A Crossroads Of Heaven And Earth: An Angelic Road To Imagination

Up End Down was packed with breath-taking attractions and allowed the audience at La Fabrika in Holešovice to take a peek into the “other side”.

As a piece of contemporary circus can be expected, Up End Down tells its story using mostly the language of acrobatics and intrigues audience with its energy and poetic qualities. The acrobatics in Up End Down give the individual numbers extraordinary dramatic qualities. The authors of the show loosely based its story on Wim Wenders’s Wings Of Desire in which angels are looking after the citizens of a large city. Up End Down is the story of a man who is looking back at his life which is drawing to its end. The man keeps the essential memories of his life packed in a suitcase which allows the audience to get a glimpse of the man’s relationships, past comic situations and sentimental moments. Up End Down inspires the audience to reflect on the meaning of human existence.

The story itself is very strong but the show offers more attractions and emotions which the audience discovers through the performers. The more the story integrates with the acrobatic numbers, elaborate choreographies and acting skills, the more powerful it becomes. Up End Down is perfectly thought through, inventive and clearly comprehensible to the audience which is definitely a result of a joint effort of its authors and the performers. The most emotionally powerful sequences are those when the acrobats perform their arts with a degree of lightness as if it were completely natural to fly in soaring heights. This emotional charge becomes much more authentic and open in the moments of breathless suspense. There is a very volatile line between a charge of stabilizing energy which makes the audience freeze and a charge of energy which makes spectators rise from their seats. The actors/acrobats play with and around this line and in doing so, they turn the audience into modeling clay in their own hands.

When the spectators enter the hall, the find themselves right on the stage. Two seating areas are located on both sides of the hall but now they are closed with a warning tape. On the black performance floor, there is a white cross which represents the crossroads between heaven and the Earth. The slightly confused spectators find themselves on this intersection only to see the actors already in their characters in the audience seats. Various sounds and shouts from the actors foster the atmosphere of the situation until the spectators realize they are in the middle of an intersection in a large city. After a moment of this rush-hour exposition, the show begins. The lines between the actors and the audience break and the spectators take their seats.

The first load of energy comes as soon as the show begins. When all spectators are seated and a brief introduction is over, actors armed with wooden poles launch into an elaborate fight choreography which hits the audience with knockout power. For the first time, the audience faces the dramatic quality of the presented physical techniques used in the individual numbers and countless more similar occasions are to come. For example in the scene of a crossroads traffic accident, the protagonist Karel is arguing with an angel whether the passing of one of the crash victims is the end or a beginning. At that moment, a puppet controlled by actors/acrobats coming from the backstage. The puppet faces man like a mirror to his soul. Let the dance of good and evil begin.

Another emotional situation comes in the acrobatic number performed by two women. New souls are born in the shapes of two butterflies veiled in white stripes of silk and right above the heads of the spectators, they launch into an energetic acrobatic frenzy managing to dress themselves up in its course. Another similarly emotional sequence is a tender, yet enthralling scene in which the main protagonist’s reminisces about his great love. Dancers perform a choreography while standing on the shoulders of other acrobats. The woman in a fiery red dress then continues into her solo dance number on the straps in which she impresses the audience with her flexibility and dexterity. When the narration takes tu such captivating rhythm, the audience stays in suspense and its attention cannot break as new impressions never stop coming. There is something happening all the time.

There is a counterweight of comic scenes to the moments of suspense which makes them stand out even more and let’s the audience truly hold its breath. The climbing rope is also a telephone through which a call from a mother urging the receiver to come back home soon is received. In this way, the audience is amused and thrilled at the same time.

The action is strongly supported by the music which helps drive the story forward. The music naturally connects with the story and reacts to everything that happens on stage (under the musicians‘ seats fixed to one of the walls of the theater). The musicians (Rády, Skála, Balcar) can compete with the well-known Dyk-Prachař-Maxián trio and their music is intense and expressive. It is full of emotions and it is the music that helps draw the audience into the action and opens vast spaces for the imagination.

From the initial idea to the realization, this is an ingeniously elaborate production. The choreographies are exquisite, especially in the poetic and emotionally touching scenes, such as those on the silks or in the dance of the protagonist with his love. Excellent choreographies are also seen in faster scenes which bring together elegance and simplicity of motion: a simple motion or even a hint of one is enough for the audience to understand.

The degree of lightness visible in the acrobatic numbers elevates the performance to a level of virtuosity which makes the experience even more fascinating. An example is the teeterboard??? scene in which acrobats perform aerial somersaults propelled by the counterweight of two other acrobats jumping on the other side of the tipping board. The audience watches the scene breathless, because the acrobats have no safety measures. This is one of the most powerful moments of the entire production.

It is very intriguing to watch the troupe strive for its own victory in a struggle to surpass its own standards. The actors exude the presence of personal power and energy which becomes another underlying theme of the performance. The whole company is charged with energy and ready to pull the audience to their side, to the world of a fascinating strife to go ever higher and ever farther. Their endeavor to surpass themselves seems authentic.

Rostislav Novák and his co-authors have created a uniquely powerful story which makes the audience both cry and laugh. It offers ample room for thought and imagination amidst energetic people capable of expressing their ideas in an original way.

Veronika Sovová

Cirk La Putyk: Up End Down – Concept and directed by: Rostislav Novák; Cooperation: Alexandr Minajev, Daniel Gulko, SKUTR, Jaroslav Boltnar, Stéphanie N’Duhirahe, Bonaventure Gacon and Tomáš Měcháček; Choreography: Rostislav Novák, Anna Schmidtmajerová, Tereza Toběrná, Jiří Weissmann, Lenka Vágnerová, Petr Horníček and La Putyka.; Music: Vojtěch Dyk, Jakub Prachař, Jan Maxián; Stage Desigbn: Hynek Dřízhal and La Putyka; Make-up: Kristina Záveská; Production and PR: Vít Novák, Kristýna Milaberská, Martina Suchá; Lighting Design: Jan Mlčoch; Sound Design: Petr Kaláb, Robert Matoušek; Performers: Rostislav Novák sr. / Jiří Kohout, Vojtěch Fülep, Rostislav Novák jr., Jakub Prachař, Vojtěch Dyk, Jan Maxián, Lenka Vágnerová / Zuzana Kábrtová, Zbyněk Šporc, Jiří Weissmann, Petr Horníček / Alexandr Volný, Anna Schmidtmajerová, Tereza Toběrná, Dan Komarov, Michal Boltnar; Lead Vocal: Vojtěch Dyk / Andrej Rády, keyboards: Jan Maxian / Pavel Skála, drums: Jakub Prachař / Jan Balcar

photo: Cirk La Putyka

added Oct. 19, 2012

This article was written for Cirqueon’s “Writing On Contemporary Circus” educational project for students of journalism.