Juggling towards subtlety

Review of a street theatre performance after seeing a show and having a nice chat with its author over a lunch.

Benjamin Richter* (Germany): MozArt

5th July 2017, Ljubljana, Ana Desetnica International Street Theatre Festival, 2017
* At the festival Benjamin Richter performed under the artistic name “Ben Smalls”. 

The article is a part of my highlights of 2017 Ana Desetnica festival.

MozArt is a juggling show, not really about juggling; or a clown show, not really about the clown. The juggling and the clown are just devices to guide the audience’s focus towards the story, which … isn’t really a story. It’s a concert. Or a dance performance? A dance concert?

Ana Desetnica 2017 - 1.dan

“When I say, ‘Mozart’,
you say: ‘aaah!’”.

The frame of the performance is a sequence of “numbers”, each a juggling choreography done to an announced piece of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Through the performance Benjamin Richter’s clown character constantly fluctuates – between high and low status, high and low register, sophistication and silliness. He is caught in between admiration for the classical music and being overcome by emotions, between the elegance of the evening suit and the exhaustion and the sweat, between trying to do his best and just not caring enough. The clown is an entry point for the audience into the world of Mozart. Benjamin disclosed he initially wanted to include more information on the composer, but eventually settled on only the kind of information the clown character can care about and can communicate emotionally: “When I say, ‘Mozart’, you say, ‘aaah!’”.

There is zero attention given to how hard it is to perform certain juggling tricks, rather what matters to the clown is how well the juggling follows the music of Mozart.

The actual focus of the show, and where it gets its humour from, is the relationship between the music and the movement, i.e.: between Mozart and juggling. But in Benjamin’s practice juggling is understood as dancing: he would use the impulse of catching an object to direct his bodily movement and the subsequent throw. (Benjamin trained in contemporary dance and body-mind-centring.) As his juggling is similar to dancing so is his dancing similar to juggling – he would use the weight of his body, arms, legs, emphasising the skeletal logic of falling and catching, of levers and pendulums, to emphasise the weight and the materiality of his body and the objects he’s manipulating (props, clothes).

The performing strategy, as Benjamin explained, is doing as little as possible for the audience to be able to follow the show and to understand the interplay between the music and the movement (dance, juggling). For a juggling show there is remarkably zero attention given to how hard it is to perform certain juggling tricks, rather what matters to the clown is how well the juggling follows the music of Mozart. The character wouldn’t match every beat and sound with a throw, he would instead substitute a throw with a wave of a hand, a tired gesture, a frown – as keeping up with the rhythm of Mozart’s music is what matters (to him).

We are invited to notice subtle things that are in plain sight: the sequence of sounds, the sequence of objects and the material interplay between them.

From the interplay of juggling, dance and gestures on one side and Mozart’s music on the other, many tiny humorous moments emerge, moments that Benjamin could have milked for further laughs, but decided not to. Rather his aim is to orient the audience’s attention towards something simpler and subtler. He would use his clown character as the entry point for the audience and then guide our gaze with clown’s emotional expressions towards noticing the relation between the movement and the music, emphasizing the rhythm. Through the journey his body would even instantly respond to the attitude and reactions of the spectators as he directs us to notice the material, physical side of juggling and the music. MozArt‘s intriguing artistic strategy is in using street theatre tools of clowning and juggling to steer the audience’s gaze away from the clown and his juggling. Instead we are invited to notice subtle things that are in plain sight: the sequence of sounds, the sequence of objects and the material interplay between them. We are invited to notice the dance inside of the clown. And his juggling.

Samo Oleami, September 2017, re-edited August 2018

Photos: Luka Dakskobler

Trailer:

Next: Diana Gadish (Spain): Handle with care [dramaturgical feedback]

In contrast to Benjamin Richter’s use of his clown’s character and emotions to direct the audience’s gaze towards dancing (fiction -> body), Diana Gadish takes a somewhat opposite approach (body -> fiction), using dancing to create a special fictional space within the environment of the street and invites the audience in.

Author: Samo Oleami

Reviews drama theatre, street theatre, improv theatre, contemporary dance, intermedia, boardgames and stuff.

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