When the founding members of French circus troupe Compagnie XY got a little lonely on stage, they decided to invite a few more acrobats to perform with them. Tapping the talents they’d met in circus school and on tour, they put together a group of 17 acrobats that would eventually create a jaw-dropping, gravity-defying show called Le Grand C. The company agreed to answer a few questions for City Paper as a collective — just like they perform.
City Paper: What inspired you to invite more people to perform with Compagnie XY?
Compagnie XY: This was a very spontaneous event to get together, share, and enjoy doing acrobatics with more than two or three people, as it usually happens. After a while, it appeared that this way of working, as a collective, opened a wide range of experimentations. At this point, we decided to create a show.
CP: Is it challenging to work with so many performers onstage at once performing stunts? How do they interact with each other? How do they build trust?
XY: This was the main challenge. Acrobats are working for years to build up a 10-minute acrobatic set with no more than four persons. In Le Grand C, we’ve mixed 17 acrobats. The trust is given by trainings and learning from each other. In this way, Le Grand C tells how we turn from a sum of individualities into a collectivity.
CP: Tell me a bit about the performers in this show. What are their backgrounds?
XY: Most of them did circus schools in Europe. Before the school they often practiced sports like gymnastics, rugby, or physical activities like castells, a Catalan tradition which inspired Le Grand C.
CP: How do the performers train for the physical challenges of Le Grand C?
XY: Between four and six hours rehearsing every day, good warm-up and stretching. Eat well and sleep well.
CP: Why did you decide to go without safety nets in your performances?
XY: There is safety: humans.
CP: Is there a narrative to the show?
XY: Not in the sense of a storytelling with a beginning and an end. It’s more like a universe wherein the audience is welcome to watch and feel free.
CP: What are some of the most difficult stunts audience members will see?
XY: This is a secret. We let the audience decide. They’ll have the choice!
CP: Talk about the importance of the traditional French music in the show, and sometimes the lack of music altogether.
XY: Because there is accordion, it sounds traditional, but it’s not so much. Marc Peronne, who has created most of the music, has also influenced the rhythm of the show. The silent parts help to focus on the bodies, the changing lines they describe, and the concentration it deserves.
CP: Some critics have called the show “quiet” and “low-key,” which is rare for circus. Is that your intention?
XY: Circus is our medium, our way to express ourselves, but what matters is the quality of the energy between us and our ability to share it with the audience. Being quiet is a manner to say, “Maybe you come to be impressed and see big stunts, and we’re gonna do it, but if you take time watching next to the tricks, you’ll discover many other emotions.”
CP: How does this company and this show stand out from other circus companies out there?
XY: Le Grand C is the unique acrobatic and circus show with 17 performers doing such amazing stunts without trying to be superheroes, just human beings.
CP: How does Le Grand C differ from other shows in Compagnie XY’s repertoire?
XY: XY is more a concept than a company. The persons who join a new project become part of the collective. Those who are leaving, are leaving. Some of us are here since seven years, others since six months. We never vote, we just find a consensus all together. We’re all paid the same (technicians, performers, production manager). Le Grand C is our second show. The first one was made by six persons. XY belongs to nobody and everybody.