If the Kempentoren could speak

If the Kempentoren could speak
Compagnie Alud, Funnel Vision in the Kempentoren at Festival Circolo 2023 © Jostijn Ligtvoet

How can objects tell stories? Usually, when speaking about objects in circus, we refer to the structures that host the performances or to objects used as props. We often think about technical elements, such as the height of a space, the floor, the rigging possibilities or the load that a structure can hold. We also talk in material terms of "what things are made of" and "how to use them in the best or most creative way". However, what if the objects had a voice and gained agency themselves? I asked myself: "What would the Kempentoren, the 37-meter-tall, iron, spiral-shaped tower in the middle of Spoorpark, in Tilburg, say?" Opened in 2019, it is usually a sight-seeing attraction for the city but last year, during Festival Circolo, the tower became the venue hosting Funnel Vision, by the two acrobats Seraphim Richter and Daniel Fernández López of Company Alud.

Compagnie Alud, Funnel Vision in the Kempentoren at Festival Circolo 2023 © Jostijn Ligtvoet

The Tower (T): Okay, lovely people, could you now unhook all of these straps and harnesses? Could you remove all the carabiners, the ropes, the wires? Could you please take off these heavy lights and equipment, these sound systems and amplifiers, that make my top feel like a weighting pad?

(the team slowly disassembles everything)

Oh good, much better. But still, how much longer are we going to do this? I mean, you look like a nice bunch of people and you take care of me. You leave nothing behind, you don’t leave trash, you are a good company. But damn, this is heavy and every time you come, you stay for long. I don’t know how long, cause I don’t have the time, but you come when there’s light and you leave when there’s dark…

The Performers (P): Good job team, see you tomorrow. It's the big day.

T: Big day? What big day? Oh no, what now? Don't tell me it's going to get heavier. I have a weird feeling about this.

(pauses, thinks for a moment and comes again)

T: And I don’t know if I’m sure about this. You put your lives on the line and fasten yourselves tightly, but what are you really doing, tiny humans? It’s always the few of you, putting all of this up and then down, but how do you trust me, and how do you know I will not fail you? I know you can't hear me. That's why I tried to show you by tilting slightly at times! Just because you are fastening yourselves tight, it doesn't mean you can do anything you wish okay? You can't just come here and dance in mid-air, so far high up, okay? 

I wish I could stop you. I've seen terrible things in the past. People who come up, not minding their steps, and being distracted by the view. You know, it doesn't take much. Just a misstep and boom! You're gone, trying to hold on for dear life. Scared, little, tiny humans.

T: Do you not want to just climb carefully, see the view, and then let me be, just like all the others? Or do you think you're more special because you can dance and flip and turn?

Compagnie Alud, Funnel Vision in the Kempentoren at Festival Circolo 2023 © Jona Hernischmacher

(the day of the show comes)

T: Ah, here they come again. Welcome back, friends. What have you got for me this time? More of the same I presume? It’s okay, just be careful. I can hold you, but all of this is your responsibility, okay?

(one of the performers speaking to the rest of the team)

P: Hey guys, the forecast said there's going to be rain showers and wind today, unfortunately. But it will all be fine, we've prepared for it. I'll just take smaller steps when I'm walking blindfold on the edge of the staircase. Remember you're safe, no matter what. And take care of the audience, they'll be cold and wet too. This tower is our house and they're coming in, make them warm.

(to himself)

P: I love how our little Company Alud has grown. Now we get to perform in the Kempentoren, our home for the last months and finally, we can bring people in. It’s just so cold and rainy and I would rather stay home. How are we ever going to get warm? How is the audience not going to freeze and catch a cold? Is the tower going to move or not? I have to pay extra attention to the audience to be sure they are doing well. I need to remember that. And my sticky shoes. Tomorrow is the day, it will go just as we wanted it to.

T: Well, thanks for calling me your home, but I wish you had told me in advance what was going to happen. Oh, how foolish and unaware you are! You are bringing a whole audience here, to see you dance in mid-air, and risk so many lives. Just, great! By the way, thanks for telling me the forecast...I could never know. It doesn't change anything for me. You could make me tilt and move, and someone could fall. So, better take care of your 'home'. That's a warning.

(some time later)

T: Welcome, visitors. You are just as foolish as these folks here. Do you guys think it is worth risking your lives climbing on me, only to see them do their back flips? I hope you are well dressed. Please, mind your damn steps.

(the performers to the audience)

P: Welcome everyone. Before we begin, there are some small instructions. When the performance starts, you can follow us. Each audience member can move freely and change their point of view, up or down the tower. Be very careful of the people next to you and mind your steps. Please do not stand too close to the edges and avoid the areas marked in red, at some point. Enjoy! 

T: Good, yes, tell them to be careful. It’s not as if the odds are stacked against them or anything. And what about me? Did you even think what responsibility I am taking, by hosting all of these people up here? Of course not. I’ll have to bear this weight on my own. All I have to do is stay. That’s my job here. Their job is to be careful. 

Compagnie Alud, Funnel Vision in the Kempentoren at Festival Circolo 2023 © Jostijn Ligtvoet

(during the show)

T: There are so many ways you can fall. You might miss a step, get too close to the edge. A step could break under the pressure. You might get dizzy from constantly looking up and down. You might get confused among other visitors.

Some are more responsible and rational. They stay close to the ground. So they know that if something happens, they are closer to safety. I like those people. I don’t feel bad for them not being able to follow what these crazy folks are doing up here.

Some are staying more in the middle. They have found a place they like and try to stay there. Good for them, they don’t take too many risks. They don’t annoy the others around them, they don’t stand in someone’s way, and they don’t want to do any sudden movements.

However, some are much more active and this could leave me shaking. I am not sure if I would shake because of the weather today, or because of them moving all the time. Come on people! Why do you need to act like this? Don’t you see these clowns will keep moving and hanging in the air, no matter which angle you see them from? What is the point in running up the stairs, or constantly changing your points of view? I can see you’re cold by the way you hold on to your jackets and scarves. You keep on moving and going up the stairs, higher and higher. Do you realise, you vulnerable tiny humans, that if you fall from here, the fall could be disastrous? Nobody could save you, and neither could I. 

(someone almost slipped)

T: See, I told you. Don’t make foolish moves, please. It stresses me out, I think. Isn’t that what these people say, anyway? I’m not stressed, you are, because now you have realised the danger you’re putting yourselves in.

(the performer is wearing a blindfold, walking on the edge of the staircase - he speaks to himself)

P: Okay, slow down now. Oh, it’s extra slippery today. I hope this tower can hear me and I can ask it to stop moving.

(the tower to itself)

T: Oh, and here comes the moment of the blindfold. So, you are not satisfied by watching these people catching a cold to see you, you want to take this risk on this wet day. I apologise for moving, the wind and all these people are hard to manage. And to be fair, I wasn’t prepared, okay? Just hold on and you’ll be fine. What are you thinking?

P: Steady, and I’ve made it. Thanks, tower, although you weren't much help.

(the performance is over)

Compagnie Alud, Funnel Vision in the Kempentoren at Festival Circolo 2023 © Jona Hernischmacher

T: Yes! They made it! It’s over. Oof, what a relief, right? It’s good that none of you got hurt. I hope you enjoyed it. Now, can someone tell me, how many times this will happen? How many times do I have to pay attention to so many people, at the same time? I mean, it doesn’t change anything for me.

Me, I’m fine. All I have to do is stay, there is no alternative. I will stay here, the rain will dry, the wind will stop, and I’ll leave through the seasons, for as long as the people who built me, want me to stay. I won't tilt or move in the slightest margin because that’s what I do. It’s nice to think about what I would do if I could, though…

(after the performance, to the rest of the team)

P: Good job everyone! I’m happy it all went great, we pushed through, and we did it! I had to be extra careful with those steps, but it’s all fine. What a crazy idea to make this performance up there, right? The tower kept moving all the time, I didn’t expect that! We might have to be more careful when choosing our next location.

This essay (Dutch translation) is written in the context of Circus of Critics, a six-day writing workshop in which, under the inspired guidance of a critic, a literary writer and an editor, the participants investigated, together as a group, "how we can write about contemporary circus".

The course series is an initiative of Domain voor Kunstkritiek in collaboration with and made financially possible by Circuspunt, Festival Circolo, This is not a circus/TENT and Circusstad.

To know more, read
A look back at Circus of Critics (in Dutch), an article by project leader and writer Saskia de Haas. The main essays (in Dutch) will be published on Circusweb in the (early) spring of 2024.