Catalan company Fet a Mà (Handmade) chose a name that matches their approach to contemporary circus. Bare and basic, their performances stem from and rely on the performers and not much else, leaving little to no room for technology, complicated stage machinery or even props. It’s a somewhat noble and ascetic idea, but it’s also an aesthetic that applies considerable pressure on ideas and concepts behind the show: alone on an empty stage, Marta Torrents and Pau Portabella have nothing to hide behind and no other means but themselves to lead the way. Their piece Cru, part of this year’s London International Mime Festival, is a case-study of how challenging this self-sufficiency can be.
Cru gives only the most basic of indicators to the audience, relying predominantly on the stereotypical relations that are easy to recognise and establish. Thus a male and a female performer quickly become a couple, and the piece becomes a series of scenes from a relationship – or for that matter any dysfunctional relationship that ever was. While the physical etudes that make up the piece certainly rely on Torrents and Portabella being a well-rehearsed duo the scenes they create are all about a lack of communication and synchronicity and an overwhelming dependency: unsuccessful attempts to get a hug from limp arms, exposure to nausea inducing rotations to which there is no reaction and acrobatic, repetitive choreographies that spiral out of control giving the impression of perpetual misunderstandings all feature.
These associations are clear but exhaust themselves quickly, leaving the piece at a standstill. Cru seems to insist on recreating and exploring the same conflict, between eagerness and a lack of interest, over and over again. The attempts to diversify the basic relationship are lacking, reduced to Portabella resorting to light humour and a costume change that sees Torrents transform from a power women in high heels to an almost goth-chick in Doc Martens.
This insistence on revisiting the same situation might be intentional, but it’s complemented by Fet a Mà’s resistance to evolving their primary form of expression – movement. The language of this piece is stern, monolithic and so it inevitably starts resembling a series of well executed routines that haven’t quite found their subject matter. Breathtaking acrobatics don’t make a piece of physical theatre anymore than oratorical skills make a good staging of a classic play and while Fet a Mà showcase impressive skills, they struggle to overcome this basic issue.
For the most part however, there seems to be a discrepancy in the company’s credo and practice. To rely on body alone is not the same as relying on a body that’s forbidden from exploring its expressiveness and robotic-looking acrobatics, especially if not backed up by an overarching concept, have a limited capacity to become symbolic. Stuck in a loop of illustrating the same relationship frustrations, Cru is a victim of its own rules. Instead of exposing the bare and slightly odd bones of human relations, it ends up being a revealing expose on the difficulties of theatrical minimalism.