Co-director of La Fura dels Baus: "Dramatising our own death could be the next move for us"
Carlus Padrissa is the most active of the current artistic directors of the La Fura dels Baus, one of the most well-known Catalan theatre performing arts companies, internationally known for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Barcelona Olympics. Always looking to break the barrier between the audience and the artists, La Fura puts their focus on interaction mixed with traditional cultural elements of Catalan street celebrations. Pieces such as ‘Actions’, ‘Suz/O/Suz’ and ‘Tier Mon’ established them as innovative creators for both critics and spectators alike in the 1980s. Carlus Padrissa cannot escape from his vocation: the ambition of breaking conventions and renewing cultural contexts while redefining concepts. Now in his 50s, he is working more than ever without limitations. As long as he keeps creating, retirement isn’t part of his future plans.
Sabadell (CNA) -. Carlus Padrissa was one of the eight original members who established the ‘La Fura dels Baus’ Performance Company in 1979 one of the most well-known Catalan artistic organisations worldwide. Always looking to break the barrier between the audience and the artists, ‘La Fura’ puts their focus on interaction all mixed with traditional cultural elements of Catalan street celebrations reminiscent of the company’s origins. Pieces such as ‘Actions’, ‘Suz/O/Suz’ and ‘Tier Mon’ established them as innovative creators for both critics and spectators alike in the eighties. After 35 years working in the company as a director, Carlus Padrissa recognises he is always turning music and text into images in his mind. He can’t escape his vocation: the ambition of breaking conventions and renewing cultural contexts while redefining concepts still motivates him to go further. Now in his fifties, the theatrical director is working now more than ever without limitations.His dream is to perform ‘Cants de Sirena’ (Mermaid Songs) on board ‘The Naumon’, the company-owned ship, next summer. As long as he keeps creating, retirement isn’t part of his future plans.
What was the artistic driving force that inspired you to create La Fura dels Baus?
Our motivation was shyness. We wanted to defeat our shyness and become normal. Theatre was seen by us as personal therapy. Our artistic beginnings were working out on the streets. So we had creative inquisitiveness in a crucial historical period. Franco was now dead and this meant that a new era was about to begin.
They were dark and uncertain times. How did you cope with them?
We had a lot of issues to deal with; people were worried about the constant changes going on. Even an exhibition we had prepared in our home town of Moià was forbidden because visitors wrote offensive sexual statements about the mayor’s daughter and the authorities obliged us to clean the streets. This incident convinced us to leave our village and move to Barcelona. Thank God they chased us out. We had to figure out how to live on Les Rambles!
That must have been an experience…
Out there, we learned the disciplines of working on the street. We understood that the more multidisciplinary we were in our performances, the more money we got from the audience. It was precisely these techniques we had learnt from street work that we used three years later while creating the first shows.
In the beginnings of the company, before reaching the top, how did the audience receive your performances? How did they react?
La Fura dels Baus dealt with the street and children mainly. Children would run up, throw stones at us sometimes if they didn’t enjoy the show and, after a while, we became stronger and then we moved from the street to inhospitable locations such as abandoned factories or basements, places which people were not used to. To our surprise, people came to our performances and paid! Sometimes they were terrified, other times they even took part in the collective show, by moving, or just staying on stage with us as they did during folklore celebrations on the street like we did in La Patum of Berga.
Talking now about the construction process of La Fura dels Baus’ first shows, what do you remember about when you were looking for your artistic identity? What elements form part of the “furero” language that has become so popular worldwide?
All of them were performances created collectively, even the company name, La Fura dels Baus, was constructed in the community. It’s such a great state! We were in a creative meeting and we weren’t able to find a name, so a composed-name was the unique deal we reached. That kind of collective work process is still used in our current artistic projects. By not working with all the company founders exclusively as a norm, we enjoy making up new teams, but always creating as a whole, as a kind of brainstorming. Not accepting conservatism and not giving into convention in terms of perceptions. Initially, it wasn’t the common creative system but it is definitely today, like the brainstorming I mentioned before.
Let’s move forward now to the 1980s, when your 'Risky Industrial' look in performing became famous at national, and international level as well. How do you remember the experience of your first success? How did you live through it?
After five years of working on the streets with folklore music parades and shows for children, we began using multidisciplinary techniques around the idea of punk theatre and the industrial musical movement was already in ruins. Success appeared all of a sudden. La Fura dels Baus had been shown on TV in Barcelona and our performances suddenly filled up. We had 1,000 people wishing to see our work. We were just astonished. We had subverted the norms, applying what we had learnt from our generation in inhospitable spaces, which was such an important thing.
And at that point La Fura experimental performances gained fame abroad.
We worked all over Europe and visited South America, and that is where we also created a theatric tradition. There were artists who wanted to work with us, some wanting to be our disciples. Like the Fuerza Bruta company from Argentina which had worked in legendary show locations such as Las Vegas and Hollywood. It’s a theatrical style close to the traditional Catalan celebrations on the streets and also mixes physical theatre and performance elements.
What did success mean to you at this point?
Success for us is when rhythm and pulsations from the show are all shared by the audience, when words, screams, music, and dance become fused. It wasn’t just theatre, it was such an experience! People were shivering, even some of them fainted. Our performances were intense, for sure, and they still are. They were even more shocking at the beginning of La Fura dels Baus because there wasn’t any previous tradition of this kind of performance show.
So how would you define the artistic route followed by the company in general terms? Or in other words, what was La Fura’s artistic evolution in reaching today’s language and aesthetic conventions while performing?
La Fura is still working on its methods and the kind of theatre we have invented. We assumed new challenges when we were invited to participate in the Barcelona Olympic Games. I suppose it was our debut in macro performances work but we gambled, using bloodstained hanged people to remind the public of the recent war in the Balkans during the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
And by then you started working in the field of opera.
Yes, after the macro Olympic performance ‘Mar Mediterrani, mar Olympic’ [Mediterranean Sea, Olympic sea] in Barcelona 1992, we started working on operas and this became a main trunk activity inside the company. ‘La Fura’ acted in large opera theatres in Milan, Paris and Munich, and also at the Salzburg Festival, accepting challenges constantly. We evolved from these experiences.
Cinema was part of your activities, but it seems your participation in those kinds of projects was interrupted...
We have also worked in cinema with ‘Faust 5.0’, a film which obtained great results as a winner of the Best European Film in the Fantasporto Festival after succeeding at the Sitges International Film Festival. We couldn’t continue on with our cinema industry work because it meant carrying out a lot of effort on our part with very little money to be earned. We are absolutely theatrical, loving the immediacy of the live act. The moon or the direction of the wind determines each performance's result.
What identifies the company the most from the artistic point of view as a creator?
New challenges. New challenges identify me, I feel comfortable and motivated with challenges and invention.
If you had to think of one show you directed which best illustrates this point, what would it be?
'Accions' (Actions) is the show which best explains it for me. That show was the moment when we discovered who we were in terms of art. It was the first work we made and it was a great success for us!
Did you ever think that your audience wouldn’t understand your pieces?
We are always afraid of spectators not comprehending our work but that appeals to us; it’s exciting, and the main reason why we create. We like failing and defying failure, this always means the beginning of great things for us. We use the test-mistake method to judge how well our pieces work, similar to a traditional trial and error process. People recognise you for what you get right, and even for what you get wrong.
I’ve never heard about the test-mistake process before...Could you explain a little more about this slogan?
I’ll give you an example. Right now, La Fura is working on a show in which mobile telephones are involved as a crucial part of the interactive play called ‘M.U.R.S.’ [Walls in Catalan] in the Montjuïc district of Barcelona. Thinking about failing, we didn’t hesitate in trying it. And if we didn’t try it we wouldn’t know whether it would have worked or not. That show was chaotic, the headlines read ‘La Fura se derrumba’ [La Fura collapses] but the experience drove us to solve the technical problems and in Hong Kong it was such a success, impressing prestigious critics over there.
It does make sense. Your artistic codes could have been rejected in some countries...
Yes. There are countries where it has been complicated for us to keep on working such as the Arabian Gulf countries, of course. They were shocked by our performances in the Gulf and it seemed we were stirring up trouble. In Israel we had troubles with the Orthodox community. They threw stones at us because of their closed minds. The same situation took place in Morocco. Also in Poland and Russia we experienced “Iron Heel” tactics we call them. At times they boycotted us through religious demonstrations in front of our performance sites and stages. They would shout at us "Satan, Satan", but they were misinformed because our pieces don’t deal with religious issues, they deal with the human being. That’s not necessarily negative for us, as long as no one wants to shoot us..!
Where do you feel more comfortable while working?
We feel more comfortable in Barcelona than in other places for its climate, conditions, and audience. We come from the Phoenicians so that means we are a paratheatrical culture. We are proud of our traditions and folklore origins such as bull executions or ‘La Patum’ of Berga town, as well as ‘castellers’ [Catalan traditional human towers] and the Mediterranean Sea. Without parties in honor of Dionysius, La Fura dels Baus would never have been born. From my point of view risk is one more element of the show, art brings risk with it. Spectators experience feelings and their bodies are transformed through a catharsis.
It is difficult to imagine how La Fura dels Baus works on its multidisciplinary creations. How do you construct new performance pieces, for example when you receive an assignment, and what process do you follow from there on?
First of all, there’s always an idea so we work with the music to be used and with daring, and then we try to do what nobody else does in terms of rewriting issues. Right now I’m working on a stage version of ‘El Amor Brujo’ [‘The Bewitched Love’, Manuel de Falla’s musical creation]. We watched previous versions of the piece joined to flamenco, which are great, but we are going to work through other elements such as video support, and keep on working until reaching a satisfactory result; working with new ideas and letting yourself be caught by surprise, which is the key.
And suddenly the magic of creation appears on the scene?
We could never understand it, but we always find ways to make creative magic happen. We still work on things collectively but we have been opening the team up to new collaborators because working with the same artistic colleagues just wears away at you. Mutual learning while having a good time creating is the secret to La Fura’s success.
Although your company is famous worldwide, are you suffering from the economic crisis like so many others?
The economic crisis caused major transformations in the company of course. We are suffering from the crisis, and as a result we are trying to make sustainable proposals and covering all expenses with sponsors. It strengthens our imagination, and forces us to adapt ourselves to financial circumstances!
So what projects are currently in the works?
My aim is to keep working on the piece ‘Cants de Sirena’ (Mermaid Songs) and adapt the performance to be acted out on our ship called The Naumon. We are thinking of working on the ship and to keep it moving during the performance, from where everything will flow! The projected date is June 14th, and after that we will be working on ‘The Bewitched Love’ as I said before.
After 35 years of breaking conventions, what is La Fura’s next move? Do you really have unresolved issues? After your performance at Chechnyan President Ramzan Kadírov’s birthday celebration, or even your performances on board the Naumon, it’s hard to imagine how your future work will surprise audiences from now on...
Honestly, we don’t know what the next move for us is, maybe we’ll dramatise our own death. But let me say this: when an artistic company finishes nothing remains. Just a memory, a picture, a video...
So you don’t think the future of La Fura dels Baus is guaranteed after the founders retire?
There is no better time than being young that is for sure! Now we – the La Fura creators – are less ourselves than we used to be, we have been diluting ourselves through time as life does. But we believe in La Fura continuing on after our retirement, there are no reasons for us not to think about it. It will just turn into another project with another name, that of our descendants.