Robert Lepage presents “SLAM!”, where circus and theater unite around wrestling

With SLAM!, the result of a collaboration between FLIP Fabrique, Ex Machina and Robert Lepage, the circus and the theater team up, in life as in the ring. Wrestling, an athletic spectacle that evil tongues say is rigged, with its larger-than-life good guys and bad guys, its intrigues and twists and turns, its simulacra and its emotions, served as a link between the two disciplines.

“Wrestling is really the natural place for theatricality,” says Robert Lepage, who directed the film. It is also the place of the circus, of clowning, of balance, of strength games, of strong women, of contortionists, of acrobats…”

So there was the material: all that remained was to find the way.

Humor and cracking bones

On Tuesday, journalists were able to get a taste of SLAM! halfway through its creation. A gladiator, capable of juggling 30-pound tires, in the company of her bodyguards, played the heelthe naughty one in the jargon of the third string, decked out in Amazon paraphernalia.

To the boos of the crowd, she pulverized the skeleton of poor Barbie, all dapper in her pink and pastel costume. Bones cracking, howls of pain, bam! sounds of bodies in the ring: Lolita ended up broken in two at the bottom of a trash can while her torturer triumphed, to the great dismay of the public.

“There is a lot of humor that will come out of the show,” believes Stéphane Lavoie, general director of Tohu, which will host SLAM! in Montreal from March 19 to 1er april. We will see characters that are larger than life, exaggerated, but to whom we will attach because they remain so human. »

Wrestling, a popular and universal art which gave Quebec a whole pantheon of heroes and strong men in the 20th centurye century, proves to be a delightful playground for Robert Lepage, a great enthusiast of the discipline.

“Sometimes, in the theater, there is a kind of sophistication in the writing, in the direction, in the acting which limits us and which ensures that we do not dare to go into caricature. However, buffoonery is also part of theater! »

The audience, whose fury and disbelief are an integral part of the struggle, will become a character in their own right in the show. “This is our challenge at the moment,” explains the director. He must not react on behalf of the spectators in the room, nor must he say: “we laugh here, we applaud there”. It must also be open to criticism and manipulable. It’s not easy, but I find it important to treat the audience as a character. »

Wrestling and circus, sport and art

SLAM! magnifies the exuberance of the fight thanks to the prowess of the circus. “Someone who knows wrestling will recognize its vocabulary and its tricks,” underlines Robert Lepage, “but with a little oumpf which allows us to make a comment on the fight thanks to the circus performers. There will not be one big story, strictly speaking, but several small ones, with matches in the ring and more circus-like intermissions. It’s more of a universe that we want to depict with its rules, its laws, its characters, its dynamics. »

Someone who knows wrestling will recognize its vocabulary and its tricks, but with a little oumpf which allows us to make a comment on wrestling thanks to the circus performers

The eight acrobats from FLIP Fabrique must learn the basics of the bear hold and other clothesline moves to defend the show as faithfully as possible. It is the wrestler Marco Estrada, a strong man from Limoilou, dubbed “champian du mande” by himself, who is responsible for instilling in the troupe the art of performing feats worthy of the Rougeau clan.

“This is the part that is the most difficult,” concedes Bruno Gagnon of FLIP Fabrique. Circassian artists have the reflexes of acrobats: they must now learn to model, to sculpt, to build muscles and the muscle memory of wrestlers. »

However, acrobats do not start from a blank page. Marco Estrada, says Robert Lepage, had planned 10 workshops spread over as many days: the artists from FLIP Fabrique took just one day to complete this course.

Their ease in playing wrestlers does not surprise the playwright, who sees, in the emergence of internationally renowned Quebec circus troupes, the continuation of a national history begun by wrestling.

“There were great years for the struggle in Quebec, then, at one point, it changed shape,” analyzes the theater man. As soon as it became Americanized, with the WWF then the WWE, wrestling slipped out of our hands as a way of expressing ourselves. This is when Cirque du Soleil takes over a little: there will be people who disagree with what I say, but at a given moment, the expression of Quebecers capable of doing things faster, more louder, further away, bigger than normal, it comes through the circus, first through the invention of Cirque du Soleil, then now through young local circus companies who are making a name for themselves around the world. »

The Diamant de Québec will host SLAM! in world premiere from March 5 to 9 before being presented in Montreal. That same spring, the Musée de la civilization, still in Quebec, will present an exhibition devoted to the struggle, the result of a collaboration with Robert Lepage.

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