Circuses aren’t what they used to be, thankfully. In days of yore, in pre-PC times, we used to marvel at the animal calisthenics as elephants implausibly spun their way around the Big Top on outsized orbs, horses managed to strut around on their rear legs only, and a brawny character defied the gaping jaws of a lion or tiger. There will be none of that stuff when the Recirquel troupe heads this way from Budapest in February to give four performances of The Naked Clown in Tel Aviv.
I caught the show in the Hungarian capital last month, and it was jawdropping.
The company comprises about two dozen men and women, in their late teens to early 20s, who put on a breathtaking show of physical prowess coupled with delicacy and polished artistry.
It is hard to fathom how, for example, a young man can maintain an angle of 180 degrees to the stage floor by holding onto a length of cloth hanging from the ceiling – and not just for a second or two. The whole show is replete with seemingly death-defying acts of mind-boggling physicality as the troupe members display individual brilliance, as well as combining to perform seamless stunts as they intertwine and overlap at breakneck speed.
Recirquel fuses several disciplines in its work, combining the world of cabaret and variety with elements of modern circus. As such, the acrobats not only put on virtuoso turns in terms of sparkling circus technique, but they also season their derring-do with a sense of insouciant playfulness topped by a liberal dose of joie de vivre.
The eponymous role of the naked clown is the emotional linchpin of the whole shebang. Although fully clothed throughout, Brigitta Egyed puts in a stunningly emotive performance betwixt the quicksilver gymnastics. The 30something Egyed offers a stark and evocative counterpoint to her younger, more fleet-footed colleagues and plucks the audience’s heartstrings in between her more comical intervals.
There were English surtitles in the Budapest show, although at one point, when Egyed popped towards the rear of the auditorium, no translation was provided. But such is her delivery that, through the earnestness of her physical and facial posture, I still got the full sentiment. Egyed is the definitive clown and would have conveyed the complete emotional spectrum even without the traditional clodhoppers and light makeup.
Recirquel was founded in Budapest in 2012 by director and choreographer Bence Vági, who had the advantage of being able to feed off a centuries-long tradition in the art form but also the disadvantage of having to break a timehonored mold. Hungarian classical circus dates from 1800. One of the oldest circus schools in Europe was established in Budapest in 1950.
“What we will see tonight is not only one performance. You will see one part of the evolution to make a contemporary circus, to make a new circus,” Vági explained prior to the performance at the impressive MUPA arts center in Budapest.
For those who are not familiar with the postmodern variant of the circus art form, Vági is only too happy to help disperse some of the conceptual mist.
“I often get asked exactly what is contemporary circus. I usually don’t answer the question without opening at least one debate,” he observes. “I think this is more a debate than just one answer. If you look at classical circus, we observe very basic feelings.
We feel the fear, we feel the joy, and we are being amazed.”
That’s a pretty comprehensive spread of emotions.
Vági believes there is something primordial about circus disciplines. “These are very pure, very ancient feelings towards humans observing something.”
That may be a pretty fundamental knee-jerk response but, says the circus director, the traditional format does not penetrate deeply into our psyche and heart.
“We don’t have any connection with our soul, we don’t identify with the characters, we don’t connect moments of our lives necessarily to the performances we see in the circus. It is more a kind of entertainment,” he says.
Then again, there is the here-and-now species.
“But with contemporary circus, it is very important to see the storyline,” Vági continues. “It is very important that the audience can connect to the characters and maybe even with the acrobats on stage.”
That is something that comes across in The Naked Clown.
As far as Vági is concerned, hair-raising, superbly choreographed acrobatics notwithstanding, the be all and end all of Recirquel’s endeavor is to get the plot across.
“For me, contemporary circus does not exist; it is theater. That is the most important thing. The circus steps on the stages of the theater and then we, as an audience, have the possibility of connecting,” he says.
The Naked Clown references one of the iconic characters of the centuries-old entertainment lineage, but that is all you get in the way of traditional circus.
“As much as you see her [the clown] talking about the role of the circus, the esthetic of the show is not circus,” says Vági.
That has been the recurrent theme throughout the company’s timeline.
“In the first production, Night Circus, they are looking for the circus they have lost. In The Naked Clown, it is more about the clown as a character. But I think the clown has so many different ways of appearing. If you look at Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for example, or [20th-century Irish artist Francis] Bacon’s paintings, the clown can appear anywhere, also out of the context of the circus,” he says.
That genre toing and froing is central to The Naked Clown and keeps the members of the audience of all ages suitably riveted, both cerebrally and emotionally.
Recirquel presents ‘The Naked Clown’ on February 7 to 10 at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information: (03) 692-777 and www.israelopera.co.il