Director Philippe Freslon explores the spirit of street performances.
Select City Walk, Saket, lawns has novel embellishments for the day. A few supremely tall, skilfully made red giraffes border the frontage. Director Philippe Freslon appears calm, yet his mind is in heightened frenzy, typical to hours before a performance. The cranes have come late. They are now being tested and crawl to touch the sky.
The show “The Giraffes” was here over the weekend as part of Bonjour India. A production from Compagnie Off, it exhibits a quintessential street performance close to the hearts of the French. Pooling in from diverse art forms — opera, circus, theatre — it is a grand spectacle which spins out a simple tale on the streets.
Pausing from his preparations, Freslon, also the director of Compagnie Off, unravels the spirit behind street performances. Place, performers and spectators bond to create chemistry here.
“The scenography is the city, the décor or the backdrop is the people. It tells the story of the city and the people and it changes a little each time,” says Freslon. “We choose our route — narrow streets, big avenues, market places,” he adds, clearly unhappy being restricted to a commercial centre here. The venue and its characteristics give performances their flavour.
On bringing “The Giraffes” to India, he jests, “I could not have come to India with elephants. Giraffes can reach the second floor of a building and say hello to people in the second and third floors. It is also about working with verticality.”
However, Freslon says, street shows, once a vibrant thread of French culture is now on the wane. Probably, why Compagnie Off's international chart is getting crowded and shows in France growing thin. “The French is the leader in these street performances. It began in the 1970s and went up in the 80s,” says Freslon. “It grew fast in the '80s; we had a very good Minister of Culture then. In the 80s, we could do everything we wanted. In the '90s, security became an issue and now it is the economic crisis.”
Calling it “art of the city,” he says, “We like to perform in the city, because you can feel the reality of the city, feel your feet on the ground.”
They also break free the barriers of an intimidating theatre or stage. There are no chasms between spectators and performers, no sieving of the audience – remarkably inclusive and democratic. “You are performing before people who did not plan to see a show. You have to be with them and perform for them.” Unlike the stage, Freslon says, “On the streets everyone can say what they want and if they don't like it, they are not going to stay.” “It is cold inside,” says Freslon about the genesis of these presentations. According to the director, he cannot feel any life within the walls where operas and plays unfold. “There is no life in there. Life is in the streets. It also has to do with the mentality in the West in the 70s – you were thinking of a better world, better life in a city.”
Art never danced at the tip of a wagging ticket then. Rather than the audience after them, performances came to possible enthusiasts. “Why should they go inside a theatre to watch an opera? Why don't we perform here?” asks Freslon.
In a world trapped in virtual reality, he says, these performances grow a link with the real world. “The street shows are very human. As long as you can be human, the world can go on,” says the man who found himself in street performances.
These shows are also a melting pot of talents. “We have people from circus, theatre, music and even from opera. In fact, the singer in ‘The Giraffe' is a real opera singer,” he says. Compagnie Off, otherwise, works on a skeleton staff of about 10 with everyone multi-tasking. “When we have a show, we call up people and find if they are free,” he says.