"I wish for a circus community where it is ok to have different approaches." - Yolande Sommer
The two ensembles Watwilla and Kompanie Neun are part of the Junge Wilde program, curated by our cooperation partner TPZAK. These two ensembles evolved out of the local youth circus context in Cologne and are run by semi-professionals on a quite professional level. We were talking with Jakob Rosenbauer (Watwilla), currently working on his PhD in Physics and Yolande Sommer (Kompanie Neun), studying Scenic Research.
Katharina Did you discover any new formats that inspired you during lockdown?
Jakob One project I liked in particular is the website Netflips (Externer Link zu: https://gumroad.com/netflips). Each week they release two contemporary circus productions and you can donate as little or as much as you like to watch them. The money goes to the artists. I find it a cool way to share stuff and to stay up to date, while still supporting the individual artists.
Yolande I am really waiting to see Laura Murphy live. It is such a pity she won't come to Cologne this year. I saw the trailers and felt really inspired already by them.
Tim Are you full-time artists?
Yolande I asked myself this question the last weeks again and again and I am struggling to put this in words. I have the feeling I play so many roles in so many contexts that I don't really know what I am. Yes, I am an artist, but I haven't been on stage since more than one year and half. So it feels a bit complicated to call myself an artist, as it feels so long ago. I started with youth circus, then I studied sports. In that time, I felt even more like a dancer and not even as a circus artist any more. Then there was also a time where I considered myself just a "mover". I felt limited calling myself a circus or a dance artist or something in-between. In the moment, I study scenic research in Bochum. So it is hard to answer what I am. It is something of everything a little bit, which creates the whole picture.
Jakob I used to be into tricking and this kind of freestyle, parcour and breakdance community, before I started with circus pretty late. Performing movements on stage by expressing stuff and putting it into another context have fascinated me. Then it becomes more than only "moving". At the time I was drawn into circus, I also studied. I was really torn between those two things. Half day I was sitting in the library and the other half I was training and rehearsing. This has pretty much stayed the same during the last five years. One half of my life is focused on becoming a physicist. I am doing my PhD at the moment. This takes a lot of my energy and focus. Circus and academic studies use different parts of my brain. I feel they complement each other.
Katharina Who is it that asks you to decide whether you are a circus or a dance artist?
Yolande This categorization started at Sports University for me. You always introduce yourself with your name and your sports discipline. Before I never had the issue to name it. I was just "moving". Later, when I wrote my end exam about funding structures for the performing arts in Germany, the definitions were pretty clear. A circus project is differently categorized than a dance project. Most of the time it is simply not permitted.
But maybe it starts even earlier as a child in youth circus. When the coaches write the script of the show they give each act or each scene a name. And this is mostly a very simple name, like for example "the dance scene" or "the acrobatic act". So when people start naming it, then you might get the feeling you have to name it as well.
Jakob For me it is mostly to structure my training. I do a lot of things, like aerials, straps, cyr wheel, acrobatics, tricking and stuff like that. You can't train to achieve certain levels if you are not working full-time on it. So the question for me is where to put the focus on right now. Another differentiation I see between working on the technical skills and on beeing a performer. There are different phases in a creation. In the beginning I work more on the physical scale, but then for the content or the choreography of the show it becomes much more a creative process, and you have to use more your brain than your body.
Tim What is your perspective on youth circus from your viewpoint of today?
Yolande I really don't like that youth circus is still so much influenced by the image of traditional circus. Now I talk about the circus that is made especially with younger kids. Traditional disciplines and traditional show-making. Traditional means also a sort of hierarchy within training. There is a coach and he tells you how to do it. The kids try to do it the same way they were told. When I teach today, my aim is to make a lot of research so that they can follow their own movements and find their own tricks. When you go to see a show with younger kids in a youth circus, you mostly know what to expect, it is often quite predictable. It is always the same disciplines, a specific order, an easy story and so on. I would love if even the child circus would open up for new disciplines and a new perspective on circus. Circus has changed, we all know. And youth circus is very slow in coming up. I think we need a change of perspective concerning the image of circus.
Tim You are also involved in building networks of the local actors in Cologne. What drives you?
Yolande Maybe I just like the idea of sharing and that we form something together, instead of being in competition. This is not always without complications; I think it should be accepted that there are different approaches. When they are really different, it can be hard to find a dialogue. I wish for a circus community where it is ok to have different approaches. Nevertheless, I believe there are many things where we can support each other. Contemporary circus now becomes more and more visible in Cologne. This aim is more reachable if we connect well and work together on it.
Tim Jakob, how does Watwilla function as a group?
Jakob There is a basic problem for ensembles with people that are not professionals or at least not working on it as their primary job. Those ensembles tend to have a lot of fluctuation and different intensities of involvement. So you need to answer questions about who is the core team, who decides, how to deal with new members. With Watwilla we wanted to form another sort of ensemble. More like a label, an envelope under which people can perform and do creative stuff. It functions like a platform which is not a closed group.
Tim So under this label there is sometimes a performance, sometimes an album released?
Jakob Exactly, if you wanna do a performance or a concert or something creative. So far it is only a few people, but it can grow.
Katharina But I guess you would not accept anyone in this open label?
Jakob That actually is a difficult question to decide. But the goal was to be really open for people to work under this label. I have seen a lot of times in Cologne that people, for example coming out from ZP at TPZAK, wanted to do a show together. They had to set up all this construct of advertisement, own name, homepage, social media channel and so on. So they had all this work only for one show. This is definetifely a thing to think about. Within circus, I trust everybody who I have seen producing shows in Cologne so far enough to perform under a lable where I can also perform under.
Yolande I just got the idea if our complications and ideas of having a collective is connected also to our youth circus past. We are used to have one circus with one name as a group. And just this group is the circus. When I think about the professional scene, it is quite different. You have a choreographer or a dramaturge who searches for performers for a piece. But the company stays and is established. Maybe it is still our romantic idea of having a fix group. And to be safe and to make productions only with these people. Then we recognize it is not that easy to hold a label if you grow older and when you work as semi-professionals.
Tim Who is your audience, for who do you do what you do?
Jakob For people that are interested in circus and arts. And hopefully also for people outside of that bubble, who become interested in circus and arts. Not just the parents of someone that you know (laughs).
Tim Yolande, you have been performing at the international youth circus festival Helsinki in Finland. How did you observe the structures of youth circus institutions there?
Yolande The biggest difference I remember was that you come into the training space and it is like wonderland. It is so big and they have everything. After training they can leave everything how it is, to come back the next day and to start directly with training. In a lot of training spaces in Cologne you have to build up at the beginning and to build down in the end. So it takes a lot of time of your training. There is a big fluctuation of people and you don’t have your own space. My first impression in Helsinki was that they have more money and possibilites, but I guess the basic structure in Scandinavia is quite similar to the one in Germany.