Circo Circolo festival, Netherlands; 22/10/2014
Sébastien Wojdan’s powerful one-man circus Marathon is produced by Galapiat Cirque, and presented in their own yellow two-pole big top. We are welcomed into their space as treasured guests and, throughout the show, there is a deep love, respect and imperative for our presence that truly embraces us into Wojdan’s 90 minute endurance feat.
As we queue outside, Wojdan offers vodka in small paper cups, poured from a large bottle. He appears chic and suave in a dark suit and grey shirt, and hasn’t forgotten to bring along apple juice for the kids. We enter the tent, and circle round the perimeter to enter the ringed seats from one of four equidistant entrances, passing as we do a model of a circus ring with a toy train running round and round through the centre, and wind up circus toys inside a miniature boxing ring. A slightly ominous box containing a shorn doll’s head adds to the thrill of danger and the off-kilter humour that will develop as the show progresses.
The one-man show convention is quickly established as Wojdan begins to play an electric guitar, placed exactly where the model had indicated, then moves to a keyboard, a saxophone, a microphone, looping his sounds together as we take our seats on the wooden benches.
With everyone in place, the show begins at a sprint when Wojdan performs a rapid fire sequence of performance moments, throwing knives to the ground, zigzagging in on a skateboard slalom, clowning around with homemade costumes. Sharp objects impact into yielding surfaces. Contemporary circus performance often explores the nature of the circus form; circus is trying to know itself and evolve with its essence intact. In Marathon, Wojdan plays with edges, risk, the obsessive compulsion of circus artists to push themselves to new limits, with audience anticipation, participation, and what it means to be human. He balances and juggles with surprise and inevitability as much as with slack line and clubs. He is a master of knives, as they appear again and again, making us gasp at his audacious flirtations with danger.
As each new presentation of skill comes, one after another in never-ending succession, I think on the passage of time, and the series of ridiculousnesses that makes up a life. Marathon is a sophisticated circus that doesn’t lose it’s accessible crowd-pleasing heart for a second.
As Wojdan precariously balances an open paint-tin above his head, a ring-mesh fence is rolled around the centre of the ring, reminiscent of the wild animal cages erected in another sort of circus, signifying danger to come. On hands and knees, Wojdan is the human animal, dancing in a way that leaves patches of sweat on the wooden floor to dry before our eyes, while snarls and grunts subtly enter the sound composition.
We are watching exhaustion in action, the lapsing concentration, failing co-ordination, lack of emotional control, the frustration at a weakening capacity that hits as tiredness takes over. Audience members have been helping Wojdan prepare his equipment throughout the show, and now I feel an overwhelming desire to support this marathon runner; we are more important now than ever.
As he comes to a rest, we help dress Wojdan’s hands in balloons. They dance from his fingertips as a cactus is pushed centre stage, a cactus grown from the premonitionary model of the ring (which makes us the animals embracing in the stands). The balloons’ demise is obviously imminent, and we watch nature take its course. Wojdan shows us his approach to the inevitable – to court it, to play with it, never to fear it.
After wringing out his sopping wet t-shirt, Wojdan returns to a weighing scale that opened the show. Chalking up the numbers, we see how much his effort has cost him over the last hour and a half. It’s a final shock, a reality check. Our entertainer thanks us warmly, and the show is over. But he’ll do it all again tomorrow.