I’m not certain how best to describe Petit Mal by Racehorse Company. I think my friend Ken does a better job in three words than I will ever be able to do in 3,000 words.
BEST. CIRCUS. EVER. Petit Mal, Race Horse Company #completementcirque
— Ken Monteith (@ken_monteith) July 15, 2012
Fortunately for me, his lacks a certain nuance, and does nothing to explain what or how they do, what they do. They being Rauli Kosonen, Kalle Lehto and Petri Tuominen, who I assume are all from Finland, as Racehorse Company is based there. But given my familiarity with Nordic names, for all I know they all could be from Greenland or someplace equally distant. But thankfully Nordic Names exists, and it is possible to verify that in fact their names are all Finnish. Ultimately though where they are from really doesn’t matter, from seeing what they do, for all I know they could have come from Jupiter or Timbuktoo or Rosemont and the performance would have still been utterly amazing and wonderful.
But enough hyperbole, what exactly happened that would cause me (and others) to foam at the mouth so much? In a nutshell, they bounced. You know those exercise balls?
Instead of using it to exercise, imagine it as a natural extension of your body. Kind of like une grosse bedaine, one of those magnificent beer bellies that is as wide as it is tall, or in other words a perfect sphere, and completely bounceable. Then use that bedaine to bounce all over the stage. After bouncing around for awhile imagine it more as a treadmill. ie when you go one way, it goes the other, but somehow everyone and everything stays in the same place. Then start to do back-flips and somersaults on it while bouncing. Then do more, higher and faster. Then wash rinse and repeat, often.
But Mr. Kosonen, Mr. Lehto and Mr. Tuominen don’t limit themselves to only using exercise balls. They also use old tires, pink feathers (lots and lots of pink feathers) a bunch of trampolines, a leaf blower and some other objects to great effect. It’s kind of like being back in grade two, and being given a bunch of crayons and paper by your teacher and told to make something. So you dutifully draw a picture that your mom still adores to this day. But then you turn to your left and you discover that your classmate has not only taken some of the crayons and used then to make an encaustic painting, but has also used the left over crayons to form some kind of artistically sculptural easel to support and properly display the painting. Or in short such a completely and thoroughly over the top and amazing exhibition of pure creativity that you kind of want to either become BFF or decide that it isn’t worth even trying to compete and decide right then and there to become a bookkeeper. Realizing that no matter how hard you try, your creative impulses will never even approach your classmate’s.
As an example, Mr. Kosonen, Mr. Lehto and Mr. Tuominen placed one old tire perpendicularly in a second tire that was lying sideways on the stage. They then put a 2 x 4 through the tire that was upright and turned it into a Korean Plank
I saw Petit Mal by Racehorse Company last week, over the weekend I thought long and hard about becoming a bookkeeper. Since I ultimately decided against it, maybe this means I get to be BFF with Mr. Kosonen, Mr. Lehto and Mr. Tuominen, I dunno, but whatever happens, I’ll let you know.
One of the ongoing themes throughout the performance is Bob Dylan’s song Highlands. It gets played at least three times, if not more. After looking up way too much information about it on Wikipedia and elsewhere on the internet, I’d love to be able to tell you that there were half-a-dozen connections, but after searching high and low for more than 90 minutes, the only thing I can make as a connection is the combination of Daniel Lanois’ guitar, Jim Dickinson’s organ and Mr. Dylan’s voice give a very swamp-like air to the proceedings. Which given the set design, is completely appropriate. While it works, and it works well, I’d hope that the fine folk who administrate at Racehorse Company are also familiar with the music of Ry Cooder, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Tony Joe White.
Another thing that they did that made the show so much better was how they handled the anticipatory bits. In every circus I’ve ever seen there are those parts which are more involved in the set up, getting things organized, making sure everything is safe, etc. Anticipation builds in the audience, and if the act is great then everyone is happy. But generally, more often than I would care to remember expectations are not met. Mr. Kosonen, Mr. Lehto and Mr. Tuominen were so “out there” that it for the most part became impossible to figure out what they were going to do next. There was no sense of “ok, here comes the trapeze.” It was more like “how are they going to incorporate that six foot inflatable shark into the show, and what the heck are they going to do with it?”
They’re means and method of thinking might be best shown when they brought out the leaf blower, ostensibly to create a cloud of pink feathers. But for whatever reasons (I think it had to do with a blown fuse) the blower wasn’t blowing, so without missing a beat, they pulled out a second leaf blower, and then when that one didn’t work (why I thought it was a blown fuse) they resorted to sweeping and kicking the feathers with their feet without missing a beat. Who else would not only come from Finland with two leaf blowers for a 2 minute segment, but then also have practiced what to do in case both leaf blowers failed?
Then before I forget, I should mention that they also manage to incorporate Scrooge McDuck
A Horse costume and some outfits that I couldn’t figure out if they were supposed to be like Prince or like Elvis.
But ultimately, how they dressed up really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they came out with an insane amount of creativity, that enabled them to do some awesome things with a minimum of props, all the while doing things that while on the surface appeared as if I could do them with my eyes closed, in fact were insanely hard and probably required decades of practice. In short, next time Racehorse Company shows up in your town, run, don’t walk to the box office and make sure that you don’t miss their show.