‘À Nos Fantômes’, by Cie Menteuses

Review from: Circomedia, Circus City Festival; 25th Oct 2019

Having both watched the trailer for À Nos Fantômes (To Our Ghosts) before attending the show, my partner and I had reached a difference of opinion in what we were on our way to see. I believed I was preparing to watch a tragedy, something with deep meaning that would lead me to a conscious questioning and awareness of the human condition. I was not wrong. My partner believe she was attending a comedy, a performance of physical buffoonery with light hearted layering of mistakes and mischievous play. She, also, was not wrong. 

A pure white frame floats from above, highlighting the face of Gloria, the protagonist. She is dressed in formal office wear, but atop her head is a plastic tiara, she is lip-syncing to a classic song and snow is falling. As the snow becomes heavier and the wind stronger it becomes harder and harder to remain in control, a comical moment that gets the audience giggling but none the less touching on the darker subject of subconscious self-sabotage. Even in her own fantasies she not in control. 

The whole piece from Belgian company Cie Menteuses continues in this fashion, a string of what if’s punctuating Gloria’s unrealised potentials. But Gloria is not alone in this abyss, as tumbling from above arrives a figure that is spookily similar to herself. Sarah Devaux and Célia Casagrande-Pouchet, the company founders and performers, met training at ESAC in 2011, and began writing this show in 2014. The pair were inspired by a workshop on cinema and circus, and their collaboration with film-maker Tom Boccara on the scenography of À Nos Fantômes enhances the cinematic visual qualities of the show, where cropped images appear out of blackness or reframe the physical space before us.

As the title suggests, the show explores our relationships with our ‘ghosts’. For me, this piece brings forward the Jungian notion that “Everyone carries a shadow”; the unconscious part of ourselves. “The less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well meant intentions”. Maybe our ghosts are not only the things we have done, but the things that we never did, the repressed desires and aspirations that we once held.

Whether you see the piece as comedy or tragedy it is unarguably beautiful. Each image is carefully crafted and, despite the non-linear structure of the piece, each element moves seamless and coherently into the next. The main focal point throughout is the rope that hangs with a loop and tail, creating a cloud swing. A versatile piece of equipment that allows the performers to move in all directions, using the potential of the space to it’s fullest. An important tool for a piece that explores out inability to escape from ourselves. 

At several points I thought I had found a metaphor in the rope, but on each occasion as the idea become fully formed in my head the use of the rope would change, keeping me engaged, questioning and frustrated. Whether this is done on purpose or whether my need to find meaning has pushed me to reach a conclusion, I can’t help but feel this is a fantastic mechanism for putting the audience in Gloria’s position. A constant, ever-changing mania and limbo in which searching for meaning is fruitless. In fact you could deduce that in Gloria’s constant state of limbo everything is fruitless, the rope which leads out will only ever bring her in, to be with her shadow is to be controlled but to be without her shadow leaves her lonely. Her situation is truly absurd. 

A moving and innovative piece of contemporary circus, I applaud À Nos Fantômes for its beauty and its depth. Dark and yet comical, this piece – much like its protagonist – is two sides of an ever-turning coin. 

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