Pss Pss cel­e­brates clowns with­out clichés

> BY TONY MON­TAGUE

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

The ad­van­tage of cre­at­ing a silent the­atri­cal show is that you can take it to au­di­ences any­where. Camilla Pessi and Simone Fas­sari of Switzer­land’s Com­pag­nia Bac­calà, masters of the uni­ver­sal lan­guage of the body and face, have toured their two-han­der Pss Pss to more than 50 coun­tries on six con­ti­nents, draw­ing rave re­views.

“We make mu­sic, we do bal­anc­ing tricks, and there’s slap­stick, jug­gling, trapeze, act­ing, and clown play,” says Pessi, reached on the is­land of Sar­dinia, and speak­ing in French. “Clown work, as here, of­ten has no real nar­ra­tive thread. Our two char­ac­ters ar­rive in the theatre and dis­cover there’s an au­di­ence—which they hadn’t ex­pected—and they have to make some­thing up. There’s a kind of crescendo to the piece, played out in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the char­ac­ters. We don’t have male and fe­male roles, or the tra­di­tional white­face clown and the au­guste.”

Af­ter meet­ing at theatre school in 1998, Pessi and Fas­sari went their sep­a­rate ways. But they got back to­gether seven years later to form Com­pag­nia Bac­calà, based in Lo­carno. From then un­til 2010 the two worked in cir­cuses and cabarets, de­vel­op­ing parts of Pss Pss. Pessi notes the dif­fer­ences be­tween clown play in the theatre and in the cir­cus ring. “In one the au­di­ence is right in front of you, in the other it’s 360 de­grees or so around and you have to play larger. In theatre there’s room for greater subtlety in cor­po­real and fa­cial ex­pres­sion, you can do more po­etic things, and the pace can be slower.”

Pessi sees el­e­ments of the tra­di­tional and the con­tem­po­rary clown in the com­pany’s unique style. “We’ve kept cer­tain old tra­di­tions, like those rep­re­sented by Buster Keaton, Char­lie Chap­lin, or [Swiss clown] Grock. We’ve re­newed things in our own way to bring them closer to our on-stage char­ac­ters.”

Pss Pss pre­miered at the cel­e­brated Avi­gnon Fes­ti­val in France in 2011. The in­ten­tion was to cre­ate a show that would ap­peal to peo­ple re­gard­less of age, sex, cul­ture, or class, and break down some of the clichés sur­round­ing clowns and clown­ing.

“Too of­ten the clown is as­so­ci­ated with red noses, fright wigs, and all that,” ar­gues Pessi. “We wanted to de­fend our own ap­proach, which is more like Chap­lin and Keaton, who wore lit­tle makeup and had a great sim­plic­ity in their way of do­ing things. We wanted to get close to that sim­plic­ity, which is very po­tent and comes from char­ac­ter, and from re­la­tions with oth­ers and with ob­jects.…we in­vite adults to dis­cover the world of clown­ing and clown per­son­al­i­ties. It’s a uni­ver­sal spec­ta­cle, open to any­body.”

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