REVIEW: Prague circus brings together Czech and Ukrainian performers

La Putyka builds bridges across language barriers in a stirring and thought-provoking act of artistry.

Ioana Caloianu

Written by Ioana Caloianu Published on 30.09.2022 12:00:00 (updated on 30.09.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Slaves to our screens

A group of figures with oversized, clear plastic heads enter a dimly-lit stage, while the screen in the background flickers with fear-inducing statistics about social media and cell phone usage. How could this be a circus performance? The plot thickens as the young and colorfully-dressed performers start body-checking and take turns at the mic to talk about what's trending in their social media.

Stranger than fiction: BOOM vol.2 talks about pressing issues affecting today's youth, such as the pervasiveness of technology and social media.
Stranger than fiction: BOOM vol.2 talks about pressing issues affecting today's youth, such as the pervasiveness of technology and social media. Photo by Lukáš Bíba.

The answers become apparent as the spectacle unfolds: the story we are about to witness will take us beyond the daily humdrum, and into the experience of a group of Czech and Ukrainian performers brought together by a devastating conflict.

The show also talks about social media's capacity to bring people together. Photo by Lukáš Bíba.
The show also talks about social media's capacity to bring people together. Photo by Lukáš Bíba.

The means are a variety of circus disciplines, such as the cyr wheel, aerial silks, hoops, the Chinese pole, juggling, and pair acrobatics. The cast features a quirky clown, and moves from mesmerizing aerial skills to break dance, street dance and contemporary dance, all to the beat of live music.

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Circus and war

The story, however, has only began. Its true meaning only becomes apparent when the young performers are interrupted by a group of seemingly shapeless figures, whose entrance to the scene changes the background energy from perkiness to wintry desolation.

A seminal moment in the show: the entrance of the Ukrainian performers. Photo by
A seminal moment in the show: the entrance of the Ukrainian performers. Photo by Lukáš Bíba.

At the start of the ongoing war in Ukraine, La Putyka answered calls from two dozens young performers, whom it welcomed in Prague. The performers were all students at the The Kyiv Municipal Academy of Variety and Circus Arts, a Ukrainian institution of higher education that trains stage and circus performers enrolled in three divisions: the Circus Art Faculty, the Musical Art Faculty, and the Theatrical Art Faculty.

In addition to a training space, the circus offered the performers a place to stay, food and administrative assistance. The spectacle itself captures in a moving way the budding friendships that were born out of the initial encounters.

The spectacle captures in a touching way the first meeting between the Czech and the Ukrainian performers. Photo by Lukáš Bíba.
The first meeting between the Czech and the Ukrainian performers happens again before the public's eyes. Photo by Lukáš Bíba.

"Young generation. Young Blood. Generation Z. Heads down generation. They are united not only by age, but also social networks. The performers in this show have something else in common - they met in March 2022, days after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine," says La Putyka director Rosťa Novák, who is also the creator of the show.

The next best thing to flying: an acrobat caught in a moment of imponderability. Photo by Lukáš Bíba.
The next best thing to flying: an acrobat caught in a moment of imponderability. Photo by Lukáš Bíba.

During a press conference, Novák said that the Ukrainian and Czech performers had to overcome a lot of barriers after their initial meeting -- cultural, linguistic (as they didn't have a shared language, so they communicated in a mix of English, Czech, and Russian), even a food one. In the show, a touching scene speaks about the discovery that the Czech Republic and Ukraine share the tradition of welcoming guests with bread and salt, which leads to a conversation on similarities between the countries.

Finding freedom

As the title suggests, the BOOM vol. 2 concept followed in the footsteps of a one-off joint performance called BOOM vol. 1, which took place this March, right after the arrival of the Ukrainian performers. The trials for the production, however, started before that, in February, with members of La Putyka's Young Blood group. The group comprises the youngest members of the circus company, the oldest Young Blood being 32.

The BOOM vol.2 show grasped the attention of the public at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The BOOM vol.2 show grasped the attention of the public at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Photo by Lukáš Bíba.

The spectacle had its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it went on to have 43 shows in 24 days, and received rave reviews from both the public and the press.

After a rollercoaster ride that includes a behind-the-scenes cooking moment; a dance to the iconic "Single ladies" from Beyoncé; and the charismatic clown Boris getting into mischief, the show ends on a high note. The last 10 minutes were entirely choregraphed by the young performers themselves, who embark on a talk about what freedom means to them. For some, it is human closeness, or being able to play basketball; for others, it is doing what they love most, which is being on stage in front of an audience.

The Czech premiere takes place tonight. For tickets and additional information, visit the official page. You can also support the students from the Kyiv Circus academy in Prague.

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