International circus stars are part of the Arts Centre summer season
With only a table, chair, cup, spoon, some juggling balls and an upright piano, they perform intimate acrobatics with atmospheric musical accompaniment. Time Out spoke with the wandering Belgian pair from their temporary base in Paris.
D’Irque and Fien, let’s start with the show's name, Oh Suivant!. What does that mean? Are we meant to think of Jacques Brel? (That might be a little terrifying!)
Oh suivant is French for 'the next'. In the show we try to get a spoon in a cup in different ways. After every attempt it's going to the next attempt.
This name came up during the creation of the show. We play 80 per cent abroad, and as a Belgian company we liked the reference to J Brel as well.
What kind of show is it?
It's a man and woman in their living room, combining both their skills into a one-hour show. Basically, Dirk [D’Irque] ries to get a spoon into a cup in different ways.
And how did you two come to be working as a duo?
After his studies at the ESAC circus school in Brussels and École Nationale de Cirque in Montreal, Dirk had the choice of working in a circus, creating a cabaret act or making his own show.
He chose the last one, and started touring around Europe and abroad with a duo street show. After creating a solo show, he broke his shoulder... so he couldn't juggle for six months and started playing piano. He asked me for some lessons.
In the creation of a new show in 2005, we started thinking about the music, and it was obvious I would join him with live piano.
Does designing a show like this start in the kitchen? Do you ask, "What next? A cup? A chair?"
This show started in the living room, thinking out loud about what we could do in a new show. Me playing some piano, and Dirk balancing on his chair at the table – we didn't have a child back then, so we were allowed to play in the kitchen!
Dirk is always playing and manipulating things, the remote control of the television, pencils, spoons. The idea of the finale was one of the first idea's we had. After having several sketches, we started to put everything together.
We love that this show has so few props, and that those props are so ordinary. Is there a special kind of magic when extraordinary things are done with everyday items?
All the props are original, we didn't fabricate a special spoon or cup.
We did tried different spoons and there's only one kind that balances good on Dirk's nose. During the creation process we come up with of the most complicated solutions, but we always end up with the most sober and simple one. All the adjusted props are at home, and with all our cups and spoons we can always have a real tea on tour.
The table and chair we made ourselves because they needed to be strong on the anchor points with all the acrobatics! But it's normal wood...
Audience participation. We’ve never seen kids so eager to get involved, although the adults we saw looked a little more confused!
Dirk has 15 years of experience playing for and with a public. The most important is to 'listen' to the child or adult, and improvise on the good moment. Children are very open, not afraid and playful, as adults may be a bit frightened to play.
We’re always aware to not insult the volunteer, and make them feel comfortable. It's nice that every show things change because the interaction is different!
Dirk, you have a wonderfully goofy performance style. It’s almost as though your tricks happen by accident. Do you need to rehearse daily to maintain that level of naturalism?
Before I trained five hours a day, juggling, acrobatics, hand balancing. Now we perform almost every day, I warm up for the show, but the intense training schedule isn't there anymore.
When we don't play I renovate our house, last week we finished the heating for next winter! Perhaps the next show will be around electricity and machinery! I do feel my body needs a certain amount of physical exercise, and being Belgian I do need to train with all the chocolat I eat!
Fien, in what way do you think that musical accompaniment can work to bring out the drama or poetic poignancy?
I created the music together with an friend composer. He came in the creation process to compose music and themes for every 'number' in the show. This makes it very personal. With playing so much, the music and movements of Dirk influenced each other! There are fixed parts, but a lot of space for improvisation. I think the poetic atmosphere is their because we don't speak and it's live music.
Also, Fien, do you also juggle?
My mum has a juggling shop, my sister is an acrobat and my brother a magician... I'm the only child that didn’t do anything with circus. I ended up with Dirk… so yes, I can juggle three balls and do a handstand. And Dirk plays three pieces on the piano. But I feel best playing piano and watching others juggling!
In Melbourne you’ll be performing in a theatre, but in Europe you are renowned for your street performances. How does the venue affect the atmosphere of the performance?
We played for four years on open-air festivals and street festivals in Europe, Korea, Brazil, Canada. But for the winter we adapted the show for theatres and Scène nationale in France and Belgium [public theatres].
Playing outside makes you attentive to everything around you that could happen. A dog that walks over the scene carpet, church bells that start to ring. You need to get the attention of the public for one hour!
Performing inside is a luxury, people bought a ticket to laugh and are looking forward to see a show. You have all the attention in this blackbox. It's a nice combination performing inside and outside, it makes us stay fresh an innovative for a public!