Aires de Circo is one of those things you stumble across in Buenos Aires that makes the city more beautiful. It is essentially Porteño, incorporating the city's raw chaos and crumbling concrete elegance to make something at once rag-tag and world class.
'Tightly loose' is how it’s described, and that's pretty accurate. There is little of the polished, pastel aesthetic or freakish physical feats of the new commercial circus. The acrobats are strong, but not HGH strong. And there's none of the melancholy of the traditional circus. The clowns are funny, but positive funny. It's low budget. The set design is fantastical, but made out of materials scavenged from the street or someone's dad's garage. But it is distinctly modern, mixing live music with aerial acrobatics, theater, clown, juggling, stand-up, contortionism, installations and interventions. You see performers sweat and work through their fears and problems, like watching Iggy Pop perform live, but not nearly as stressful. In short, it draws on a deep well of talent in Buenos Aires, gives it a stage with a nice vibe and turns it loose.
Gregers Maersk Moller and Brian Hagenbuch talk to the founders, Lola Castelli, Chuflyn Ferreyra and Vicki Larrambebere.
How did Aires de Circo get started?
Lola: We wanted to act. We wanted our own space where we could act.
Chuflyn: There aren't many places to act in our genre. With aerial numbers and dance and juggling it's much harder to do things than in other genres — so the best thing to do was organize something ourselves so we could do what we do, beyond the projects that each person has apart from the show. But it was the most accessible way to be able to act and train. Basically it was that.
How did you get into Aires de Circo?
Vicki: The landlord needed people to work.
Chuflyn: And we got thrown out of where we were.
Lola: And we said we didn't just want to work, but we wanted a stable artistic space.
What was the first show like?
Lola: We had a few chairs.
Vicki: We didn't have lights.
Lola: Actually, we had two lights and a power strip.
Vicki: There was no set design.
Chuflyn: It's also worth mentioning that you normally act itinerantly. You're always in one place and then another and at some point it's necessary to have a stable place where you know you'll be on Sunday, acting and experimenting, like a laboratory. Because when they call you to work, you have to go with something effective. And this is a place where the acts are effective but we can also try new things.
Lola: Now we've done like 25 shows in the same place in the last year. Today is the one-year anniversary, the 18th of November.
Lola: Thanks. At first we didn't have a band, we didn't have lights, we didn't have set design. It was just people walking out into a big concrete square.
Vicki: The sound system was awful. It buzzed.
Chuflyn: It's not like we have everything now, either. We've grown a lot from what we were, but if we had a different space, I could dance on a carpet or on a different floor. I rip my pants every time I dance and my girlfriend (Gina Peiretti, costume designer and aerial acrobat) sews them every week. So within the framework of what we have, we've been able to do something that has a pretty high level.
But isn't that also what makes the atmosphere so great? It's definitely underground.
Chuflyn: Right, but it's also kind of refined. Everybody can go and enjoy it. Your mom, foreigners, everybody. There are a lot of good circus shows in the city, but most of them are very punk. They start at 2am on Saturday.
Lola: We are entering in new territory, breaking from the traditional variety show. With the Pompa Rota (clowns, www.lapomparota.blogspot.com), we've changed the dynamics of always having someone that presents the show. That altered everything.
It seems like it's just all driven by heart, like there's not much money involved. I wanted you to explain why people are so highly motivated.
Chuflyn: One love, true love. We're also at that place in our lives, to do things, to create. And then we'll see what happens. Also, here, the formula to make money is not this. We make money teaching or working at parties or events.
Vicki: It's very difficult here to make money.
Chuflyn: You don't even make money at an international festival, you're not going to make money at a variety show.
Lola: There was one where we made 70 pesos each.
Chuflyn: That was great. I bought some ice cream. But eventually money comes on its own.
Lola: More than anything it's something we do, and that's where the love comes from. The moment you walk out on stage, it's your show. You set it up from the beginning, from the lights to cleaning up.
Chuflyn: If we were doing something for money, you wouldn't be feeling all that love. That's part of the energy and love you feel. And there's something in the adrenaline of people just putting together their own show. It's beautiful. And it's cool too that we don't make money from it, but we live from it. Because 50 pesos on Sunday makes a difference on Monday, between that and the classes, we make a living off this.
But what is the driving force? I want you guys to talk about your passion, because in many other places if there's no money no one does anything. It's very special what you are doing.
Lola: It also has to do with being self-sufficient, the show is like your child.
Vicki: It's also something cultural. You're already used to the fact that you're not going to make money.
Lola: No, but it's being self-sufficient, starting from nothing, making it yours and watching it grow, knowing you made it and you made it from nothing. And that you don't depend on anyone or anything to do what you want to do. That's where the passion comes from. You know you did it and it's yours and you're doing what you want, when you want.
Chuflyn: Yes, like Yoga.
Lola: Yoga! The first Chakra!
Lola: Passion doesn't come from sequins. It comes from something else.
Chuflyn: And as far as the money, you can have all kinds of money and everything set up in the best theater, but you really have to be there on the stage. With us, something might fall from the ceiling and that's an action in the show. Last week I worked with a child on the stage who just walked out there. I was dancing and he was right next to me. Lola: And he imitated you. It was very sweet.
Vicki: And how many times have we been without electricity, or had the music not work? Chuflyn: Once Vicki was hanging on the trapeze for half an hour waiting for the music to start. And that breaks down structure, the artistic structure that isn't always good.
Lola: A month ago, the light console burned out and we had to grab extension cords and two lights we had and do the lighting sitting on the floor. But the effect was cool and now we do some acts with lights from the floor. It's reacting to your situation, and that's the Third World. Economic crisis? You eat squash.
Chuflyn: Also, something different comes out of economic problems. Not being able to think about buying a projector and having someone rappel from the ceiling, you start to think about very simple things. And that's different for people coming from other countries. You have a plastic bag then the plastic bag talks and you do an act with that. Here minimalism is a reality. It's not like it's an aesthetic, it's just the way it is.
In a sense that's what I see. It's very tight, but at the same time very loose, or on the borderline. And it works because it's impulsive.
Can you give me four values that define what you do?
Chuflyn: One love.
Lola: One love. Self-sufficiency.
Vicki: Working together.
Chuflyn: Working together.
Vicki: Good workers, good artists. Teamwork.
Chuflyn: And that it keeps you up at night, thinking about what you are going to do. And it's fundamental no to kill your inner-child.
Would you like to make money from it in the future?
Chuflyn: No, impossible.
Vicki: Yes, of course we want to make a living from it.
Chuflyn: And work Monday through Friday? What would that be like?
Vicki: No! Just have a thousand people come on Sunday.
Chuflyn: Oh yes, that would be great. Wow. Yes.
What's the plan for the future?
Lola: We want to fire everybody.
Vicki: No, we want to make a set show.
Chuflyn: And also just keep doing what we are doing and see what happens.
Lola: This variety show is very much an experiment.
Chuflyn: Because when there are certain interests, whatever they may be, it goes in the wrong direction. It's good what is happening now, something kind of abstract and developing. It's good to have basic goals about numbers of spectators and promoting the show, but that's all. And also I want to get married in Africa and adopt a little girl. Because I don't want my wife to get pregnant.
So the best way to move forward is just making sure everyone wants to be there and letting it run its course.
Lola: Yes, money is not good and good.
Chuflyn: Things got weird a couple times when a lot of spectators started going and some people in the show developed different objectives. The base of it is that we are able to grow, able to create something distinct. And when there are other motivations that energy gets lost.
Do you want to go on tour?
Lola: We could go to South America!
Vicki: We're already in South America. But yes, I think everyone's idea is to have a show and be able to travel with it.
Lola: I would like to drink champagne in Russia and be in the newspaper.
What would the headline for that newspaper article be?
Chuflyn: One Love.
Lola: No, Champagne and Climbing Chalk.
Chuflyn: But what I'm looking for is a restoration of juggling on a popular level. And if someone wrote about me I would want them to say that. Because juggling is looked upon poorly.
Vicki: The circus in general is looked upon poorly.
Chuflyn: Yes, and we've been able to do something with that, make people accept something that they see in the street, or see as being for hippies. It's about being able to take these disciplines to other places, being a juggler and being able to be in the world of dance and being able to work with theater people and move around.
So it's putting juggling in a different context and giving it a different value. Putting it next to theater so people value it in a different way, not just for you but for kids who juggle at stoplights for change.
Chuflyn: Right, the mix is very important. And if a juggler sees you juggling, that's fine. But if a painter or a carpenter or whoever else sees you, it takes on a different value. I don't want to do it just for the circus world.
Lola: It's about putting these things together. Someone might go because they heard the band was good or someone might go because they heard there was a good humor monologue, but then they are there and see everything, it helps to destroy stereotypes and break down prejudices against clowns and jugglers and that kind of thing.
How does someone join the circus? What's the criteria? Who selects the artists?
Lola: Half of them are our students. Sofia (Divo) and Laura (Saban, aerial artists) were our students. It's something very much between friends too. And then there's the Pompa Rota. We invited them to the first show and just really liked them.
Vicki: Yes, we liked them and asked them to be in all the shows.
Lola: Then we just invite people if we like what they do.
Chuflyn: We invite all of our brothers.
Lola: Not all of them.
Chuflyn: No, not all of them. The show started to define itself around an aesthetic principal and we invite people who make sense. We don't invite people from traditional circus because the show doesn't have that vibe.
What do you do to make have the same idea about things?
Lola: When you are 17 people everything is really difficult.
Vicki: Everybody thinks differently.
Lola: The result is interesting, but the process is hard. But everybody has freedom. Everybody works and then we have the final word. We have, like, jobs. Chuflyn is the director of movement. We are the aerial directors. The Pompa Rota is the director of clowns.
Vicki: And each decides in their area.
Lola: Then Brian (Hagenbuch) and Agostina (Bruzzone, set designers) make the aesthetic through the set design and everybody adjusts to that aesthetic.
Who's the director?
Lola: No one.
Any special moments from the last year you want to talk about?
Vicki: My trapeze act.
Chuflyn: I have a really good time with the band. They're always right on and I just have to laugh because I can't believe what's happening.
Lola: Yes, the musicians are the best. They're relaxed and they are there because they want to be there and do things for us.
Chuflyn: The transformation. Getting there at 5 in the afternoon when everything is all dirty and you're all dirty and changing into an artist. Lola last week with makeup like Marilyn Manson was also pretty funny.
Well, that's about it. What do you think will come out of the interview?
Chuflyn: Maybe some blonde girl will read it and take me to another country. I'm going to show you some tricks so you know more or less how things are here in Argentina. I want to go to Denmark. Can we ask you some questions now?
Check the blog, http://airesdecirco.blogspot.com, for upcoming shows or add Aires de Circo on Facebook for updates. To see videos from past shows go to http://www.youtube.com/numerosdecirco