Gandini Juggling's Smashed has spent three years touring around the world. Here Sean Gandini looks at the ins and outs of one of the show's most Bauschian scenes – at the very first performance, and then again three years later.
When we started out twenty years ago our work was very non-narrative. During the first twelve years that we made work we were quite empty narratively, and partly I think that was because Gill Clarke, who was our collaborator for all those years, was very much of the Trisha Brown school – it was this Cagean approach where we would just let things be what they were. Still, I had always been sketching little things like this when I went to do research work with students at Circomedia. To me it had been almost like a hobby... I always thought it was something I could use directing somewhere else, but that it wasn't something we could put on the company. And then around the time when we made our piece Stop breaking my balls with John-Paul Zaccarini I started to feel that perhaps this was something we could let into the work, and I think in Smashed I had the freedom to just put these darker things into it that had been floating around for a long time but that had never made it into our world.
I think this one scene though is completely Pina Bausch. There are two things in Smashed which I think came directly from Pina Bausch, and the rest wasn't intentionally Pina Bausch but people are now reading all this Bausch into it. Those two elements are the parade, which opens and closes the show, where everyone slowly walks in a line across the stage as they juggle, and then this scene: a classic scene of the men disturbing the women, a Pina Bausch image.
It's a theme that comes back a few times in Smashed: the theme of bothering people when they're juggling. I think that's partly a reaction to that fact that if you juggle in England people's reaction is 'Why are you showing off?'. More so in England than anywhere else there's a healthy... cynicism, if you like. It's almost like if you're juggling you're saying to someone, 'Ha ha! look what I can do that you can't!'. And in a way the bothering scenes in the show are partly dealing with that and saying what if juggling is a powerplay, and then dismantling that idea. In this scene the women's juggling is very peaceful, there's no element of showing off – and then the men come and mess with it.
The scene was made in maybe an hour, but it's building on our past work. We had a little season in '97 or '98 where it was like we opened the box of patterns: we found all these beautiful patterns, and we've kind of lived off those patterns ever since. And a lot of them are what we call assisted patterns – where someone else catches for you. Somebody catches the ball and puts it in your hand. I've got some research footage somewhere of about a hundred of these patterns; some of them are hyper ornate ones which we never did again but which I'd love to revisit. Kati's section is all based on the assisted patterns. I think that people who don't have a juggling eye think that Kati's actually juggling when she's being shaken and all of that – but she's actually not passing. So in a way she's holding it together but I think it looks more complex than it is.
Actually one of the ironies in Kati's section is that she controls it. Whenever we have a rehearsal she's constantly giving looks to all the men around her – so the theme is about the men controlling what she does but she's in control of that. I don't know if one could read that in the performance though...
This show has been very curious for us because it's grown into something that's a little bit outside of all of our intentions; it has this implied identity and so many people are projecting stuff onto it. And people are asking questions about our intentions, but actually it was made very quickly so genuinely I don't know what a lot of it is.
There are so many accidentals. If I didn't know how the apples came about I'd tell you that they represent the Garden of Eden – and I did have the Garden of Eden in mind as an image of sexual innocence, but my initial thought had been to have two women and three men in a kind of erotic Newtonian thing. Bradley Hemmings from Greenwich + Docklands Festival had asked me to do something on Newton and I was quite interested in sexualising the Newtonian image of the apple, and then Bradley's thing fell through and I'd been researching with Circomedia on the theme of breaking – and then, one thing on the back of another thing, we thought what if it were just apples? What if we really restricted it? And then in a way it's so perfect – one, they juggle magnificently, they're easy to juggle; two, everyone has held an apple so it's not the alien juggling object. It's actually very hard now to think theatrically with traditional juggling props – at the moment we're working in the studio with ballet dancers and juggling clubs and it seems so ornate, so far removed.
The song is an accident as well, though for me it's perfect – it's actually the piece of music that I like the most in the show. I love how it works, I love its tale of lost love, because it's about someone leaving you, and I love that narrative juxtaposed with men being bastards. We found it on a shuffle play on the iPod; I keep a playlist of tracks that I think might be good for a show and then if I'm making one I just do shuffle play.
When we first did this scene – at Caxton House, in North London – I thought we couldn't do it on the street. We were due to premiere at Watch This Space festival and I remember watching the rehearsals and saying we can't do this outside the National Theatre, it's too much. For me the darkness of the piece starts here, but actually it turned out to be a laugh scene – when we do it people laugh. We get maybe one or two e-mails a month from women who say that they find it disturbing that people laugh – that they don't necessarily think it's wrong to portray this, but that they do find it disturbing that someone clearly being disturbed is funny.
The scene opens with this exaggerated kiss between the two women. John-Paul Zaccarini, who came in as a dramaturg toward the end of the process, put that in. I think he wanted to make it a bit more domestic, and there's something important I think in the relationship between these two and how it falls apart during the show. I think it's very French – cold a bit.
The body language of the men at the back isn't strictly defined. It's supposed to be that they're watching a car crash. The instruction was you're intrigued but you don't want to get involved, or in a more sinister way it's watching somebody disturb somebody sexually – it's that thing of people not getting involved; they're just curious. John-Paul added the clap (at 2.35). I like it. It's supposed to be like watching the cricket – or like watching sex as you watch the cricket. The scene's definitely had a very clear sexual subtext right from the beginning.
The show started as a twenty-minute outdoor piece and then we made a full-length indoor version. We've been touring and developing it for three years now.
This scene hasn't changed much in its choreography, but the looking that takes place between the women, and from the women to the audience, has become a lot more intricate. There's a whole look between the women when Doreen (on the right) looks at Kati and she sort of goes, 'Is this all right? Should I let them do it?', and Kati doesn't want to know and moves away; she only has sympathy for Doreen once she gets pushed back in. In the original version Kim and Kati keep an inner world – here it's like more is given away.
We've made Doreen's side a little bit worse in that one of the men lies down right below her and looks up her dress. At first I thought it was going too far, that it was too much, but we did a workshop with Petra Massey from Spymonkey, who said that the things that were wrong were the things we needed to do even more of...
People laugh at this version as well, but there's more viciousness. In the earlier version the way the men get up from the chairs is more dreamy, more incidental. They walk over much slower and they look between each other as if to say, 'Shall we?'. When our original performers come back into the show they always say that it's got rougher and they try to bring it back to something gentler. We were actually thinking we could do the Pina Bausch thing and make a version of the show with older performers – it could be quite nice. We just need to decide whether to bring in new performers or to wait for us to grow a little older...
Sean Gandini was interviewed by John Ellingsworth 16 August 2013 on a wooden bench outside Brew Lab in Edinburgh. For more on the company's work see the Gandini Juggling website.
This interview was produced as part of the project Deconstructing Circus with the support of Arts Council England.