Crédit photo :Lionel Montagnier
From TheaterJones An interview with Philippe Normand-Jenny
Dallas — The day after their show opened at the Winspear Opera House, I had the opportunity to speak with a performer fromTraces, the avant-garde circus show running through June 23. I sat down with Philippe Normand-Jenny (who was my favorite from the opening night performance. His ease and humor put a smile on my face right from the start!), a hand-to-hand, teeterboard, and trampoline specialist. He displayed his masterful technique during a teeterboard piece that defies every single law of physics.
Born and raised in Montreal, Normand-Jenny trained at the Circus School of Québec, and went on to perform in Munich and Munster, Germany (GOP), with Cirque du Soleil, Les Grands Operas de Quebec, and more than 275 shows at Seabreeze amusement park Rochester, N.Y. Now, he is traveling the world with Traces.
TheaterJones: How did you first get involved in the circus?
Philippe Normand-Jenny: I was doing flips on the grass with friends when I was a teenage and my mom saw me and decided to put me in circus camp…I said ok, and I tried it, and I love it! And I just kept practicing. My friend had a trampoline in his backyard, and I just kept playing and playing…
But I went to school for biology and chemistry, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I preferred doing flips instead of counting molecules! So I went to circus school [Circus School of Québec] for four years and I studied teeterboard, trampoline and a lot of acrobatics. We also did dance and theater there.
Once you finished at the school, you went out and tried to get a job with a company or with your own act that you have created. I worked a little bit in Germany and in France with an act that I had with my partner, and then we both joined Traces. And that was three years ago.
After three years, you must have traveled all the world. Where have you been so far?
We been to Denmark, France, Belgium, Holland, and we stayed 13 months off-Broadway in New York. We’ve moved around a lot with Traces, that’s for sure!
What has been your favorite experience with the company so far?
We recently did America’s Got Talent, and I must say that was pretty impressive. We’ve done it two times as guest performers, and it was really stressful! Because, I think, more than 10 million people were watching that show, and when you’re doing acrobatic tricks, there is so much pressure. Because no matter how well you know the tricks and you have it in your body, you can miss it at any time. And in front of so many people…
But being able to perform in front of all those people and nail it. That’s such a good feeling! It was incredible!
And what about being on tour? Living on the road is tough, but have you been able to make it a home-away-from-home?
Oh yes! And my favorite time was when we stayed in New York. Just being a part of that theater scene there, it was amazing! Plus, the chance to share our work with the community…it was so much fun!
How do you all deal with accidents, or mistakes on stage?
Accidents and mistakes happen all the time, especially with circus work. It’s just something that you need to be able to deal with, particularly, injuries. If it’s a small injury, you just cut tricks in the show and cover so the audience doesn’t know or realize that anything is wrong. It could be your shoulder, or knee, or whatever, so you just cut tricks that would hurt you further.
If an accident happens during the show, we just try to get a group together and make it look like nothing happened, or that it was part of the show. We all team up together, because we’re always watching one another, we can quickly respond.
But accidents tend to not happen during a show; we are very lucky for that.
Yes. You are so well-trained and so present on stage. You’re absolutely there for each other 100 percent, so I can tell that you wouldn’t let anything happen to each other.
Personally, how does this performance differ from traditional circus shows? Those are generally over-the-top, crazy spectacles, but this is so human and real.
That’s really a strength of 7 Fingers, to put the artist out there on stage as themselves. I go out there as Phillipe. I do the skills that Phillipe can do. What I have learned in my life, I am doing right now. It makes it really human…
When you enroll with the company they try to learn everything they can about you. They try to make your person on stage the best you, you can be. They aren’t trying to make you someone you aren’t. That’s an amazing feat for a company. It really makes you feel comfortable and like yourself.
Did this help you open up as a performer?
For sure! We’ve done this show more than 700 times and I’ve learned piano for it, and we’re doing skateboards and so many other new and different things, but they [7 Fingers] present it all in a way that you want to learn it. So some days, you put your focus on the piano, or on the skateboard, or on new acrobatic tricks you want to do…And we’re not actors, but there is a lot of acting in the show. Luckily, there is a lot of repeated action, so we get to work on our comedic timing, or really just timing in general. It’s so important for the humor in the show, and for the tricks. Timing really is everything…
7 Fingers gives us a lot of liberty on stage. They want us to explore new things, and they want us to feel comfortable. So for an acrobat, to be able to dance, to play music, and then do some acting, it’s just incredible.