The world through a clown’s eyes
Mime Andrei Kislitsin on the future of pantomime and the versatility of a true actor 07/1/2014, 19:25
Andreo Kislitsin is a mime artist, clown and actor. At the age of 29, he’s already worked at the Cirque du Soleil, established his own theater — MiMO — and even danced the tango with a tractor. Sib.fm’s correspondent spoke to the artist about different types of audience, the future of mime and the «universality» of a real actor.
You graduated from the Novosibirsk Theatre Institute. What made you choose the mime genre?
I don’t really believe in words, and I’m really not interested in working in «dramatic theatre». I like visual things — clownery, pantomime. If you turn off the sound, then the picture itself starts talking. I perceive the world through my eyes and reproduce it for visual perception too.
Do you think that words lie?
Yes, of course.
Why did you go to the theatre institute?
Since childhood, I did all sorts of comedy shows, dancing, clubs and studios, then it all logically transitioned into the theatre institute. Really, wherever there’s a chance to act the fool — I’m there. I’m 29 years old, so I’ve had 27 years of practice on stage.
Mime is now seen as a «street» genre. Does it have a theatrical future?
It’s difficult to say. Really, everything that makes up the MiMO theatre is a palette. Mime is just the white paint. There’s also circus, visual and physical art. We mix a lot of things. I’m not familiar with classical mime as such, like Étienne Decroux or Marcel Marceau. I don’t even find classical mime that interesting. It appeals to me as one paint among an abundance of colours.
Won’t mime die?
No, mime definitely won’t die! All of it — mime, commedia dell’arte, a good clown show — will live forever. They’re international genres.
Working at Cirque du Soleil, I realised that people of all nations understand me. If someone puts on a dramatic play with a lot of words for the Russian mentality, I don’t know how it will work in Austria, for example
I find it easier. The visual genre is pure acting for me.
How did you get the idea to create the MiMO theatre?
It was a little spontaneous. I went out on the street in front of the Novosibirsk Puppet Theatre and danced the tango with a tractor. Then we got to like it and started doing little 40-minute performances every week. We didn’t accept any money, we were working «purely», as we say: no vulgarity, no politics, no religion. We focused more on fairy tales.
The MiMO theatre isn’t a theatre building, nor is it an internet theatre — it’s just my energy. The atom that excites people around me.
That means you never raise «serious» topics in your performances?
No, and why should I? There’s enough of that as it is. You go outside and get covered in litres of it. I don’t have a TV at home and advise everyone not to buy one. Anyway, all these «serious» topics are short-term, they’re constantly changing. Whereas things like courage, love, faith, and dreams are forever. I use them.
Étienne Decroux created the Mime Pur system — «pure» mime, where the actor should create images of the entire outside world on stage without using other art forms.
Is the MiMO Swag show a continuation of the theatre?
I watched a lot of Michel Courtemanche (Canadian actor and mime artist — Sib.fm comment) and young Jim Carrey. I took a liking to the genre and wanted to try something new in it — a mix of mime and stand-up. I don’t understand the stand-up that has developed here in Russia. But, in general, I really like the genre, so I decided to find my own niche, when a person talks about himself, but isn’t rude or audacious, and doesn’t try to take the audience back to their childhood with schoolboy humour.
Do you always feel comfortable on your own on stage?
When am I on my own? It’s very rare. Even now, in Novosibirsk, I’m not on my own — I have an object. I don’t know what’s more exciting for the audience: a well used object or a bad mannered actor. Cirque du Soleil is a huge company, while the MiMO theatre is always a minimum of three people.
What are the qualities you need to have in order to succeed in this genre?
Everything in the world. Starting from developing your taste, to balance, breathing and endurance. Musicians tune their instruments, we tune our bodies and perform with them. I don’t need to warm up my vocal chords, but I’ve got to get my body ready: stretch my joints, warm up the muscles. There are very few artists in my genre, because you need to do a lot of things: from the general concept of the performance to pulling staples out of the stage. And rightly so, in my understanding an actor should be universal. It was like that before — that’s how Commedia dell’Arte was born.
What is the difference between mime rehearsals and those of other genres?
They’re fundamentally different. They work from the inside out, we work from the outside in.
We don’t need to worry about the details, we always go big. I carefully think out all of my performances; I can’t act «just a little bit».
If someone is next to me and someone else is 100 metres away, they should both get the same enjoyment and understand the meaning. We go for long distance.
There’s a lot of psychological analysis in your performances...
Yeah, and symbolism too. We don’t spoonfeed our audience. Sometimes I can afford to work on an impulse. Let’s say I have a drum, and I want to run around in circles carrying it and a mop. If I see a symbol in that, I’ll do it without thinking. In the legitimate theatre, a lot of people would say «No» to that. You see, I look at all the crap people bring me, so you’ll never guess where I’ll go next. Visually, it might look strange, but I adjust it for my framework: no religion, no politics, no vulgarity, no shock stories.
In 1947, Marcel Marceau created famous character Bip the clown with a white face and striped jumper
Tell us about your experience at Cirque du Soleil. Is it hard to get in the door?
I’m lucky — whatever I try to do comes easily to me. We created the MiMO theatre in Novosibirsk and immediately got invited to join the Niagara circus for two years. We started to do something more serious, visited St. Petersburg and Moscow. There was a Cirque du Soleil casting in St. Petersburg. About 800 people came, four got through. Two of them got the job.
Cirque du Soleil... It’s pretty cool. Three years of a fairytale. It’s the best company, the best show in the world. I’m used to challenges. I like them, and there were a lot of them. I had to speak nothing but English for three years and do seven or eight performances a week, all while changing cities once a week. Getting into Cirque du Soleil isn’t that difficult — but then you’ve got to stay there. It doesn’t give you a chance to relax. But I enjoyed it.
What’s the atmosphere like among the artists?
It’s great! Another reason why I left drama is what goes on behind the scenes: the gossip and envy. Cirque du Soleil is easier. Everyone is a professional. I’ll never do a triple somersault, while another artist will never become a clown. That’s why there’s a certain atmosphere where there are no friends, but everyone really loves each other. We were getting through tours with awful schedules, but no one quarrels or gossips. Everyone speaks their own language and English. Besides, I was in the show Alegria, which is a double bonus. It’s the soul of a classic circus show. Everyone says that if you get into Alegria, you’re living the dream.
How does the Russian audience differ from foreign ones?
All audiences are different. Even the Russian one can be divided into Siberia, Moscow, Petersburg. I’ll give you a quick idea. Associations with Novosibirsk — openness, love, purity. That’s the best audience for me. Not because they haven’t seen certain things or that people aren’t spoiled. They just have a very open mentality; people don’t skimp on applause or the silence that I need. And then it’s just clichés.
Moscow is more like America. America is nothing but kids who «switch off» and stop watching if there isn’t constant farting, clapping and action. I don’t like working for them.
Canadians are almost the same. The French are snobs, they’re very difficult to work with. They find fault with everything: from the costume to your intonation. The Germans are similar, although they pay more attention to the light, sound and your physical training. Spaniards will deafen you with applause, but they never turn up on time; Cirque du Soleil always delays its performances there. Italians are the same. Small countries, like Austria, are closer to the French — it’s very difficult to get through to them. My favourite complex European audience is the British. If you’re funny — they’re laugh, if you’re romantic — they romanticise. They’re honest.
Does the profession have an impact on your life?
I don’t know. How would it? Do I get out of bed with a triple somersault? I’m a positive person, which other people find contagious. I like to joke and have fun, very rarely feel depressed. The only bit of sadness is when I don’t have any work. I turn into a bad person during a lull. The more work I have, the more positive I am. And when there are no performances, we train a lot. Squats, press-ups, sit-ups, shoulder exercises.
I’m not crazy. There are people who want to have a show in real life too. Our stages are full of them. I keep everything separate. I’m my own manager and you have to put in a lot of work to organise a show. There’s no time for showing off.
Alegria is one of the most popular circus shows in the world
Your shows are always very expressive and alive. Do you notice your audience during them, or do they all merge into one?
Of course, I see everything! Why else would I do it? I see the audience and feel them. Even from their breathing I can understand which genre will work. I already know what style I’m going to use in Novosibirsk. I definitely won’t do what they want. I’ll do my own thing and win them over.
Do you always «win people over», or is it sometimes the other way around?
There are some little nuances here... Even when I’m standing with my back to the audience, I see them all, because I’m a visual person. I’m used to working in a circle. When I’m working for the people in front of me, I should remember the ones at the back. They’ve paid just as much money and want a show too. I suppose I always see myself sort of in 3D.
We don’t go on stage to have a cry, get a load off our minds or assert ourselves. I have a precise message for the audience, and I expect a reply.
Do you have many incidents?
We have about a billion of these funny stories. In St. Petersburg a crazy woman got up on stage and started to smash up the scenery.
Вы тогда вышли из образа?
No, but I’m not sure which one of us was crazier — me in character or her in real life. Moreover, the performance was about crazy people among other things, that sort of «sensational» theme. I started dancing the tango with her, she tried to kick me in the groin, pulled me by the hair. I pushed her to the floor and tried smother her with kisses.
There were a lot of clashes with chavs. But here’s another thing: If you’re firmly in character, then you’re your own man. They can be interesting partners, and if they’re drunk — very interesting. The street is completely unpredictable. When I go on stage, I realise that there’s no «box» — the audience didn’t pay for a ticket, they just sit down and relax, then I need to carefully do an «operation on their soul». Outside, no one is obliged to watch you — they can just get up and leave.
How are you going to surprise your Novosibirsk audience, or is that a secret?
No, it’s not a secret. There’ll be no undressing or rolling around in paint this time. The MiMO Theatre and I are involving sound for the first time. Today I’ll be really dependent on the sound man, which has never been the case before. One hand gesture is one sound, turning my head is another. I’m going to portray a man who lifted a large boombox from the bottom of the sea. He goes to different cities and shows it to other people. Of course, today we’ll breathe fire and let off some firecrackers. It just turned out that I could only come on my own. So I’m going to perform with an object.
Today’s «headturner» will be a flying fish that I’ll end up gutting, and a load of balls will fly out of it.
Everything will be in black and gold.
And today I’m going to use circus equipment for the first time — I’ll do a real circus number, spinning in a Cyr wheel. It’s very much in the style of the MiMO theatre, that type of improvisational acrobatics.
What’s a Cyr wheel?
It’s a big hoop that you can spin in, standing up straight.
Oh, you just get in and spin...
Yeah, «just». I spent a good year on that.