[This article was published in CircusMagazine #51 – June 2017]
[Author: Filip Tielens – Translation: Craig Weston – Picture: Michiel Devijver]
[Copyright: Circuscentrum – please contact maarten[at]circuscentrum.be for more information]
You know Neta Oren as the only female circus artist in ‘All the fun’ from Cie Ea Eo. But the 26 year old Israeli from Brussels is also working on a new juggling performance of her own.
I have a date with Neta on a café terrace in the center of Brussels, the city she landed in a few years ago. “Brussels is a city of moving” she tells me. “All kinds of people that I’ve met here have already moved away. I am not sure myself how long I will stay, even if I am really happy here. But I am not ‘home’ very often: I’m always on the road. So Brussels is an ideal base. From here you are a step away from most anywhere in the world.”
She came to live in Brussels when Eric Longequel from Cie Ea Eo called her up a good two years ago. At that time Neta was at the circus school in Toulouse. She thought that Eric, from whom she had had juggling lessons at LIDO, was just calling to see if she wanted to go out for a drink in town. But the call turned out to be a lot more important. “Eric asked me if I wanted to join Ea Eo in their new creation. I immediately said yes. Within one minute it was done and dusted.” (laughs)
Creating something with Cie Ea Eo was a girl’s dream come true. “I was fifteen when I saw Bram Dobbelaere and Sander De Cuyper, alias Pol & Freddy, perform at the juggling convention in Israel. It was with ‘Ready’, the show with their little car. I knew immediately that that was also what I wanted!”
A year earlier at that same convention, Neta got to know Collectif Petit Travers. It was that French juggling company that helped her realise circus was about more than technique, that it could also be theatrical. Thanks to Petit Travers Neta found herself, after two years of école préparatoire in Lyon, in the renowned LIDO of Toulouse, known as one of the very best circus schools for jugglers. And now, a few years later, she is working on a new, fifteen minute juggling duet with Petit Travers. Another dream fulfilled.
For Neta there was no alternative to leaving her homeland if she wanted to build a career. “Eight years ago there was nothing like a professional circus school in Israel. In the meantime one has started up in Tel Aviv. But circus just isn’t very popular in Israel. What there is, is all rather classic, and is mostly associated with playing for parties, like birthdays. And Israelis aren’t jumping to go to see circus theatre, though more and more street festivals are starting up.”
Playing ‘All the fun’ in Israel, at that same juggling convention where ten years earlier she first saw Bram and Sander perform, was therefore quite an emotional moment. Her parents and all her childhood friends were in the audience. “As a girl of eighteen I wanted more than anything to follow my dreams and go to study in Europe. My parents always supported me in that choice. Of course they had no choice, since my older sister became a visual artist and my older brother a photographer.” (laughs) But the longer she is away the stronger the longing for her family and Israel. “The older I get, the more homesick get. I realise that I am missing a lot, like being there to see my brother’s children as they grow up.”
Neta doesn’t know if she will ever go back to Israel. “I’m afraid at the moment there is no work for me there. All the circus artists I know there have to combine their art with side jobs in restaurants and bars. I still can’t believe it’s possible for me to make a full-time living in circus. Hopefully that will continue to last for a while.” And Neta doesn’t have any particular plan. “My future is pretty blurry. I don’t dare think about it too often, cause then I get a little heart attack!” (laughs)
Meanwhile life is smiling on Neta. Together with Gonzalo Fernandez, a juggler that she met at LIDO, and drummer Gaëtan Allard, she has formed the company Stoptoï and is working now on their first production ‘Loop’, a project that aims at a marriage between their two specialties: Neta juggles with balls, Gonzalo with rings. “It’s really fascinating, but it’s a difficult process. At the moment we are experimenting with all the possibilities there are to combine the two techniques. For example, we’ve found a way to juggle with the balls flying through the rings, or for me to jump through the rings with my entire body.”
The latter is possible thanks to new constructions that Gonzalo can make with the rings: he bends them as far as they can go and then folds them into each other and presto: new larger rings appear, made out of chains and garlands of rings, that then subsequently can all fly apart once again. (Neta shows me a few photos on her smart phone, and it’s certainly impressive).
Ever since she was a child Neta knew that juggling was precisely what she wanted to do, and particularly with balls. “With clubs there is immediately the association with circus, whereas balls are normal everyday objects so you have a lot more freedom.” Neta developed into a real specialist in her field. “When I watch juggling performances now, I can see by the way the jugglers handle their balls, clubs or rings how experienced they are. That’s why I can’t just juggle with clubs or rings: it’s really a completely different technique than with balls.”
What she loves most is ‘writing circus’. She means by that not necessarily finding new tricks, but the art of ‘putting the tricks together’. “Looking at how you can compose with crescendos and repetitive movement phrases, that sort of thing. In ‘All the fun’ for example, there’s a routine that I am really proud of. We all shake our heads from left to right while in the meanwhile we must continue juggling, so that we don’t actually see the balls. It took a lot of time to master that routine, but I’m thrilled that we succeeded in doing it.”
She finds it difficult to say exactly where her contributions lie in that final performance. “It’s hard to put my finger on it. If you work on a creation for half a year, non-stop, all the ideas kind of mix up with each other. At any rate I learned an awful lot from the guys of Ea Eo. Don’t forget: creating a performance was completely new to me. I was still at LIDO when we started to rehearse for ‘All the fun’. More than anything I learned that I had to let go of my doubts and that in the end all the pieces of the puzzle would fall into place. You shouldn’t try to pin everything down too soon. But I also have to say: we almost weren’t ready for the premiere at PERPLX (circus festival in Marke). The costumes and light were only ready at the very last moment. And a performance has to grow: only after playing twenty times or so did I have the feeling that ‘All the fun’ was complete and that we had found the final version. But I am super proud of that performance.”
As the only woman among four men, and on top of that four men who have known each other for a very long time, Neta probably had to stand her ground with Ea Eo, right? “In the beginning we had to settle into things, but that doesn’t have anything to do with fact that I am a woman. Juggling is not a gender thing at all. You don’t especially need a lot of strength or flexibility. Men and women can juggle equally well. It’s not like in acrobatics where there is a real disparity between the roles that men and women fulfil.
That said, Neta was the only female juggler in her class at LIDO. “No idea why there are so few women juggling. During my training I was in a project with five men. Finally I couldn’t continue on that project so together we searched for a female juggler who could replace me. After racking our brains we came up with three names!”
Neta jokes that working in a field with a such a shortage of women has gotten her a lot of work. “But at the same time I don’t want to be asked because I am a woman, but because I am a good artist!” When I ask her who her feminine circus idols were, she answers immediately: “Juliette Hulot form Petit Travers. I’ll soon be working with her. I can hardly believe it myself, but it will be the first time that I work with another woman on a circus project!”
I hesitate before I ask her the most cliché of questions in an interview with a woman (the one men never have to answer): Does Neta think of having children? And if yes, does she imagine that her career in the circus could continue thereafter? “Good question. First I thought: I will work like crazy until I am 39.99 years old and then I’ll start a family. But I’ve changed on that one. I see female circus artists all around me with children. I think it must be possible to combine the two!” (laughs)