Photo: Jelena Janković
Photo: Jelena Janković

- Hello, Gilles, Arno, congratulations and thank you for this beautiful piece we have just seen. I believe we will be seeing you, Gilles, on Bitef this year one more time, in the play I Put a Spell on You, by the director Ehsan Hemat.

Gilles Polet - Yeah, I have another show, which is also very intense, but it’s a very different show. I mean this is very intense but with a lot of love, but in I Put a Spell on You there is no love at all. It is me fighting the machine. It’s about censorship, whereas this one is about relationship between two people. That one is about not having any emotions, any relations, any humanity, so it’s entirely opposite.

- In that show, you are working with a drone. What kind of experience was that, working with an object of technology?

Gilles - It’s very tricky. I didn’t know that, but drone is extremely sensitive to magnetic waves and everything, and in theatres with all the cables, there’s a lot of risk, so the drone becomes very unpredictable. It’s very difficult, we have to really play with the drone, it’s really close. It never happened, luckily, but it could hurt you. It’s more dangerous than this, scarier than this. I have absolute trust in Arno, but in the machine, in the drone, I don’t. Even though the guy that operates it does it very well, but sometimes it’s not up to him, he can do his best but it’s out of his hands. Whereas with Arno, if something happens it happens because he wasn’t there, or I don’t know. But he is always there.

- This would actually be your third show on Bitef - we saw you in Mount Olympus by Jan Fabre in 2017. What are your impressions now when you go back to that performance?

Gilles - It’s funny, we did not expect the reaction we got from the audience, that they stayed during the 24 hours, they had to see what’s happening, but that’s how everyone reacts. When we performed, when we premiered the piece, the director, Jan Fabre, said: “Listen guys, if we keep eight people at the end, great, we already did a great show, don’t worry about it, it’s great.” But it was the opposite, everybody has that same reaction, they want to stay, they want to live through it and go through the journey, this is great.

- Arno, Bitef audience also saw you in Rare Birds in 2019. What is different, in your experience, in the process of doing  Rare birds and Cuir?

Arno Ferrera - We performed Rare birds last in December, we did 100 shows with Rare Birds. With Cuir, it’s the first time that Alexandre Fray, who is the director of the company “Un Loup pour l'Homme”, has delegated the artistic direction of a piece, so he let me create this piece from zero. It was cool, it was the first time in the company that he gave someone the opportunity to do a new show. Those are two shows that have some things in common, but that also differ. For me Cuir, for example, is going through something really frontal, really intimate, and it’s a duo, so we are frontal. They talk about different things, but both still talk about humanity, how to connect or reconnect, rediscover human connection, and also share it with the audience. But this show, for me it’s a little bit like my baby. So it’s like to go with your brothers, and then to go with your baby, so that’s maybe the difference between the two experiences here in Belgrade. (laughter)

- Do you have any plans for some future projects together?

Arno - Yes, with Gilles, we’re now going to do a piece with prisoners, in a male prison, around the material of Cuir, but without harness. It’s four weeks of creation and then we will present Cuir in prison, so in the middle of the process of the creation of the show, we’re going to perform it inside the prison.

- What do you consider to be the biggest challenge in your work, generally?

Gilles - Programmers. I have a hard time with programmers, this is my challenge, there’s also great programmers, but a lot of programmers I meet act like artists themselves, and they think they have the power to make you or break you, and often that’s also true. I’ve had programmers in front of me that broke me, and made me want to quit, and I actually did quit going on stage for a while. I’ve had enough, I did not want to do it for these people anymore, I’d rather teach yoga, which is what I did. But I came back with this piece, with this performance. Because it’s a pertinent piece, because I think it’s important, it needs to be seen. He’s a beautiful partner to work with, Arno, he was a very good friend already before, it was a nice connection. So, when he asked me, I thought the piece is very nice, and I love working with him and hanging out with him, and it’s a different environment, the circus environment, which doesn’t have these programmers. It’s a big challenge for me, more so than doing very difficult things on stage, more so than having a difficult audience, this - I can work with. Having an arrogant programmer - I don’t know how to deal with that.

- Can you tell me something more about your project Only the Brave, where you explored induced altered states of mind?

Gilles - I researched trance through Sufism and through Shamanism, which are two different states of trance but somehow very similar, they have a lot in common. It’s really to give up your ego and to give up yourself so that you completely become one with everything, which is beautiful. Your whole concept of time and space disappears, concept of pain disappears. For me, the three are linked anyways - the mind, body, spirit for sure. I don’t think we realize yet the power of the mind over the body, we don’t realize that connection. I see a lot of dancers and performers getting injured, and for me it’s always happening in the mind before it’s happening in the body.

- What was the most important message you wanted to pass on with Cuir?

Arno - For me, what’s important in this play is to share the relationship between two men, to put two men on stage. Now is also the time to bring new masculinity on stage. Because this piece talks also about domination and submission, a power between two men on stage. What is important for us is that the show continues and after a while you actually don’t care that we are two men on stage, and you go a bit beyond that. So that’s why I will really like when this happens, and the audience doesn’t see just two men. And in a way it talks also about consent, that is also a topic quite present nowadays, and I think it’s important to share it because with this form of consent, you can also push boundaries. Now we have an impression that we are, not limited, but we are afraid of crossing the borders. I think this show is a mix, because it’s kind, but also violent, so there is this thing of being soft and violent, and I like the combination of the two. We need to be two men for this show, because if it’s a man and a woman it’s completely different lecture. I think maybe two women would work, also, it would be actually very interesting. But there is this thing, I really wanted to present a show of masculinities today.

- What can you tell me about the relationship between the two of you in Cuir, for the people who haven’t seen the show?

Arno - In the structure of the show, in the dramaturgy, we decided to start with a fake trap, we start with a second layer, it’s like a game when we enter, but then the show changes. It’s like a fake beginning, we would say. We enter and we play with this role, he plays with this power he has, he’s the hunter, he’s the man. I’m still the man but more like the animal, the horse, the submissive. But then, what’s important in this show, because we talk about submission and domination, we don’t want to do it so binary, in a sense that sometimes the dominated is actually dominating, choosing to be dominated, and he is choosing how he is dominated, so there is a kind of stress for the one that is dominating to do it well.

Gilles - The one who is being dominated is actually the one in charge.

Arno - Yes. Especially in the beginning. It’s important that you don’t read all these things, you just receive the show, so you let go. Our relation is intimate, we can not do this show with whoever, not only for the show, but also being on tour together, it means living together, eating, sleeping. That’s why we have a trio, with our technical director, who is also on stage with us for this show. The idea was also to present something that is supporting versatility in relationships, not just in relationship between men, it’s really universal. It’s good when the rules are clear, it’s not that we have to be 50:50, it’s not what we defend, but there is clearly a moment when the roles can change, so that, I think, is what we would really like to share with the audience, and to invite them to do the same. I defend this versatility in relationships, because it’s actually not about power - it’s not the power over the other, but the power with the other. I think this is really one of the roots why this show is important, for me, for us, to be seen. I think that is what is important to be said, and that two men are saying that now, and for me that is also very important.

Gilles - Yes, first there is this fake starting point, which is very “circusy”, which is little bit like a second-degree joke, but then what was important for us was the idea to start from masculinities and two men testing their relationship, researching, developing, pushing the boundaries of their relationship, and very quickly shifting into dropping the gender. The fact that it’s two men doesn’t matter anymore, it’s really just two people, two persons, because it becomes about something universal, something that can be between two men, or man and woman, it can be between two women. It’s just two persons testing and exploring themselves through the other. So that’s the other layer of the show that we want to pass on.

- How did you come up with the idea to work with the harnesses?

Arno - With Cuir, the starting point were harnesses, as a tool to work around cooperation and domination. I have a real passion for animals, and this was the starting point of the project - the harness, the desire to work on violence, care, and consent. For me it started from the relation between human beings and animals, and how they can work together. Harness is actually a tool that we are using, still now I think, to work in the fields. Animals were harnessed, and then it was this relation of work between human being and an animal. It’s interesting because we interviewed two different people, a lady, and a man, that are still working with harnesses, and they said that you can’t approach an animal with an idea to dominate, because it’s actually about cooperation. If you are not calm, dealing with an animal, making it comfortable, then the animal will choose exactly when it works, will it work or not. So, the thing is how to make this happen. Sometimes they wake up a 5AM because they have to go work, they start to work, and animal doesn’t want to. So how to make it possible? Sometimes it’s a bit seducing in a way, caring, and then they can work together. It was interesting because it already gave me confirmation that to have this kind of relation, it actually needs to be cooperation. And what the harness brings is that I’m responsible, as a base, for Gilles, but he is also responsible for himself, taking himself on the harness. You don’t read this because it’s really technical and specific, but for real it’s a cooperation. He is also taking care of himself, and I like this in partnering. Usually, until now, we had this thing really clear that the base is the strong man, lifting the small lady usually, now there are a bit more men, but usually in the traditional circus or in the mainstream circus it’s always the big guy and the little gymnast doing crazy stuff and splits. I think we also wanted to give this to a circus. We have almost the same weight, and there is no huge difference in height between us, and still, he is a flyer for most of the piece. And when he is not the flyer, he throws me on the floor. (laughter) I like this relation of power that he has as a flyer.

Gilles - There is this idea of listening, for me, it really is about that. Often in the piece I find myself in the role of dominating him, but I’m constantly listening to how far I can go, how much I can push, how much he wants me, sometimes I have to hold back. It’s very meticulous and careful listening of where he’s at, how he is feeling. You’re not just dealing with yourself, you’re dealing with somebody else.

Arno - And I actually love when it happens, when you do a little bit too much, and then you say okay I go a little bit less. I love this kind of thing because I think it’s exactly around this space that’s interesting. If it’s constantly just careful, then it’s really representative of the moment that we are living in right now, which is so careful that it’s boring.

Gilles - That’s testing boundaries, sometimes you have to go a little bit beyond to realize that you crossed the line.

- Thank you once again for the show, and for this conversation. We are looking forward to seeing you both on Bitef again.