The last day of February started the second annual Fun Fatale international festival on contemporary circus organized by and at the Mejn club in Stodůlky in Prague, Czech Republic. For four days, the event brought together female acrobats from many European countries who exhibited their art to an international audience.
After Dagmar Roubalová, producer of the festival and director of Mlejn, officially opened the festival and a ceremonious toast with champagne was over, the audience moved into the theater for the first festival performance entitled Vintage! Women! Variete!. No production could be better suited to open a festival advertised as a showcase of female acrobatic theater as Vintage! Women! Variete! tells the stories of famous female acrobats in the history of traditional circus, stories of exceptional women with dramatic lives. The show started with Anja Geßenhardt as Paula Busch, a circus director, who is watching the demolition of her beloved circus. She starts daydreaming about the good old times and becomes the audience’s guide on a journey to the fates of famous female acrobats.
The individual numbers are performed in the center of a construction for aerial acrobatics which is where all the stories take place and all the acrobatic numbers of the three performers – Jana Korb, Dafne Dalemar and Anja Geßenhardt – are carried out. The audience is acquainted with famous women of circus (Paula Busch – director of Grand Circus, juggler Lottie Brunn, muscular aerialist Luisie Leers, strong woman Katchen Brumbach and lion tamer Tilly Bébé) through their stories and acrobatic numbers. Since there is ample spoken word in the production, the Czech performance needed the aid of a translator which surprisingly wasn’t distracting from the events on stage. The two speakers – Anja Geßenhardt in German and the translator in Czech – perfectly coordinated their alternating lines even though they couldn’t have had much time to rehearse the bilingual version.
Stories of famous female acrobats with a comical dose
Anja Geßenhardt was the only performer who impersonated not only female but also male characters to which end she could use her unique physical features: sharp facial features, short hair and a slender figure. She seemed natural in the role of the strong woman’s husband and her fake mustache, sly smile and playfully raised eyebrows which she tried to impress the female part of the audience with were all credible. Her two colleagues took parts in female roles which they portrayed with elegance and femininity but using comical gestures and grimaces, they retained a distance from their characters.
Even though Jana Korb’s biceps circumference doesn’t equal that of a strong adult’s thigh, which was a feature boasted by the real-life Katchen Brumbach whom Korb portrayed as one of her characters, she managed to lift a well-built male volunteer from the audience. At the end of her partner-acrobatics number with Anja Geßenhardt as her husband, the two acrobats performed a spine-chilling figure: Korb seated Geßenhardt on her shoulders and walked barefoot over pieces of freshly broken glass. This moment was one of the strongest of the entire production as it kept the audience suspended in fear, excitement and expectation.
Jana Korb also excelled in the role of the famous aerial acrobat Louise Leers. Wearing a white dress decorated with peacock feathers and a long train, She soared to the trapeze and performed a whole series of acrobatic tricks which ended with a multitude of spins around the trapeze bar. Furthermore, her sequence on the silks at the end of the show was the most impressive acrobatic number of the entire production.
Vintage!Women!Variete!, which premiered in June 2012, offers a valuable insight into the lives of famous female acrobats. The audience can appreciate examples of several traditional circus arts and at the same time, enjoy the comical acting of the performers and let themselves be carried away by the well-designed plot line. Starting Fun Fatale with Vintage!Women!Variete! was an excellent choice by the festival’s program team which – just as the performers of the opening show – consists of women only.
Vintage! Woman! Variete! – author: Jana Korb, director: Christian Wiegand, performers: Anja Geßenhardt, Jana Korb, Dafne Delamar, costume design: Heike Ebner, scene design: Tobias Stiefel
photo: Vojtěch Brtnický
added: March 11, 2013
The author is a student of journalism at the School of Philosophy of the Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. This article was written within the framework of the educational project entitled How To Write On Contemporary Circus organized by Cirqueon for future journalists.