• Antonia Kuzmanić on C8H11NO2

    Performed as a series of solos by Jakov Labrović and Antonia Kuzmanić (Room 100), C8H11NO2 creates a dark, throbbing atmosphere, almost cave-like. Here Antonia talks about the opening scene of the performance – the first manifestation of the schizophrenic disorder that inspires the show.

    Jakov's academic background is in sculpture – he graduated in 2008 from the Arts Academy University in Split, in Croatia. But while he was still studying he started to research how to combine performance with his work as a sculptor. He was looking at how to use his own body as a material for creating sculpture – kinaesthetic sculpture – and that's how this scene was born. It came from his research into how to use his own body, how to model it, and how to present his personal, at times disturbing experiences of living with his brother Ivan and being his guardian.

    Jakov's brother is the main inspiration for all our work. This scene is the opening of the performance, but before this we screen a documentary for the audience – an interview with Ivan, who suffers from schizophrenia. So that's like the introduction to the whole story and to Jakov's scene – it draws the relationship between two brothers where one has to deal with the disorder and the other has to deal with the brother. C8H11NO2 is about Jakov's experience of living with a person who has a schizophrenic disorder, and also his experience, in spite of being almost twenty years younger, of being his brother's guardian, involved in the whole of his life.

    We started to work with this material through another performance, F 20.0, which we showed in Zagreb at Festival Novog Cirkusa. It was a contemporary circus performance with Jakov, Ivan and myself on stage. We only performed F 20.0 once, but afterwards we decided to continue our research around this theme of schizophrenic disorder. We kept working for the next two years but without good conditions, and then in 2010 we applied to Jeunes Talents Cirque Europe and got selected, which finally brought us some residencies and co-producers and financial support to continue our research.

    We needed it because in Croatia there's no real circus education and we don't have residency spaces for circus. Jakov started doing yoga when he was seven and then continued with breakdance when he was a teenager. After that he discovered contortion and handstand acrobatics. I was in sports gymnastics when I was a kid but at some point found I didn't want to go further with it, didn't want to be a professional gymnast, because it's very hard to be a gymnast in Croatia – so I stopped and found a street theatre in Split that was running some acrobatic workshops and started doing that and some breakdance. When I met Jakov – that was in 2004 – I started doing yoga, contortion and handstands with him. After a few years I finished studying mathematics and after graduating decided that I would try with Jakov to have a career as a professional circus artist – which was a little bit of a crazy thing to do in Croatia.

    Living in Croatia, YouTube was the only way for us to find some interesting artists and to start to explore movement disciplines like butoh dance. When we explored contortion we just looked for different skills and then observed the skilfulness of the artists; we didn't really look for shows. Before JTCE helped us to travel around Europe we only really saw shows in Zagreb at each edition of Festival Novog Cirkusa. So for example in 2008 we saw Angela Laurier's performance Déversoir; she is also exploring schizophrenia, and in fact also has a brother with the disorder, so she was one of our inspirations in a way. When we applied with our project to JTCE we asked for Angela as a mentor. In the end she decided we didn't need any help with the performance, but we became really good friends. She was here in Croatia last summer; we spent the holidays together.

    C8H11NO2 is built as a series of solos, and when we were working on the show we taped everything; we recorded everything. As Jakov was the director it was obviously easier when I was on the stage, but for Jakov's scenes we recorded them and watched them. This performance is made from solos because it was, in a way, difficult for us to be on stage at the same time. But that was something that was itself rich to explore: we found it really interesting to have a performance with two artists but to present only solos.

    This was the first scene we made for the show. Jakov didn't want to make a performance where the schizophrenic disorder was going to be pathetic or in some way scandalous – he just wanted to present the disorder to the audience as a specific kind of creative consciousness, because his brother Ivan is a really creative guy and his life story is very important to the show.

    C8H11NO2 is really a mixture of different emotions, so some may feel uncomfortable or disturbed and others are really hypnotised – it depends on the audience's previous relationship to the disorder. The performance is made to open people's minds, and, if an audience member didn't have any previous relation to the disorder, to give them one – to give them a connection. Those who do have some personal experience we want to bring closer to us – or to change their minds, because people have very different kinds of relationships with people that have mental disorders.

    The title C8H11NO2 is the chemical code for dopamine, and dopamine is a neural transmitter in the brain that basically goes wild when a person is in a psychotic state of mind. When Jakov conceived this scene he had in mind that his body was like an incubator for the development of the disorder – so he's presenting a physical reaction to having the disorder, as an illness that destroys you and tears you apart. Usually people who suffer from it lose their identity almost completely, so you could say that in this scene he has become part of what he's speaking about.

    Room 100 was founded in Split in Croatia in 2010 by Antonia Kuzmanić and Jakov Labrović; Davor Gazde rounds out the company as its musician.

    Building on the short piece split (the contortion scene extracted here), C8H11NO2 is Room 100's first full-length production. After becoming a selected project in the 2009-2010 round of Jeunes Talents Cirque Europe, the piece premiered on 29 September 2011 at Academie Fratellini in Paris.

    Room 100 premiered their second full-length show, Seed, a solo performed by the Croatian breakdancer Vladimir Smud, 30 September 2014 at Balkan Spiriti Festival in Prague. The company are now working on their third production, currently titled White Phase.

    The extracted scene is from a performance of C8H11NO2 given at the 58th Split Summer Festival on 6 August 2012 in Croatia.

    John Ellingsworth interviewed Antonia Kuzmanić November 2013 by Skype and later by e-mail. This interview was produced as part of the project Deconstructing Circus with the support of Arts Council England.

    Artists: Room 100
    Skills: Contortion

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