‘L’homme de Boue’ Review: To Tame the Mud Man.

Cover Photo:
‘L’homme de Boue’ Press Release.

This review is a part of Reading Circus – Critique on the Border between Art and Academia workshop that took place during the New Circus Week (September 8-12th).

The story of Little Prince, the titular character of the famous french novella (orig. Le Petit Prince) written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is known to many: during his travels across the never-ending universe, the Prince visits six different planets, inhabited by six different adult men, each representing a particular critique of the human society.

While The Mud Man (orig. L’homme de Boue), a contemporary circus performance created by the French company Le Jardin des Délices, does not take direct inspiration from this renowned piece of literature, the world that is created in the circular stage that very much looks like a tiny planet of its own, feels reminiscent of the world, found in the pages of Saint-Exupéry’s book. The Juggler (Nathan Israël) that morphs into the titular Mud Man is the only performer in this intimate contemporary circus piece, the only inhabitant of this little round surface, covered with different states of clay. However, instead of representing a particular critique of specific human values, or a lack of them, The Mud Man captures the inner struggle of existence, universal to all, especially during times like these. 

This existential nature of The Mud Man turned the performance into a great opener of the New Circus Week, an international contemporary circus festival, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. An anniversary that can gladly be celebrated during these uncertain times, that led to many unfortunate cancellations of events alike across the globe.

The proceeding of this year’s festival, however, is marked with strange, but no longer surprising presence of masks and disinfectant fluids that forcefully became an essential accessory of every audience member in attendance. Le Jardin des Délices were the first ones to meet the masked audience in Vilnius and they did so in the Orthodox church inside the Lukiškės prison that was closed down last year. Usually performed in a pitch-black environment that only reinforces the magic of planet-like imagery of the circular stage, The Mud Man had to deal with the advantages and disadvantages that came together with this unique location. On one hand, the essence of the prison and the church within not only alluded to the portrayal of imprisonment, created by man’s own existence, various hardships of molding your own identity but also reinforced the mythicalness of the titular Mud Man. Nevertheless, the clearly visible contours of the chosen space and the rays of light coming through the wide windows suppressed the intimacy and the intensity of this contemporary circus spectacle. This became the vital flaw of the performance, a flaw that very likely could have been suppressed if the piece was shown at a later time, thus creating a more suitable space and, most importantly, atmosphere for the performance.

Photo by Dmitrijus Matvejevas.

While it is very hard to underestimate the raw talent of Nathan Israël, the primal creature he embodies on stage does not seem to be enough to create a proper connection between him and the audience. The first juggling club, tossed into the air, the first contact with the wet soil, penetrating Juggler’s naked skin, the first lump of clay, becoming a part of now Mud Man’s head – it captures the attention of the little Princes and Princesses who stumbled across this small planet and its mythical inhabitant, but this imagery is not enough for the masked audience to tame this muddy spectacle. In Saint-Exupéry’s novella, the fox teaches Prince that to tame is to turn someone from ordinary to extraordinary. It is a process that takes time and emotion, a process that can’t be seen, but rather felt. The Mud Man is a slow and mostly quite circus piece that demands not only attention from the audience, but sensibility as well; sensibility that can be evoked by the combination of imagery and atmosphere – one of which was mostly missing. After experiencing various heights and lows, The Mud Man gracefully performs his last juggling trick, as the narrator (Luna Rousseau) reads a French text by philosopher Claude-Louis Combet. The audience witnesses The Mud Man morph back to The Juggler, but this time most of these masked Princes and Princesses likely did not understand the triumphant change.

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