‘Inexplicable and fascinating, it eludes time and space.’
Tuur Devens in Theaterkrant.nl, 3 April 2017
Rhythmic jamming with juggling balls and drums
Years ago, I would often write enthusiastically about the symbiosis between physical circus arts and theatre in ‘cirque nouveau’, circus theatre. However in recent years, this circus theatre has often been reduced to merely showcasing and showing off with acrobatic and other circus arts. However clever these may be, I want more than that alone. I want at least some kind of layering, a theatrically imaginative layer beneath the tricks on the trapeze, on the floor, in the ropes, on balancing devices, and with or without balls. Circus theatre – naturally with the exception of people like Ronaldo and Alexander Vantourhoudt – has become too much about a circus of human tricks in a slick wrapper. For me, this is entertainment that is rather too tasteful and too one-dimensional.
I want imperfection, vulnerability, existence, life, imagination… I want to be touched and moved. But how can I find these things in a circus these days? In Flanders alone, there are now around a hundred circus companies! Just try picking out a few choice saplings from this thicket. I am guided by chance, and from time to time I come across something beautiful. One such moment occurred at the recent international Krokusfestival in Hasselt, a festival which focuses on theatre and dance for children and young people. Post uit Hessdalen were due to put on a short performance there. A few months previously, their film Poolnacht had moved me. So anything was possible.
It proved to be a surprising moment! PAKMAN is one of the few performances in which juggling with balls has enthused me. I’m not interested in whether someone can chuck five or six or seven balls in the air and then catch them again. I want to be moved by the juggler’s vulnerability in his relationship to the balls, to the space, the surroundings, the imagination, the content, the atmosphere… And PAKMAN moved me.
Post uit Hessdalen does full justice to its name. This small, youthful company is named after the village of Hessdalen in Norway, where a mysterious light spectacle has been witnessed. Inexplicable and fascinating, it eludes time and space. The film-maker and circus artist Stijn Grupping and theatre-maker and scriptwriter Ine Van Baelen also seem to want to create this kind of impact with their hybrid performances, in which all kinds of artistic disciplines are mixed. They might achieve this using film and video, or by weaving circus tricks into other artistic disciplines.
Poolnacht (2015) was an intriguing video in which virtual landscapes merged into images of nature. People try to escape the pressure of urbanisation, and in the North seek out a transcendence to point the way to a pure future, but whether or not this can be found in the play of the (northern) light and the dark silhouettes of trees and black water remains to be seen, particularly once they return.
PAKMAN is a symbiotic game of juggling and music. Using bounce balls, Stijn Grupping enters into a rhythmic dialogue with the drums, which are played by Frederik Meulyzer. But there is more. The group of spectators is packed together in the covered back of a lorry. The pakman is not a virtual figure, but a sombre man in brown workers’ clothing behind a glass counter, engaged in stamping large boxes. These then glide across the conveyor belt towards the audience, who can use them as seats. A postal counter where you can collect packages? This is no longer of our time, as now you can order everything online, only for it to be delivered to your door a few hours later.
The man stamps and at fixed times takes short breaks to drink and eat, consuming coffee from a thermos flask and sandwiches from a lunchbox. He gets bored, discovers some balls, starts throwing them around, and the game has begun. His loneliness is given a rhythm, his work tempo increases, and a second person starts drumming on the kitchen equipment. The two jam in a musical game in which it is no longer clear whether the bouncing balls or the hand beats of the drummer are determining the rhythm. You try to follow the balls in their trajectory through the space behind the glass, as they fly from the table to the floor, before bouncing against the wall via a plank and returning to the man.
Technically intriguing, but also visually artistic, this is a fascinating game played out in space and time. The soaring balls create geometric lines and the old-fashioned postal counter is transformed into a space in which sound rhythms create a magical interplay of lines. A world that appears virtual but in fact is not. This short but powerful performance lasts for just 25 minutes: a stunning example of imaginative circus music-theatre. The age guideline for the performance is 5+. This is something that people of all ages can enjoy. As you step out of the lorry, you leave a separate world, and find yourself needing to watch your step as you climb down. Luckily a helping hand offers you the necessary support for your return to the real world.