San Francisco International Arts Festival Features Troupe Vertigo in the Northern California premiere of the all-woman piece, ‘Tableaux’

by Charles Kruger

Members of Troupe Vertigo in “Tableaux.” Photo Credit: Troupe Vertigo.
The author of this article is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

After many years training and performing with companies such as The Pickle Family Circus and Cirque du Soleil, husband and wife Aloysia Gavre and Rex Camphuis founded the Cirque School in Hollywood, which is home to Troupe Vertigo.

The company describes their work as a triad of circus, dance and theatre. The Los Angeles Times calls it “. . . a never-ending flow of creative expression.”

For the San Francisco International Arts Festival, Troupe Vertigo presents the Northern California premiere of “Tableaux,” featuring five women, and choreographed by the Troupe’s co-founder, Aloysia Gavre.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Aloysia about the company and the work that they do.

Charles: How would you describe your work?

Aloysia:   We want to make work that can be quiet and poetic but at the same time full of raw bravado, like a 50s musical.  Quirky and sublime. I love that our artists are open to research and development. I can do drawings, and I can choreograph the body, but that’s not all there is to it. The company has to be game. It is a fun and crazy journey for them that, fortunately, they’re willing to take.

“Tableau” is one of our all-female shows. It’s rich in metaphor, based on societal limitations we feel are put upon us or that we put on ourselves as women in the world. The dynamic of having only women certainly makes a difference. We can express ourselves freely. For example, we open the show with a “foot party,” a dialogue between legs and feet. We’re showing limbs being animated by themselves, without distraction from the eyes, face, or hands. How can we invite people into this visually enticing journey with just our legs and our feet? It takes a lot of courage to develop and perform a piece like that. But then, there are only five artists in this 65 minute show, so there’s a lot of mutual support.

We call ourselves “Troupe Vertigo” because we thrive on the idea of vertigo, the pure adrenaline rush that it brings. It’s a good kind of scary. Circus is high diving, all the time. You have to dare yourself; you have to believe in yourself; and you have to risk yourself.

Charles: What are some of your influences?

Aloysia: I began studying with the Pickle Family Circus up on Potrero Hill when I was only eight years old. At one point, they were able to get a Chinese master trainer from the Nanjing Circus Acrobatic Troupe. Originally, they had been “clown heavy” but in the mid-80s, when I was trained, things started to amp up in terms of technique. The training with Master Lu-yi was a great grounding. I was also doing theatre, dance and even sports at the time, but circus is what truly melds all those things together. It has the athleticism of sport without the competition, the beauty and grace of dance without the rigid confinement of classicism, and the play and showmanship of theatre without spoken language. For me, it is everything!

I grew up in SF with two artists and was brought to art museums on Sundays, frequently, instead of other activities. That was a deep formation in my understanding of visual landscape.  When I was in the Cirque du Soleil I spent a lot of time in Spain and was incredibly in awe of the various points of view of architecture, including Frank Gehry’s museum in Bilbao. Gehry is famous for juxtaposing harsh angles with soft curves which is mesmerizing. That helped feed my artistic viewpoint of how circus equipment and apparatus and bodies can interact with each other. The hard and the soft of it.

Charles: How would you describe your daily artistic practice?

Aloysia:  Personally, I do a lot of musical research while I’m driving around Los Angeles or riding in airplanes. I’m constantly creating visual imagery off of musical ideas. We work a lot with symphony orchestras, and I’m always badgering musical directors and conductors for their musical inspirations. Bringing circus to the symphony stage really helps curate my musical sensibility. If I find something I like, I look for another artist to bring a different interpretation. For example, I might take a symphonic piece and ask a pianist to adapt it.

Once I have a plethora of visual imagery to try out with a cast, we start meeting three times a week, four hours at a time. We do a company warm up to take care of our bodies with basic conditioning and balance and Pilates. Then we get into our research and development.  I’ll lead the cast through structured improvisations based on the musicality and the vision I’m looking for. Often, each artist will work solo while we all stand back and watch—both critiqueing and celebrating each individual.

That’s how we start. Then I do a lot of homework to refine the ideas, taking the best of the best. After that, we come together and start actually creating pieces. There is deep collaboration. All the artists are selected because I have individual talent crushes on each of them. It is very important to me that everybody feels honored as artist and contributor.

Charles: How does the performance you plan for SFIAF relate to the theme of “Down By The Riverside: 50 Years Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Aloysia: It is about equality for all. Our all woman show features an international perspective—our cast is from Mongolia, Trinidad, California, and Azer Bejan. They have extremely different backgrounds! We strive to honor each individual, without insisting on conformity. Allowing ourselves to be different is a key theme of the show. Being different, together. That’s integration. It happens when there is community support and mutual empowerment. We offer that to each other, and hopefully to the audience.

Charles: What would you say to someone who wants to do what you do?

Aloyosia: I truly believe that finding a teacher and a mentor is what helped me to achieve my goals, ambitions, and dreams. That is more easily said then done. Find someone who will take you under their wing. That’s vital. But you must also be yourself: have a point of view that is your own and true, and search for an empowering community that can help you grow.

Troupe Vertigo will perform “Tableaux” at The Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture on Friday, June 1st (8:30 p.m.), Saturday, June 2nd (7 p.m.) and Sunday, June 3rd (6 p.m.).

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC) hosts these performances as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, which runs from May 24, 2018 to June 3, 2018. The Festival features more than 60 performances by close to 40 different artists, ensembles, and companies. Get discounts on tickets to see multiple shows at the Festival by buying a Festival pass. More details HERE.

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