sofie Tuchscherer came with her instruments for several weeks during the last part of the creation, and eventually she proposed us sounds, but she didn’t interfere in the composition of the choreography or the materialisation of our ideas. We made her some proposals too. I think it didn’t influence much the work on the staging.
Pascual: In fact, this is a big lesson we’ve learned: if we were doing it all again, we’d devote more time to the music composition and lighting design. These are very important aspects to attend to, especially if the show is to be performed in a hall. We particularly felt our lack of experience in these fields – we didn’t know much about how to do it, so probably it would have been a good idea for us to do a technical residency in a theatre to set lights and sound as part of the whole process.
Montaña: It’s common for contemporary circus productions to be devised by a collective, though you can find some directors who hire artists to perform exactly what they want, or companies who have a whole show written and then pick a director to bring that to the stage. All these approaches are fine by us.
Pascual: It’s true though that there aren’t that many big companies that can hire artists to perform the particular idea of one director. Instead there’s a trend for small groups of artists who get together because they want to have their own company and make their own shows, so maybe the figure of the artistic director is not that necessary in many cases. Or maybe small companies such as ours are rooted in some kind of essential circus, from the times when circus was a family thing.
Montaña: And in a lack of resources. We couldn’t hire a director even if we wanted to. If you want a big production with a director from the beginning to the end you need to have some institution backing it or be a big company. Otherwise you do it yourself. But for us it doesn’t matter; we like handcrafted circus. We love companies like Cirque Trottola or James Thierrée, although he’s not really a small company…
Pascual: We like them for their creative universe, because when you see one of these you realise there’s something alive.
Kahlert: Makadam Kanibal…
Montaña: We could call it author’s circus…
Pascual: I also like Cridacompany. Each of us has got distinct tastes also. In this we have different backgrounds again. We like the same, but not—
Kahlert: I don’t know Cridacompany.
Montaña: What I’ve seen of them I haven’t liked.
The extracted performance of Acrometria was recorded September 2013.
Wanja Kahlert, Adrià Montaña and Anna Pascual were interviewed by Cesc Martinez on 14 February 2014 over Skype while the company was in Torino, Italy. Cesc Martinez is a Catalan linguist, writer and theatre reviewer. He was content coordinator of the Spanish circus magazine Zirkolika, and since 2012 has been the editor of the triple website Puppetring.com / Titeresante.es / Putxinelli.cat focused on puppetry and visual theatre.
This interview was produced as part of the project Deconstructing Circus with the support of Arts Council England.