“Something beautiful and unexpected” – Interview with Lenka Foletti Machoninova and Alberto Foletti

Circo Giroldòn is the smallest travelling circus in Europe. Founded in 1991 by Lenka Foletti Machoninova and Alberto Foletti, it tours all over Europe every year with its shows. On 11 and 12 February, the circus' winter tent will stop in the park of Villa Carmine for a show entitled "Matto da legare".
31 January 2023
by Silvia Onorato
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How did the Giroldòn Circus come into being?
AF: Before founding the circus Lenka and I were already working in the context of theatre in Prague, either as soloists or as part of a troupe. I am a trained clown, I trained at the Dimitri Academy.
LFM: I, on the other hand, am an actress and studied at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Prague.
AF: As a result of the political changes in 1989, everything fell apart: with the troupe we worked with we were supposed to have a permanent place in a theatre, but that did not happen. Since we had nothing to live on, we started working on the streets, inventing shows that we would take from Prague to Italy for two months in the summer. We then decided that, socially, it would be better to have a tent, and an architect friend built us one. With the colder and shorter winter days, we realised that we needed a more solid tent. So we found a Mongolian yurta for the winter season, which we modified a little to suit the needs of the staging – for example, removing the poles from the middle to allow for more space. It is in fact a house, with 1000 kg of material.
LFM: The tent is a symbol of our understanding of street circus: we do not present something as if it were a product; we decide on a destination, set up the tent, and wait for people to arrive. What we like is when people spontaneously stop, “smell” the situation, and come in to see what it is all about. This used to be more common; today it is rarer, although people who sense are still there.
AF: Also, our way of understanding theatre is in contrast to what theatre has become over the last twenty years. You used to make a show, then people interested would invite the show around; today, you make a show and spend half the time selling it, like you sell a car, a product… We prefer to give shows… and if someone is interested they will call us…. So our life has moved more and more towards the street and freedom, in a natural way. Over the years, we have been to Western Europe (Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, England, Denmark, Portugal), and Eastern Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine), all the way to Russia and Georgia.
LFM: We speak several languages, this helps us to move around the different countries and to authentically experience everyday life together with our hosts.

Circo Giroldòn is a craft and chamber circus. What does that mean?
AF: It means that the two of us take care of everything: the practical aspects, such as choosing the destination, contacting the local authorities, setting up and dismantling the tent, repairing the tent, selling tickets; but also the dramaturgical aspects: we create the shows from our own ideas and experiences, we take care of the staging. We make do, but it is also the craft itself that teaches us what works and what doesn’t. For example, we both come from the theatre, which is a protected environment where you can find silence; in the street this is not guaranteed, so we have worked out certain methods over time, such as not talking in a low voice in the street, being essential, giving a certain rhythm, having the minimum on stage – every object must have a meaning, a story. Simplify as much as possible, don’t depend on electricity, on make-up.
LFM: Make a virtue our of necessity: we became authors, directors, set designers. In over 30 years you learn to do what you need to do. At the same time, it is useful to know the outside perspective: to understand from an outside person whether a scene works or not.
AF: Then, the shows vary according to the country in which we stage them. For example, in Switzerland some scenes sometimes don’t work, while in Georgia they are stronger and I can develop them. Moreover, we normally translate the shows to make them accessible to the audience; however, it has happened that I have performed in Italian to an audience that did not speak it, and in these cases something special can happen: to have a child in the audience who is so lively and participative, even though they do not understand the language, that they drag the show along. It is something strange, inexplicable, that has to do with the inner language.

On 11 and 12 February, stage “Matto da legare”, a tragicomic show. What is it about?
AF: The story came about thanks to two encounters that happened some time ago. The first happened in Losone: a slightly disabled person on a bicycle was riding around our tent; every now and then he would stop, and as soon as we looked at him, he would start up again. At one point he approached us and stopped: “Would you like to see the show?” we asked him; he nodded. “Do you want to pay the ticket?” he said no with his head. We then invited him to the show (incidentally, I remember that a person who witnessed the scene decided to pay for his ticket). The second encounter happened in Portugal: a man who had been drinking a bit bought a ticket to attend a show. Although we knew it would be a risk, we let him in. He sat in the front row and started to participate in the show, interacting, commenting on the scenes, enjoying himself. We had to be very careful not to give him too much rope, or he would come up on stage. In the end, we laughed thinking about what we risked: having the show destroyed by a spectator.
So we wanted to develop a flesh-and-blood character: a character who wants to participate in the show for the joy of things and who does not realise that by entering the stage he destroys the theatrical fiction. A madman who by destroying the show makes a new one, highlighting the hypocrisies of actors who consider themselves the best. A madman who, when all seems lost, is the only one to save the day.
LFM: The character we created comes from the traditional Russian figure of the village madman (but not only, think of Fellini’s films): a wanderer, perhaps a pilgrim, considered mad by people, but nevertheless respected. The madman in fact brings something beautiful and unexpected.
AF: So in our show there are situations that can be read immediately, reminiscent of those in the commedia dell’arte.

What are the next dates of the tour?
AF: At the moment we have five shows scheduled, before Carnival. Then we still don’t know where we will go; we more or less know the direction, but we organise our life from month to month.
LFM: We will probably go to Bulgaria and Romania in the summer.
AF: One thing we would like to do is go to Ukraine, maybe to a courtyard of a palace or to the Italian embassy in Kiev. We have seen several reports on television where people under the bombing were gathering in shelters and singing, or listening to music. People need music, theatre, something that reminds them of the ultimate meaning of existence. In general, we experienced before the war that this way of understanding things in Eastern European countries is something more common: people stop at a crossroads and sing from the soul, as they say, and others stop and listen. It is something very strong.
LFM: For us, this is authentic street art: going, not knowing, not organising, fighting for every show and every ticket, not being invited – if it happens it is an exception and we are not comfortable with it.

A free life.
AF: Freedom is one of those things that, when you experience it, you don’t want to leave. Then, a free life like ours is not as romantic as one might think.
LFM: It is not romantic at all. On the contrary, it is a difficult life psychologically – of course, bombs don’t fall on our heads, but it takes its toll materially and emotionally, there is no security… And yet it is beautiful.

Circo Giroldòn is in the park of Villa Carmine on 11 and 12.02 at 15:00 with “Matto da legare”.
More information: luganoeventi.ch

Translation performed

with Google Translate.

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