A juggler’s phantasmagoria

A juggler who writes haiku poetry, a philosopher and poet who can stand on stage while balancing atop six balls, Frenchman Philippe Menard has titled his spectacle «Elevator» and it is the closing show at the Ninth Festival of Musical Theater in Volos, playing tonight and tomorrow. «Elevator,» he explains, is the narrative of a juggler’s life, the poetry of the soul. The events of a day in a juggler’s life unfold on stage in chronological order, while also incorporating references to other great juggling artists over the course of history. As the story develops, reality gives way to dreams and the impossible becomes true. Thanks to the video projections that complement the show and which echo what the artist is doing on stage, Menard has managed to take his performance one step further, making «Elevator» a users’ guide to the art of juggling. Menard reveals the familiarity he feels with common objects, his pursuit of harmony, his ability to become at times as strong as the objects he juggles. He shows us the kind of man he wants to be: a man rooted in the present, who through theater, music and dance discovers a new idiom, one with which to dream rather than narrate. The hero of the story, who goes by the name of Popo, throws himself into the task and tries to figure out all the different ways he can juggle, coming up with weird and wonderful combinations. Hesitant, clumsy, enthralled from the onset, he starts his performance with just three balls, then five, then six and then he just goes mad with it. He begins to play with all the objects on the set, transforming what appears to be a simple room into a scene for stepping over the fine line between reality and fantasy. Advancing one step at a time in an autobiographical sketch that traces his early days through to the world of dreams, «Elevator» leads Menard right up to the top floor of stardom. The French artist began juggling professionally in 1991. In 1996, he founded the Non Nova group and created the show «Le Grain,» which was inspired by silent movies. He enjoys incorporating different artistic media into his performances, such as video art, music and dance. Could you tell us a little more about «Elevator»? «Elevator» is a show that describes a day in the life of a juggler. One day, but… two very different environments. On the one hand is the reality of the artist looking for ways to create a successful show. On the other is the dream world, where, for example, the juggler dreams that the balls are being pulled to the ground by some inexplicable force. «Elevator» is the phantasmagoria of a man, a juggler and his universe: gravity. What are the most important chapters in your own life as a juggler? I began learning the art of juggling when I was 14 years old, when I first met the great master of the art, Jerome Thomas. I spent many years studying with him, as well as with other choreographers, in order to learn the really interesting aspects of the art. In 1996, I created Non Nova as a way to find my own manner of expression. At the beginning, with the piece «Le Grain,» I worked on ironing out the mistakes and the difficulty of communication between a juggler and a musician. «Elevator» is my second production, and I created it in 2001. Why do you like mixing different media in your shows? My generation was brought up on television. I’m inspired by patchworks. I use anything I deem necessary to make my point. Do you believe that this is the new idiom of theater? It would be very self-centered of me to say that. I am simply looking for forms that concentrate on feelings as well as raise questions. It is certainly an idiom, a form of live performance inspired by society and retold through the art of the juggler. What is your role as an artist? I am a juggler who works for the juggler and not for the art of juggling. The juggler, to me, represents every regular person. I use the juggler to express my dreams. Do you ever feel isolated on stage? Even though «Elevator» is a solo act, I am never alone. To achieve something like this you need to collaborate with a whole group of people: the lighting designer (Erwan Brisard), the sound designer (Ivan Roussel), the video director (Fabrice Gueno) and many more. All these people for just one solo… What advice would you give to an artist who has stage fright? I have no advice. It has to do with honesty: with accepting whatever you have to give at that moment. The question is how much you have to do to prepare yourself so that you can be honest. At what point in the day does that begin? How can we help the audience and the artist to meet without fear? That’s my real question. How do you keep in shape, physically and mentally? I live by the rules that apply to any healthy relationship: Don’t fall asleep, be self-critical, rediscover one another every day… This interview was translated from the Greek text.