Particle B: Where Science And Circus Meet

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'Particle B' 'Particle B'

Science and circus will collide with ‘Particle B’ making its South Australian premiere at Adelaide Fringe.


Presented by Ampersand and inspired by theoretical physics ‘Particle B’ explores one woman’s relationship with reality; taking audiences on an acrobatic journey into a world where time, light and sound behave in curious ways.

As the countdown to the Adelaide Fringe begins, ‘Particle B’ creator Kerttu Pussinen chats about what audiences can expect from this unique show.

What inspired you to create such a show?
I developed a curiosity towards physics while I was studying to be a circus artist. All the physicality and intensity of art school really made me want to challenge myself in a more concrete and intellectual way. Turns out, theoretical physics is not concrete at all but I found the ideas really inspiring and now most of my artistic work is somehow related to science and reality.

Did you research particular scientists and/or fields of study during the creation process for 'Particle B'? Would you say the show is influenced by a particular theory or scientist or more of an exploration of multiple ideas?
The show is pretty heavily influenced by the books of Stephen Hawking and my personal favourite field of study is quantum mechanics, but the show itself is built around a very basic introduction to the fundamental strangeness of theoretical physics. I would say that theories concerning time and gravity are emphasised, since they are relevant to acrobatics and the live performance aspect of circus.

Did you specifically create this show with a younger audience in mind? Why?
Actually the show was originally not meant for children, I imagined it as a dark and quirky science documentary that happens live, but somehow it kept coming out kind of like a fairytale with some science sprinkled in. I’ve been working on the show for three years so there has been many versions. About a year ago a dramaturg friend pointed out to me that it looks like I made a great kids show kind of by accident. It didn’t take me long to realise they were right. I really believe that questioning our reality and not being afraid to wonder about the world is a super relevant subject for kids and the theme of physics just helps us along on that path.

What were some of the challenges you faced in translating these scientific theories into acrobatic movements for your show?
Having to simplify really complex ideas in to clear concepts was really hard. Since I’m personally passionate about the science it was harsh at times to let go of the details and focus on trying to depict the things that are more human and relatable about particle physics. Also, I found it important to still keep the show light and fun, since it is a family show.

Without giving too much away can you hint at how some of these theories are represented in 'Particle B'? (For example, does a particular routine represent a particular idea?)
Yes! Each routine represents a specific theory, and throughout the show we move from small to big, starting with the physics of tiny particles and then ending with larger ideas of how planets move and rotate. That being said, the audience doesn’t need to understand those theories to enjoy the show. On the acrobatic level the science is there to give a concept to the choreographies. Not every theory that inspired me gets explained in the show but you can see a lot of play with the direction of time for example, where some movements get repeated forwards and backwards.

What role does music and the stage (i.e. settings or props) play in bringing these ideas to life visually?
The set design was one of the most important starting points for the creation of 'Particle B'. I’m inspired by the concept of looking at the world by taking things apart. In particle physics the world gets broken down to such small pieces we can’t even see them and by understanding how they behave we try to understand the bigger picture. The objects in the show try to reflect that idea. The set design also defines the type of circus I do in the show. I had to learn a bunch of new skills to be able to take full advantage of it.

What are some of the questions you hope to inspire the audience to ask of themselves and others?
What is my reality? How can my perspective change my reality? How does my reality define who I am?

Why do you believe it is important for us to ask these questions?
To get super real for a second, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety quite a lot in my youth and facing those questions really helped me become a braver and more empathetic person. I believe that having the courage to wonder about the world and challenge the way we think about our surroundings can reveal some profound things about who we are.

What do you hope the audience can take from your show?
As most performers, I hope people will have fun and feel entertained by the show but I also hope it will create some inspiration and empowerment, especially for the younger spectators. Theoretical physics and existential questions may seem like heavy subjects for kids but I want to focus on not underestimating the capacity of young audiences. They have better imaginations than we do and eventually they are the ones who will make the world better in the future, so we owe it to them to provide them with the inspiration and encouragement to do that.

You are a circus artist yourself with a long history of performing, what initially inspired you to pursue this path? And why did you choose to specialise in Straps Loops aerial performing?
I was super physically hyperactive as a kid. There happened to be a circus school in my hometown so my mum signed me up when I was seven, hoping it would calm me down. She was very wrong but it eventually turned in to my career, I honestly have never considered another path. The story of how I ended up doing Straps Loops is actually really funny. I think I was 9 at the time and the aerial class in my circus school had almost 20 kids and two coaches so it was a lot of time just waiting for your turn. I really didn’t like having to wait in line so the day we got to pick our specialty I just picked the one thing no one else wanted to do. It was awesome because I just got to mess around on the straps for the whole class and very rarely got bothered by anyone. I swear there are still tricks in my act that I invented being an unsupervised 9-year-old.

In recent years your work has focused on combining scientific theory and ideas with contemporary circus. What inspired you to combine these two incredibly different mediums and what do you hope to create with works such as 'Particle B'?
I hear this question a lot but for me contemporary circus and scientific theory are actually very clearly connected. Circus artists deal with gravity, time, light and space on a very profound level. We absolutely don’t break any laws of physics but you could say we dance on the borderline of reality and the impossible, so does theoretical physics. Contemporary circus for me is a great tool to interpret everything I find bizarre and awesomely weird about the world, since circus as an art form is also bizarre and awesomely weird.

Is there a particular theory or idea you would like to tackle next?
I actually have written a sequel to 'Particle B' that’s a show about entropy, which means the amount of disorder in the universe. Entropy also refers to the theory that disorder is always increasing and never decreasing. I find it compelling to try and inspect that concept from a human perspective.

'Particle B' plays Little Theatre at RCC Fringe 15 February-17 March.

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