After the dizzying heights of the bascule with Circus Monti and Cirque du Soleil, shouldering the heavier load of the barre russe with 15ft6, and directing cabaret shows at Palazzo and Circusplaneet, Jasper D’Hondt has a new surprise in store – his own pop-up roller rink, coffee bar included!
Rollerskating and coffee. Where on earth did you get the idea?
Jasper D’Hondt: “I have been skating since I was a kid. Last summer I made a rollerskating act with Yolaine Dooms on a tiny round stage, Les Patineurs. We gave up the idea of milking that six minute act to turn it into a full evening show rather quickly, because that usually implies adding a lot of dross to fill it out. We didn’t want to fall in that trap. That same summer I was walking around the Genste Feesten when I got the idea for a pop-up roller rink, combined with workshops and acts. In addition we’ll have a coffee bar and eighty pair of rollerskates you can rent out. By adding the coffee bar we can keep the price for skating low enough for everyone to afford it. I also just love drinking coffee. Chances are good that I will take a course in the future to become a full-fledged barista. If someone rents the whole package, they can earn back the investment with the skate rental and selling coffee. That way even the smallest festivals can afford us. In theory you could also rent out the rink without the acts, but we want to run the place ourselves.”
So now you are not only circus artist, but also entrepreneur?
“I’ve also traded in my artist status and now I’m self-employed. I couldn’t set this up as a non-profit project. It wouldn’t be fair to other coffee bars if I don’t have to follow the same rules. Now it’s clear and the competition is fair, so no subsidies for this project. I just really wanted to do it so I’m more than happy to invest in it myself.”
How do you imagine the artistic side of things?
“The idea isn’t to make a show, but rather a theatrical experience. With several different scenarios we take the public with us into an unexpected world. Individual and collective storylines are devised for each location, which will preferably sow doubt among the audience. The awkward hula-hoop teacher turns out to have a lot more talent that one expects, and romantic stories will play out on the roller rink. Or the waiter of the coffee bar will take vengeance on one of the customers, a modern day version of a classic scene from Charlie Chaplin. Or will the public, when they think they are just taking part in a workshop, get sucked up into a real roller-derby? I would also love to involve our artists’ children. And in terms of production, there will always be work to be done.”
Will we be seeing you in a retro-rollerskate outfit once again?
“Nostalgic, not retro! The eighties were an aesthetic disaster with all of that fluorescent colour. And in order for the artists to go undercover, they have to fit in with the audience in their appearance. Hip and fashionable. So no eighties-flashbacks, no!”
What does this kind of creation process entail?
“Everything starts with one idea, after which I start reading, surfing the internet, and watching videos. That’s how the concept develops in direction and quality. At any rate, the creative part of things doesn’t ever really stop. I can’t let go of it, because otherwise the inspiration dies. That said, there’s nothing wrong with a few weeks off once in a while, For me there are periods of creation and periods of performing. I learned how to organise my own work by doing production work for other projects, but if there wasn’t a creative side to it, I wouldn’t do it. The same goes for the artistic work. I need both. That’s what keeps it interesting. Sometimes I have the feeling I am actually too organised when I take on a new project.”
Would that then be the character trait which holds you back the most?
“No, that would definitely have to be my perfectionism. Because I get stuck on details that aren’t really important to the big picture. I’ve had to learn that things will work themselves out, and I have gotten better at it than I used to be. But the finishing touches remain important, if only for myself. Now I’ve gotten to the point where I can live with presenting something that is less worked out in detail. That said, you still won’t catch me trying something out, just for fun, on an open stage. I don’t enjoy playing something that isn’t finished. I’m happy to try out a new piece when the time comes. I’m not afraid to fail in front of an audience. Once something has reached its final form, I will also keep it that way. You can always tweak a performance, but at some point you are only doing it to keep it interesting for yourself. The performance is seldom improved by the changes. You don’t continue to paint on a painting once it is finished, do you? When we get to that point I would rather just make something new. If I am on stage I also have that drive. I don’t want to stay there any longer than necessary. Offstage as well, things have to keep moving. And yet it’s easy for me to completely trust the others on stage to perform at their very best. I don’t like spending my time telling someone else what they should do.”
Do you need other people around you during the creation process?
“Yes yes, of course! My ideas develop by trying them out on particular people. That’s where the new ideas come from. For the skating rink Matthias Vermael helped me out a lot with what was possible and how I could transport it. My whole circus netwerk comes from Circusplaneet, and I keep going back to them. At the moment I am working on the rink at De Clinch, a circus workplace in Clinge, where a number of circus artists also live.”
What brought you to Circusplaneet in the first place?
“I was doing gymnastics, but I could never get into the competitive aspect. In Lede, my home town, there were not a lot of alternatives but I did often go see street theatre with my parents. I loved it, I taught myself how to juggle with tin cans, and starting watching instructional videos on juggling websites. I ended up taking the train to Gent every Saturday. I was 12 then, and took lessons from Goedele Dauwe. From the beginning I enjoyed all the disciplines, though for a long time I did stay away from acrobatics, a result of the overdose I had had from years of gymnastics. I only picked that up again once I considered going to ESAC, the circus academy in Brussels”.
School was never really your thing. You finally got your high school diploma through middle jury. How do you look back on that now?
“Not everyone around me could appreciate it when I dropped out of high school. But I don’t regret the choice. I trained a lot in that period, and went on tour. I was 16 at the time and I learned a lot from that experience.”
So what was it like for you, going to the circus academy?
“In the theatre lessons I only really understood what they were getting at in my last year, when I worked with someone who approached things from a different perspective. The ballet lessons also seemed a bit useless to me, especially because I wasn’t flexible enough. But I did develop the necessary motor skills by working on bascule and trampoline. I learned how to analyse and visualise movement. Those were skills I certainly didn’t have before the school. At ESAC I was also less critical, the main reason being that a lot of my fellow students were very critical. That got pretty tiring. At that point I just wanted to progress. It was partially thanks to injuries that I kept taking on new techniques after ESAC, but also because I really need the variation. Learning new things is interesting, and that’s a process that just continues. For example I have never before built a roller rink. There’s a good chance that I have made some mistakes along the way, but we will see…”
For whom would you like to set an example?
“I love to play on the street because I can reach an audience there that would otherwise never see what I do. Families with children who come back five times because they’ve ‘never seen anything like this’. That means something. For me Circus Ronaldo was very inspiring, especially because they offered a total and complete experience.”
I read in your biography that ‘Jasper doesn’t have any hobbies’. How do you relax?
“I’m not very good at doing nothing. Over time my hobbies have pretty much coincided with my work, like now with woodworking. I’m not leading a traditional life, but when I see the lengths that people go to to escape the drudgery of their regular jobs, and the things they have to invent to look forward to, then I am pretty happy where I am. I do find it important to stay in contact with friends outside of the circus world, because they also inspire me. Otherwise it’s always only about circus. That said, I still have problems keeping up communication through text messages and making dates to get together. Between artists it’s normal to not see one another for months on end. The expectations you place on each other are different, I think. What I definitely don’t find relaxing is going to circus performances. My occupational deformations take over. Running could be relaxing, but I don’t have time, or I don’t make time for that.”
Have you ever considered stopping?
“Not yet. There is a good chance that at some point I will do something completely different, though I find it hard to imagine I could leave the circus world all together. The physical aspect does of course play a role since nobody can just go on forever with the demands you place on your body. I guess it will just depend on what comes along.”
Somebody told me “Jasper gets good at everything he takes on”. Are there things they should never ask you to do?
“Aerial acrobatics. Having to climb up each time to do your stuff would drive me crazy. And dancing.”
This article was published in Dutch in Circusmagazine #62 – March 2020 // Author: Sarah Vanheuverzwijn // Pictures: Tom Van Mele // Translation: Craig Weston // Copyright: Circuscentrum – please contact maarten[at]circuscentrum.be for more information