With a chain reaction of tin buckets, brick towers and plates on a stick, Der Lauf (der Dinge) is an invitation for the audience to completely let themselves go. Juggler Guy Waerenburgh combines shameless entertainment and (not so) innocent audience participation with unexpected philosophical wisdom. ‘Welcome. This is not a Show.’
It’s an unusual image for a train station: a man with a tin bucket on his head. There are seasoned commuters with years of experience in avoiding beggars and madmen. Some giggling 15 year olds take selfies. Others shake their heads and wonder what’s become of this world. The security personnel are thinking to themselves, ‘get ready to clip the wings of this strange bird’, but for the sake of the art they allow him to continue. They can read on his sign ‘Ceci n’est pas un spectacle’ – a clear reference to the painter Magritte and Belgian Surrealism, the spirit our artists are now famous for. And even if Guy Waerenburgh has lived and worked in the north of France for years now, his roots are as unmistakable as his West-Flemish accent.
“I was born in Mouscron, but I went to school in Kortrijk. It was one day as I was waiting for the so-many-eth train that I picked up three stones out of boredom and began to juggle. Together with Hans Vanwynsberghe and Matthias Vermael I started a juggling club we called Gravité, and things started to take off from there. I never followed a circus atelier or professional training, after high school I went to the university, though to say I studied would be an exaggeration. I mostly juggled during my philosophy classes because the ceilings in the auditorium were high enough. My diploma is still there. Why would I go and get it? It was completely useless to me.”
It was at that time that Guy started to juggle with friends in Lille during festivals, in private events and in cabarets. He especially scored with Mambo Circus, a duo-act he performed together with his wife Anne-Agathe Prin (who in the meantime is responsible for promotion of Collectif Malunés, Cie De Fracto and Les Fauves, red.). “I played a macho juggler, Anne-Agathe my very proper assistant. It was pure parody, which we sometimes played too well, as many organisers didn’t seem to get the joke,” laughs Guy.
Ten years later he was asked by Cirque du Soleil to perform in Macau in a juggling number from Gandini Juggling. “My wife was pregnant and couldn’t perform, so that was an offer I gladly accepted. One year became two.” He’s reflectively critical about his experiences there. “For regular folk Cirque du Soleil is the top, and if you play there then you have really made it. It was nice to finally have the respect of my parents. They were both doctors. When I was young, they would snatch my juggling clubs and hide them in their bedroom. They saw little future in a circus career. It was only when I started to work with Cirque du Soleil that they dared tell their friends that I was a juggler.”
“Unfortunately, the reality is always different from your dreams. It’s tempting, because at Cirque du Soleil the pay is very good, and you get spoiled by a whole legion of personnel who are there to care for you. But the flip-side is that you are your own prisoner: Macau is one big gambling and sex-trade capital, there are only a few big spectacles you can go see, and in the end you are only a performer, which means that any artistic freedom is out of the question.”
For Guy, after a career of some twenty years, Der Lauf der Dinge is a completely different experience: having only worked with short acts in the commercial circuit and being primarily a fan of traditional juggling, for the first time he is making a longer performance that flirts with the codes of classic cabaret acts and contemporary circus. “Six years ago I had a plate number that I often did at private parties. I had in the meantime so mastered that technique that Eric Longequel (juggler with Cie Ea Eo and De Fracto) joked that I could probably do it with a bucket over my head. Eric saw the possibility of taking it in a very different direction.”
“It is a completely different way of working: making a short act. It means getting one good idea and working it out. Now all of a sudden I am occupied with the shape of the entire piece, with intentions, with dramaturgy!” Guy laughs. In the meantime he has done several residences, working patiently on what will become his first full length piece. “I experience for the first time the tranquility and the freedom to create. It is a completely different world from the private circuit, where you practice your numbers between the soup and the potatoes, as it were. It is an incredible luxury to work on something that isn’t just aiming for instant audience gratification.”
He has often wrestled with how your life is taken up by expectations, be it from your parents, a megacircus or an ‘employer’ paying you to play in the private sector. For this project, breaking free of the need to ‘achieve’ something, artistically but also mentally, was essential. “Der Lauf der Dinge is the complete opposite of a juggling number in which everything has to go as planned, where everything has been determined beforehand: how many balls, which sort of throws and the rhythm of the music. It is like performing a dream. If you drop a ball, then the act is a failure. At one point I really had difficulties with that, and the stress paralysed me. With the kind of perfection I was aiming for, I couldn’t help disappointing myself. That’s why for me Der Lauf der Dinge is such a breath of fresh air. If everything screws up, then that’s just part of the game. It isn’t embarrassing, you see? It allows me to be fallible. Instead of maintaining the dream at any cost, I can embrace the imperfections and accept that things just go the way they go.”
The performance Der Lauf der Dinge is based on a film from 1987 of the same name, by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, in which within 29 minutes and 45 seconds a series of chain reactions are recorded: automobile tires, ladders, chairs, balloons, wooden balks and planks, which burn, fall, melt and explode. With Guy we follow the course of things in different settings, in the sort of chain reactions which harken back to carnivals and cabaret: the ball hidden beneath the tumbler, throwing balls to knock cans over or spinning plates on a stick…though each time there’s a little twist.
Who would have thought that such an old recipe could incite such a reaction from the audience? “Number 1! Number 2! Number 6!” they shout while Guy blindly tries to control the plates on sticks with a bucket on his head. During the try-out the kids scream themselves hoarse, and after a moments hesitation, the adults scream themselves hoarse as well. “Adults often don’t realise how stuck they are in the restrictions we place on ourselves. During the show you can see them at first, a bit hesitant as they give their children permission to have a bit of fun with that ninny up on stage, but at some point you watch them lose all their own reserves and go wild. For me that feels like a victory,” Guy smiles. “When I did a try-out school performance at Le Prato in Lille one class got so wound up that the technicians went looking for assistance because they thought that that certainly wasn’t the intention. But I don’t just create chaos-you can also see the audience combining forces in order to guess the right number under a bucket.”
At a cursory glance Der Lauf der Dinge is only out to entertain, but the participatory aspect reveals other mechanisms. It is an enormous tipping point when the audience starts to participate. The moment when the silence is broken, first in quiet whispers, by the end in screams which start to swell as everybody indulges in the freedom to react. Some will shout out the right numbers during the plate number, while others will take enormously guilty pleasure in shouting out the wrong numbers to make the plates fall. Because human nature is comprised of empathy and perversion in equal parts. We admire the winner, and we equally enjoy watching somebody fail. Life in a nutshell. In that sense Der Lauf der Dinge creates a miniature society in which people work against and with each other. Playing with expectation and surprise, a devilishly clever power struggle is born between the performer and the audience.
Guy describes the piece himself as something between ‘Games without Borders’ and a film from David Lynch. Equally absurd for instance is a dubious figure in a rabbit suit who throws candy as a reward to the audience. It’s blatant criticism of the entertainment industry that Guy knows so well, and it makes one think of the ‘bread and games’ of ancient Rome, as the audience leaps into the melee for a piece of candy. What starts out as light and playful can just as easily turn into aggression. The moment when the individual gives over to the mob. Der Lauf Der Dinge evolves from seemingly innocent fun into politics. In the final act, inspired by throwing at cans in the funfair, things degenerate into what Guy calls ‘the stoning’: a purifying ritual, a catharsis, in which the audience liberates itself together.
At the beginning of Der Lauf der Dinge the audience receives a text that seems to talk about the play they are about the see. But if you read the text after the performance, it turns out to be about life itself. Perhaps that course in philosophy was good for something after all. Guy is right – This is not a Show. Welcome.
This article was published in Dutch in Circusmagazine #62 – March 2020 // Author: Liv Laveyne // Pictures: Michiel Devijver // Translation: Craig Weston // Copyright: Circuscentrum – please contact maarten[at]circuscentrum.be for more information