Love and Loneliness in Zero Gravity

Mathurin Bolze graduated from the French National Circus School, with specialization in acrobatics, and began his artistic career with the “Anomalies” theatre company. His credits include collaboration with such coryphaeus of contemporary dance as Josef Nadj, Kitsou Dubois and François Verret. Moscow theatergoers saw him for the first time among Verret’s dancers, unaware as yet that they would soon remember the name of Mathurin Bolze as one of most talented adherents of the new circus. In 2002, he founded his own company, “Les Mains, les Pieds et la Tête Aussi”, whose style represents the fusion of acrobatics, contemporary dance, literature, and technique of parabolic flight that astronauts learn to get adapted to the state of zero gravity.

His Moscow debut took place within the framework of Chekhov International Theatre Festival that was dedicated to the new circus and one that has brought together the cream of this genre from all over the world. Even within such a rich context, however, Bolze’s work became an unforgettable event. The circus acrobatics of his production of “Tangentes” became an apt and precise language of philosophical expression. The phenomenal accuracy of jumps, falls and somersaults reenacted the infernal, uninterruptible reliability of the totalitarian machine, bent on suppression of human individuality, and allowed the audience to fully experience the aftertaste of the 20th century (or the anticipation of the 21st). Start point for the creation of “Tangentes” were memoirs of prisoners of concentration camps and jails or those who were forced to exile. After the presentation of “Tangentes” Bolze became at once one of favorites of Chekhov Festival, and his new production of “Du Goudron et des Plumes” (“Tar and Feathers”) was a true sensation. At the very least, for the simple fact that it lived up to all expectations.

The production of “Du Goudron et des Plumes” was based on “Of Mice and Men”, a short story written by John Steinbeck. But it doesn’t make sense to look for direct parallels between the text and this production Unless The only things which might slightly remind the literary source are the sole woman in the world of men (Maroussia Diaz Verbèke) or the scene, where two actors (one of them, George, takes the lead, the other one, Lennie, follows it), are caught in a crack between two planks. The feeling of growing disturbance and presentiment of fatal inevitable dreadful outcome are also inspired by the book. Though, Mathurin Bolze himself admits that he treats literary source as fuel for space flights – once a spaceship gets onto orbit, all of the “fuel” is burned out.

There are no tar and feathers in it, but there is some sort of opposing heaviness and flight, toughness and weightlessness. The director, however, has one more interpretation: tar and feathers are a kind of punishment for the outcasts. Miserable existence, fatal break between times, generations, continents, and extreme pressure of all vital forces represent the best ground for creative process.

Mathurin Bolze’s characters become hostages of the space that was prepared for them – a unique 4 by 6 meter construction suspended on cables which first goes down on them as if it is striving to crush and destroy them, and then soars up, “taking aboard” all those who managed to adapt, to camouflage, to break their way through. At first, there were only three explorers, then one more (a stranger), and, finally, a woman – the remnants of the surviving mankind, flying through the emptiness of space. But life is life, and it will have its course even on this wreckage of existence. The five characters test their “vehicle” to destruction, perilously exploring the limits that they can exceed, balancing on the planks and hovering over an abyss. Within the limits of their “proposed circumstances”, they have to map out the universal themes: love, rivalry, loneliness. At one moment, the springy cables seemingly by accident push the stranger and the woman into each other’s arms – and there is no attraction stronger than this “accident”. At another, the “leader” humiliates and puts down the “follower”, until an earnest protest is awakened within the latter, and they switch places, as though unwilling to notice the gravity of their situation. At yet another, by rocking their ship to the limit and making their audience almost dizzy in the process, the artists create a feeling of being lost, an image of loneliness – as if they are searching for a familiar face in the windows of a train that’s rushing by them, knowing that they will not get another chance.

Sooner or later the this limited space of little earth has to trigger idiosyncrasy in people, and then a terrible fight will break out that will run the risk of completely destroying the fragile little vessel. Sooner or later they will have their peace, inviting us to the most tranquil (and witty) bathing scene: hanging upside down, the actor-“reflection” perfectly mirrors the actions of his washing counterpart. And then he himself laughs sadly at his find – the “reflection” has to catch a kerchief that was thrown down: even the virtuosos of flight of “Les Mains, les Pieds et la Tête Aussi” are incapable of repealing the “proposed circumstances” of gravity.

A heightened sense of danger is not merely emphasized here – as in, look at what our world is coming to, -- but constitutes the primary condition of the actors’ existence. Bolze confessed that the actors have to work in a state of constant overcoming of fear. Danger is amplified from scene to scene – and, finally, the half-destroyed structure, the last remaining “ground” under the feet of the last remaining humans, tilts dangerously, frozen in mid-air. The actors tumble down, grasping at the last straws – and at each other. Gradually, though, they find their bearings, build a new passageway above the abyss. It is as if they learn again how to hold out their hands to each other (or to open up their souls). And, though it seems almost nonsensical, they manage to find peace and harmony on this “horizon of events”.

 Olga Foux


“Les Mains, les Pieds et la Tête Aussi” Company (France) started in 2002 with its first production “Fenêtres” (“Windows”). This production was then followed by “Tangentes”, “Ali” (where Mathurin Bolze together with his partner showed to the world a three-legged creature, comically competing with each other and constituting a single whole), “Xebeche” (“a dead man” in Hindu, and, finally, “Du Goudron et des Plumes” (“Tar and Feathers”). In 2009, Mathurin Bolze was awarded “Le Prix du Cirque”, France’s most prestigious circus award.


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