One of Baro d'Evel Cirk's most celebrated shows, Le Sort du Dedans, produced in 2009, saw this French-Catalan company tour across Europe in a tent designed uniquely for the performance. Once inside, spectators walked in circles through sound installations that created the perfect ambiance for an intimate show before they arrived at their seats. The performance took place in the ring and surrounded the whole audience. The tent of Le Sort du Dedans – a title that means 'The Fate of the Inside' – was inspired by the structure of a cell. Within, an essential reality was sought, far from a simple exhibition of feats.
Camille Decourtye: The scene here begins with the classical position of the horse lying down. We knew we wanted to include this, but it took us a long time to find the way to put it in the show.
Blaï Mateu: Obviously, our background is different to that of the traditional circus. Bonito, the horse, was trained by Camille herself and he learned to lie down quite easily, so we wanted to show his ability. Nowadays we work a little differently — we are no longer trying to make existing positions fit within a show; instead we create them over time as part of the whole work.
Decourtye: In any case, we have never done anything against the desires of the horse. He can lie down perfectly, he likes to do it, otherwise it would be unthinkable for us to force him. But we do it in the dark, because for us it was more interesting to show what happens next — his reactions and the way he stays in the ring. In addition, Blaï and I had this never-starting dance that was a piece of physical material we wanted to develop. Actually, our dance is linked to previous scenes — it's a sequence in which our bodies blur their human behaviours and become more animal.
Mateu: Then, putting it all together, after having a sleeping horse we realised a sleeping woman could work very well in initiating this transformation. This is quite true to our way of working: we try different sketches and juxtapose them; we do not have a complete idea but rather find the form while working.
Decourtye: We definitely wanted to play being asleep, though, and to perform the manipulation of a sleeping body. We tried a lot of material where Blaï handled me on the horse, but at one point the musician in the show, Thibaud Soulas, told a funny story: he was in New York City sleeping on a bench in a park and, according to him, the worst way to be woken up is for a policeman to order you not to sleep from inside his squad car. And that's what happened: a police patrol came and shouted at him through the megaphone on the car roof: ‘You can't sleep here!’ We laughed at this and decided we liked it for the show. It's kind of a joke, because a few moments before this scene I change my clothes into a red dress, as if to indicate we're finally going into a poetic moment with the horse. He lies down, so do I, the lights fade... and then suddenly this atmosphere is broken by an absurd ‘you can't sleep here!’. We like not to go to the place the audience predicts, but rather to break their expectations.
I've been interested for some time in the methods of natural horsemanship — observing the animal's instincts, knowing the way he communicates and inventing a language half animal and half human. I've spent a lot of time finding a way we can ‘speak’ with each other, not when I am on his back, but when our bodies are side by side. Once I got to control ‘the calling’ — meaning when you call the horse and he comes — it began a sort of elastic game, a back and forth. Then the circus training makes a very fragile mixture with all this, because if you want to perform a concrete exercise you must practice and repeat it time and again until it is set — if we want Bonito to do a Spanish step, Bonito must strengthen his muscles and learn to concentrate, so we must rehearse every day. But over that there's the character of the horse, what he likes or not and in what mood he’s in during the show... So we leave him his space. Bonito is actually a lazy horse, he really loves laying down on the ground with me.
Well, at some point, when you go deep in this relation and leave the animal to do what he likes, the question of who is the tamer, you or the horse, becomes a blurry thing. I feel it this way. It's very clear for me what are the things I know and what are the things I don't know, but in this case I wouldn't bet on who's leading who. It's like a flock of birds flying — it is said that when more than 50% of them turn their heads the whole flock turns in that direction, and this happens in less than one second.
Mateu: Yes. It's the belief that a dialogue between a human and an animal is possible. It's the same belief that the dialogue between human beings is possible or that politics can be made of a deep dialogue and spread leadership. It's the belief in being together.
It makes the show very fragile, because it's based on a fluctuating relationship. Every performance is different because it depends on the moment in which we give it. This approach has pros and cons: you have to manage the performance’s variability, it doesn't depend entirely on you, and its value isn't its intellectual content but the fact of being there in one given moment and accepting the nudity of being present. This scene shifted and evolved a lot through the three years we played the show. You can say it's almost a clowning act and you'd be right, at least for the first part of the sequence. We laughed a lot with this part of the scene, but it was Bonito who made us laugh with his reactions and his acting: one evening he might stand up and leave the ring quickly because he didn't want to play, another evening he might stay there and shake his head saying ‘no’, or nod, or fart, or not go out at all. This has made the show stay very lively — for sure it would have been very different with humans only.
We are very interested in the way animals behave, how they manage the pressure of the audience. They don't mind if there's a programmer or a reviewer watching, and this is the reason why we have continued our research on animals. It's about transformation, because we feel like we learn a lot about performance from animals. They are on stage in such a natural manner, one very difficult for us humans to reach. This is very evident at the end of this scene, when Bonito runs around the audience and comes into the ring again.
Decourtye: I'm amazed how it is almost impossible for us to forget about all the things we have invented to feel more secure. The belief we are intelligent, for instance. Intelligence reassures us, but a horse is intelligent in a different way: he can know the mood and the character of the other much more easily than a human being does. That's why we never wanted to humanise the horse. We created a frame in which he performs, and he has to rehearse the abilities to be done in the ring, but we want to go further than the artificial behavior he can show to get closer to his real character — the place where he really is.
Mateu: It's all about instinct. Instincts are very intelligent in the sense that they put together intellectual processes, emotions and sensations. A horse gets nervous if you are nervous because you are.
Decourtye: And we humans do the same, although we pretend not to. I think this game speaks to us all.
Mateu: We conceive it this way. We don't play with animals in our shows as something cool to put in (there's a dog in Mazùt, although she doesn't do much, and horses and birds in the performance we're currently preparing). We don't use them to be considered a peculiar contemporary circus company; we do it because we also live this way. We live with them. I think if our company is unconventional it's because we mix various languages and have a special way to compose. We don't do equestrian theatre.
Decourtye: I've always lived with animals and it's true we create a visual, interactive poetry with them. They make up part of our imagination because they are within our inner and outer landscapes. They are part of our family, but have a symbolic dimension too. It’s true we make them work, but on the other hand when animals used to work they had a more important role in society. Now animals are free, but a horse alone in the fields is infinitely sadder than Bonito.
It's said that a horse is a sleeping storm because they are very powerful animals but extremely fragile at the same time. So symbolically they can represent all the potential we have inside, that can eventually come out in many different ways, even in the most delicate forms. We have developed it more in Mazùt, our 2012 production, where we again use the rhythmic basis of the horse, the two, three or four-beat gaits of the trot, canter and gallop, and his breath. The sounds, rhythm and music open our perception to the instinctive world. When Thibaud Soulas plays as he circles around behind the seats in Le Sort du Dedans, he also brings the audience into the process of learning the language of the horse. We got to Mazùt thanks to the start we made here, performing a transformation from man into horse. We were willing to continue the search for more material on this metamorphosis after that. To explore deeper. We've also worked without the animal but as if it were there, following the notion of our instincts. We've sought to unchain the circus from the exhibition of feats in order to go towards the research of inner states and in order to follow emotional paths.
In Le Sort du Dedans the horse is also projected into its symbolic dimension when we can hear him cantering around the audience but can't see him — we can only watch his shadow. It appears like the animated image of a Zoetrope which the audience is inside, so they are not only watchers but become part of the representation. I thought up the set of the show after looking at a drawing of a cell, which is the smallest particle of emotion. The tent canvas is the membrane and everything begins inside. Beneath, there's the under-epidermis, the space people passed along when they entered the tent, and the cytoplasm, with the round corridor where Thibaud Soulas plays as he revolves around the audience and where I ride Bonito, and after that the seats. In the centre there's the nucleus, the ring, crossed by the double entrance as a blood flux. The entrance and exit of the ring is a straight line that allows us to change the direction of the show at a given moment. We can cut up the whirl all of a sudden. This action enhances the value of the bodies or objects, like the double bass.
Mateu: In this scene the horse is more than a horse. He is his own figure and what he represents, and his relation with the land. His image is a totem, a powerful god.
Decourtye: All this inner mythology is at the origin of our 2015 production too. It's an unconscious mythology. The relation between the animals and the monsters, how we understand them or think of them, or how we saw them in our childhood.
Mateu: Also how they connect to each other. Who dominates and who's dominated. We experienced all this in Le Sort du Dedans as a couple. There, our relationship was a love story following a red line that crossed many stages, whereas in Mazùt it is corrupted at the beginning by the social status of the two characters. The discovery of all the madness and absurdity of human relations affects our perceptions and so our bodies too, as we see in this scene as well.
Decourtye: In fact we are now creating a poetic sense of the balance between the common reality and the dreams or imagination. To build up a new illusion in this 2014 world. And here the circus has an important role. We are preparing our next show again in a tent like that of Le Sort du Dedans because we like the ceremony of people getting inside and sitting around the ring as if they were enacting a rite. So we'll try to play this tribe of different individuals, mixed adults and children and animals, that is willing to dig a new world out of the ground and, at the same time, to invent a suitable sacred belief to carry forward.
The extracted performance of Le Sort du Dedans is taken from the most recent presentation of the show, given 3 June 2012 in Sant Esteve de Palautordera, near Barcelona.
Camille Decourtye and Blaï Mateu were interviewed by Cesc Martinez on 2 Febraury 2014 in a small apartment in Sant Esteve de Palautordera, roughly 60km from Barcelona, where they were joined by Pitchoune, the dog that appears in Mazùt. 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.