French innovative Cirque Plume begins ‘Last Season’

To enter the world of Cirque Plume is to fall into a magical wonderland of fairies and otherworldly creatures - a musical universe where artists flit around the stage, sometimes in slow motion.

French innovative Cirque Plume begins 'Last Season'
Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP

Poetry, the idea of a “poem in action”, is the signature of this French circus company based in the eastern city of Besancon, near the Swiss border.

And after more than 2,500 shows in France, Europe and across the world, including in New York and Sao Paulo, the dream is ending.

Cirque Plume has just embarked on its farewell tour with “The Last Season”, a “show that moves through seasons the way we move through ages” and confronts the reality of climate change along the way.

It was created in 1984 by the two brothers, Bernard and Pierre Kudlak, and seven of their friends.

“A Cirque Plume show is made by the living for the living,” Bernard Kudlak says on the company website.

“It's joyful, colourful, profound, poetic, messy, rough and ready, and precise. It's like life.”

In the “Last Season”, under decorated skies that depict autumn, winter, spring or summer, performers act out every day life or get down on all fours to transform into animals.

They dance, sing, scream, play instruments and twist their bodies into acrobatic feats on a stage resembling an enchanted, mythical forest.

“I wanted this show to be a poem with lights, with shadows of tree branches and snows of feathers,” Bernard Kudlak, who serves as the company's director, said. “A poem to share, one last time”.

Once “The Last Season” winds through the traditional seasons, the show hints of a fifth, “threatened to be the last”, on a planet crippled by pollution and its reliance on plastic, Kudlak said.

'Our circus, our image'

Bernard and Pierre Kudlak will be in their mid-60s by the time the curtain finally falls on their show for the last time.

They'll pack up their materials and manuscripts, dismantle the bright yellow Cirque Plume tents and send company notes and archives to France's National Library.

But for a successful tour company that started as just a gangly group of poor street performers more than 30 years ago, the ride has been more than worth it.

“We were all plebes from outside the traditional circus world which gave us total freedom,” Pierre Kudlak, a clown and musician, said.

“We weren't held to any standard. We could create our circus in our image”.

The group's “image” turned out to revolutionise what circus was at the time and what it could potentially be — expanding the medium into more than just a series of beautiful and daring high-wire acts.

Where traditional circus dictated that the entertainment be placed in the centre of a venue, on a circular stage with the audience around it, the group opted for the half moon shape of a theatre with a facing audience.

'Extraordinary adventure'

Every single production of Cirque Plume also employed an entirely new cast — unlike other established companies with a permanent cast of performers.

And they've played to audiences worldwide totalling more than two million people.

The last three shows, “Plic Ploc” in 2004, “The Artist's Studio” in 2009 and “Tempus Fugit” in 2013 were seen by more than 300,000 people — nearly 400,000 for “Plic Ploc”.

But the Kudlak brothers insist the “Last Season” will be their final production.

The show started in France and will tour worldwide, ending its run in 2020 when the circus act folds.

The brothers described the three-decade run of Cirque Plume as the “adventure of a huge vessel set to dock” after “having lived an extraordinary human and artistic adventure”.

By Angela Schaebele


Two circus camels go missing in central France

Two circus camels, Simbas and Judas, disappeared in the middle of the night in central France and are still missing two days later, the director of the circus said on Monday.

Two circus camels go missing in central France
Two camels have gone missing in central France. Staff believe animal rights activists may be responsible for their disappearance. File photo: Brendan Riley

The two dromedaries  five-year-old, 800-kilogramme Simbas and three-year-old, one-tonne Judas  were part of a caravan of performers and animals that went to the French countryside to wait for new gigs last summer. The Paris circus they were attached to abruptly stopped touring following a road accident which killed a 3-year-old child and seriously injured the mother, according to French daily Libération.

Members of the circus troupe, who kept the camels along with llamas, goats, donkeys, a pony and a member of a long-horned species of African cattle called the Watusi, said they visited the animals daily and that neighbours regularly brought hay, straw and carrots for them.

"We realized yesterday and lodged a complaint with the police, who are investigating," circus director Mickael Douchet told AFP from the small commune of Estivareilles in central France.

Last December, President of the Communauté de Communes des Val de Cher, Gérard Ciofolo decided to allow the troupe to station themselves in an industrial area 19km north of the city of Montmuçon.

Local broadcaster France 3-Auvergne reported that the circus troupe believed animal rights activists may have targeted the camels.