Circusstad Festival: Race Horse Company

Race Horse Company from Finland came to Rotterdam with a show called Petit Mal. The stage setting resembled a junk yard of tires, boards and scrap metal and, among the junk, a trampoline, Chinese pole and a large number of gym balls providing splashes of pink and blue. It all started very quietly. The three performers rooted about among the junk, paying each other no attention until two of them start a fight, and we’re off! I suppose the fight was carefully choreographed, but it looked like two jiu-jitsu fighters slugging it out with raw physicality and intent to cause pain. It could have been a vodka-fuelled Saturday night in any of hundreds of small towns in Finland.

Fortunately, the show moved on from there to spectacular work on the Chinese pole, trampoline and improvised teeter boards. There were breathtaking acrobatics, feats of balance, contortion inside tires, and amazing skills on the gym balls. There was even gym ball surfing!

The show drew attention to the pain involved in acrobatics with the performers flinging themselves precariously into the air, falling, and tossing each other to the floor. There was an interpretation of break-dancing performed on a large metal board wired for sound. We could hear the raw contact between body and metal. At one quiet interval, a male member of the audience made everyone chuckle with an unguarded exclamation of “Ow!” at what appeared to be a well-aimed kick at a tender part of the male anatomy.

It was circus that hurt. Race Horse Company allowed us to see the sweat, pain, bruises and possibility of failure behind the physical feats.

Yet, the show is not lacking in weird Finnish humour. Did you spot the Michelin man or the Canadian Mountie and the pantomime horse in the clip?