The multi award-winning Swiss/Sicilian acrobatic clown duo, Compagnia Baccalà, ran away from circus and back home to the theatre, with a desire to fill an empty stage solely with the intensity of their characters, the vividness of their facial expressions, and the exquisiteness of their skills.
In 2004, Camilla Pessi, a graduate of the renowned Swiss clown academy, Teatro Dimitri, reunited with fellow alumni Simone Fassari on the circus and cabaret circuit – Camilla stood in for Simone’s regular acrobatic partner.
This chance reunion led to a fruitful 14-year creative partnership, culminating in 'Pss Pss', an acrobatic clown show that has toured almost every corner of the world, conquered Avignon and Edinburgh, and won 14 international awards. Camilla explains the origins of this accomplished work of theatre.
“For five years we worked inside circus and cabaret all around the world. After that we decided that we wanted to take all the material that we had created, to go back to theatre, which is where we come from," Camilla says.
“The premiere of this entire show, after five years, played in the theatre of the school where we met, actually. It was very emotional. Many people that hadn’t seen us for five years saw us come back with a whole show and a lot of experience, so it was quite touching.”
Critics have often compared the show, in which the two stars vie for the audience’s attention with an array of tricks, gags and acrobatics, to the work of silent film icons Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Camilla explains how those artists helped inform their work.
“What inspired us about the style of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton was the simplicity of the scene but that they were so intense," she says.
“That’s what inspired us to have very strong characters who can do almost anything and the audience will accept it because they are very powerful, very strong, very touching to the audience.”
The characters need to be captivating in this show, because there is nothing to hide behind: not sets, not words. Such daring self-exposure forced adaptation, Camilla says.
“At the start, we really started with the idea that we wanted to come in as characters to an empty stage and leave the stage empty. We really wanted all the power of the show to be in the characters and the performance of the characters; we didn’t want any big lights or any big requisite to distract people.
“The work is much more difficult because the work must be more powerful to entertain people for one hour if you don’t have nothing [sic] around you and you just use your body, your expressions and your skills. We use different skills like acrobatics, juggling, but these are skills of the characters, actually.”
The simplicity on stage, then, is an outcome of tireless and diligent effort behind the scenes for years. While most circus acrobats can focus entirely on the successful performance of their tricks, in 'Pss Pss', Camilla and Simone must juggle with their dual roles: Actor and acrobat.
After 700 performances across 50 countries, it is finally time for Australian audiences to witness this controlled chaos, this refined madness, this celebration of what Camilla calls “the universal language of the body and the face.”
'Pss Pss' plays Ukiyo at Gluttony from 15 February-3 March.