A merry-go-round of dreams, music, color

The following interview with Sebastiano Toma, the creator of the Tiger Lillies Circus, took place just a few days before the first event in the square where all is allowed and all is turned upside down – Balagan Square. Beginning last Saturday, the Italian director urged local audiences to «open the ears and eyes of our soul and go walk in the square of dreams,» which is where musicians, dancers and acrobats have made a merry-go-round of images, tunes, percussion and strings, jazz, rock and color. Off we go. Beginning with the variety show and moving on to the circus, we finally arrive at the square of dreams. Whom are we going to come across there? In Balagan Square you will find passionate people, 10 virtuoso musicians and 10 artists. And, of course, that’s where local audiences will meet Trio Bravo, a sensational band featuring four talented musicians. The Tiger Lillies Circus met with great success in this country. How will you achieve the same result once again? I don’t think history repeats itself when it comes to art. If Greece falls in love with «Balagan» the same way it did with the Tiger Lillies, it will be for different reasons. What I do know, however, is that the Greek public is very open to new ideas. How do you transfer a scene that unfolds on the street onto the stage? It’s extremely difficult to transmit the same kind of emotion because street art is 100 percent based on improvisation. And that was my main aim in «Balagan,» to create a show where nothing is artificial. The video wall projecting street scenes provides the illusion of walking in the city. Do you remember the best and the worse reviews written about «Balagan»? The show was on in Berlin for three months, so there were a number of reviews. I don’t think that I’ve read all of them and I don’t plan to do so. I know that overall the critics loved «Balagan» and wrote that it was one of the best shows to be presented in Berlin in the last few years. Naturally, there were those who appeared more reserved. In the end, however, «Balagan» is a show that was created for the public, not for the critics. The production features 15 people on stage. Is it an expensive show? Terms such as «expensive» and «low-budget» are relative in the world of show business. A number of experienced and rather well-known artists are taking part in «Balagan.» We spend a lot of money on set design, which had to be at the same time functional and create a dream-like atmosphere. «Balagan» is probably on the expensive side, at least by European standards. The show has been defined as a Russian cabaret with jazz and punk references. How would you define it? Labels are used by critics and producers. I don’t believe that «Balagan» can be defined using one particular word because it is a combination of street art, Gypsy passion, Berlin cabaret, Italian fiesta and Balkan music. It’s a puzzle that does not fit into any single category. Street artists put out their hats in order to collect money. What about you? Would you perform in front of 10 people for just a coin or two? That is something I have already done in the past and I imagine that I will continue to do. You can never predict whether a show will be successful or not. Some performances are well-received, while others are not. That is the reality as an artist; the same goes for every other artist as well. Trio Bravo: From the street to the stage Following a string of highly successful performances at the Wintergarden Variete Theater in Berlin, «Balagan» (Russian for «chaos») has now reached Athens. The show’s musical direction comes from two Russian musicians/composers, violinist Mark Chaet and double bassist Sergej Sweschinskij, both members of the Trio Bravo ensemble, which was established in Berlin in 1994. That’s where director Sebastiano Toma – who was looking for new musicians for his theater troupe – first came into contact with them. Toma was interested in collaborating with street musicians and, following several auditions, chose Trio Bravo. The two established musicians lead the «Balagan» cast of performers in a mix of music that incorporates various elements in which jazz meets pop and Tom Waits’s blues, all the way to Bertolt Brecht. The ensemble’s roots, however, go back to their country’s folk music, the kind of traditional tunes heard on Russian streets and in bohemian cafes. In 2000, the ensemble presented a new soundtrack to accompany Sergei Eisenstein’s masterpiece «Battleship Potemkin» (1925) at a screening in Berlin. Gyalino Mousiko Theater, 143 Syngrou Ave. For information call 210.931.5600. Performances run to March 13. (The interview was translated from the Greek text.)

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