One of the most talked about performances at this year’s Spoleto Festival USA, the 37th edition of the arts festival that brings world-class performers to Charleston, will undoubtedly be Compagnie XY’s “Le Grand C.”
Compagnie XY, a French contemporary circus troupe, adds more muscle, dramatic flair and intrigue to Spoleto’s recent slate of physical theater. Two years ago it was Circa, a theatrical circus of physical strength aided by humor. Last year, Traces, referred to as a cabaret-circus, combined acrobatics with alternative forms of dance to engage audiences.
Compagnie XY is similar in that it uses a physical display to elicit an emotional response.
“I feel that we should have programming that is thought-provoking,” Nigel Redden, Spoleto’s general director, told The State when the festival’s lineup was announced in December. “Some of the programs that we mount, they should involve a certain amount of emotional content that can be something you really have to get your teeth into, and other things should be fun. Some things should be provocative. And some things should be simply entertaining.
“The trick is to get the balance right.”
The festival begins Friday and runs through June 9. There will be about 160 performances during the two-week festival, making it one of the largest in Spoleto history. It’s an extraordinary undertaking for organizers since one of Spoleto’s primary venues, Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, is in the midst of a renovation and the festival will be without it for two seasons.
The TD Arena at the College of Charleston, the home of the Cougars’ basketball teams, will be transformed into a performance venue.
After two preview shows Wednesday and Thursday, Compagnie XY will begin its eight-performance run on Friday. According to Londonist, this circus doesn’t have “whooping tricks or overt showing off here. Just carefully considered choreography, often with nothing other than the slap of flesh and focused breaths as a soundtrack. Old fashioned French accordion music wafts through some of the show but often there is silence, broken only by the exertion of the performers ...”
The company members toss, build and tumble in a theatrical trust exercise that will have the audience gasping and shaking their heads in disbelief. Xavier Lavabre, a Compagnie XY member, answered questions from The State. The following was edited for clarity and space.
Describe the level of concentration the acrobats must have to complete their stunts.
I would say there is a different level of concentration according to the difficulty of the trick. You can’t have an extreme concentration level during the whole performance so it’s important to choose the best moments. I think also we don’t have exactly the same kind of concentration between the catcher and the flyers who have to be very precise. Apart that, what matters is the level of confidence and our ability to listen to each other which makes our strength.
The human body’s physical dimensions and strength is on display in this performance. What kind of conditioning do the acrobats do to get into top shape?
Our way of working is based on a continuous low intensity of practicing, which means basically that we spend between four and six hours rehearsing every day. Apart that, the warm up and stretching time are essential to avoid hurts and pain. Usually, we spend one or two hours doing that before and after the performance.
The movement in the show is, in a way, reminiscent of interpretive or conceptual dance. Would you agree?
As artists, we do have many influences and at some points we’re sharing many things with contemporary dance in the concrete work. Most of us come from circus arts school where we also learn with dancers and choreographers. One day, a theater director told me after the show it (reminded them of) Merce Cunningham’s work. We have many aspects in common, indeed, but I think we also have a very different way of working.
What is the significance of the title, “Le Grand C”?
Whatever you want. During the creation time, we used to call it that instead of Le Grand Collectif. But it appeared it could be also “C” as (in) Collective, Circus, Confidence, Courage. So we kept the “C.” It’s as simple as that.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.