‘The thrilling grey darkness and a narrator’s voice lull you into a timeless trance.’
Liv Laveyne in Circusmagazine#48: 15 September 2016
I want to break free from the wheel of the economy
At first sight, these would seem to be two incompatible worlds: the world of the circus artist and that of the factory worker. And yet the performance PAKMAN unites the two in a small lorry.
It’s over twenty degrees outside when we are called inside the cargo space of a lorry parked in the shadow of the church in Ghent’s Macharius neighbourhood. The daily grind enacted within, where Pakman (Stijn Grupping) stamps and heaps up cardboard boxes to the rhythm of the conveyor belt and the mercilessly ticking clock, is as grey as the idyllic MiramirO festival outside, where people are happily whiling away their summer holidays. Separated from the audience by a plexiglass wall, this tableaux becomes even sadder. Just as you would stare at a chimpanzee in the zoo, here you stare at a person in his (self-imposed?) prison: the treadmill of the economy. But tragedy aside, this is also a human being; one who succeeds in using his imagination to lend colour to the ordinary, and in channelling his resilience into transforming tempo into rhythm. Arbeit macht nicht frei, but our playfulness does set us free. Homo est homo ludens.
Initially Pakman slavishly follows the tempo of the machine, before breaking loose and creating his own rhythm against the steel walls of his ‘cell’ using juggling balls. When a second figure (Frederik Meulyzer) starts drumming from behind the boxes, a rhythmic duet unfolds which at times is more like a duel. Is it a dialogue, a fight between colleagues, or an alter ego? Between a human being and a machine? With time or with himself? And who is leading whom in this merry-go-round?
PAKMAN puts a whole new spin on the ‘industrial music’ genre. As in the famous factory scene in Dancer in the Dark, in which Björk harnesses music to sing herself free from the machines, Tinguely’s iron musical sculptures, or the audio-visual road trip Clangdelum Cinematographica, in which the sound artist Hans Beckers explores the musicality of our surroundings, PAKMAN also couples and uncouples the pulse of the machine to the vibe of bouncing balls and drums.
Post uit Hessdalen
PAKMAN is the latest creation by Post uit Hessdalen, the company headed up by the theatre-maker Ine Van Baelen and film-maker and circus artist Stijn Grupping (co-founder of Ell Circo d’ell Fuego). Alluding to Hessdalen, a valley in Norway in which an inexplicable light phenomenon has been playing out in the sky for years, their style is equally inexplicable. From their debut The Smallest Family Circus in the World, in which they used video projection to transcend the physical boundaries of the circus body in time and space, to the documentary Poolnacht, in which the shimmering grey darkness and a narrator’s voice bring you into a timeless trance, or now this PAKMAN: radically different in form and discipline, in content they share a single concern: as human beings, how do we deal with the phenomenon of time? As a virtual, natural or economic factor. As a seducer, enemy or playmate? Tick, tock.
Does this substantive quest make PAKMAN an incredibly powerful circus performance? No. You sense that the roar of repetition is too loud for this to be the case. Instead, this is the perfect, made-to-measure box with a label designed for every broad festival context. Nevertheless, Post uit Hessdalen is naturally skilled at being that elusive light from which its name is derived. The fact that this duo carries out in-depth research over a longer period of time than a single performance, coupled with their wide range of forms and disciplines, is precisely what makes them so interesting. This is particularly pertinent in the circus genre, where performances tend to suffer from short-term thinking along the lines of ‘we’ve come up with a cool idea’. Above all, let’s hope that Post uit Hessdalen never find their destination and that they keep on searching. Time is on their side.