Paper Passion

Manolo Alcántara is one of the directors of Folds, the award-winning, paper-inspired play, combining circus-skills with live music, that visits the Southbank Centre from the 17th of December. Miriam Muñoyerro meets Spain's circus maverick.
Miriam Muñoyerro

Circus, live music, crazy contraptions and, wait for it… paper, constitute the witty and heart-warming show that is Folds, a production by Spanish theatre company Enfila’t.

Paper is the inspiration behind the hugely successful production since 2010, from acrobatics in a cardboard box to tight-rope walking on a line made of twisted brown paper; it even serves as a tasty snack when the cast get hungry. The four Cataluña-based performers from France, Denmark, Spain and Argentina dance, spin, fold and unfold themselves through this world of paper, and also perform daring tricks on a precarious rocking-frame apparatus.

Between them they play a range of instruments, including keyboard, double bass, accordion and trombone, as well as making music with more unconventional sources including scissors, sellotape and, of course, paper.

It’s director, Manolo Alcántara describes himself as a self-taught actor, attracted to the art of the circus. He began as a performer in street theatre and gradually worked his way into some of the best companies in Spain. Folds is the first project that he created and directed, but stresses it was the “amazing people “ around him whose contributions made the project the success it is.

Latino Life: Would you mind talking to us a little bit about the project, please?

Manolo Alcántara: No, not at all. Folds is a collaborative creation. We are four performers, four different nationalities. Even though each of us talks in our own language, we understand each other and this cultural diversity helps to enrich the play. The four pillars of the play are music, circus, movement and humour. We’ve had to overcome many logistical difficulties, to see this project reach its potential, as we have all had work in different places and we’ve had to put other agendas aside, but the process itself has made this the success it is , as its been driven by our our combined passion for it. Luckily all the efforts that we put in have been worth while.

LL: In which of the roles you play within the project you feel more comfortable: director, performer, creator…?

MA.: Well, each and every role is different and special. One of the most appealing things for an artist is being able to create your own show, to do new things and innovate. I’ve tried to develop a more personal approach to circus, less traditional. Purists have labelled me as abstract… but the important thing for me is to get people excited about what they are seeing and lead people to find inspiration around them, in everything, even the mundane. It’s a challenge trying to do something different: you don’t have any reference when creating something new, so in a way, you risk a lot.

LL.: One of your creations is an artefact called “cablípside” that you use in this show…

MA.: Yes, it is my own invention. It is made up of two ellipses that are connected with a cable on which we talk along. Also, it could roll on itself. We call her “Paquita” because, as we are all males on stage, we felt that we needed a female presence. It is quite interesting to be able to use new artefacts, it helps you to reinvent yourself.

LL.: You discovered the art of circus when you were on your twenties. How do you remember this discovery?

MA.: It was hard learning things later. You need to learn in ten years what others have learnt in three. However, the experience has taught me that I am still in love with what I do after more than twenty years on stage. I am still doing it because I really love it. Circus is pain, injuries, preparations, recovery from the shows, etc. it is hard… and I am 43, so I also have a physical handicap. I need to look after myself, but I don’t obsess myself over this reality, I also enjoy life.

LL: You’ve taken this show to a lot of countries besides Spain, how would you describe the audiences’ reaction to the show in other parts of the world?

MA.: I think it is a play for all audiences, children and adults, it is suitable for a wide range of people. A very different country where we have performed, culturally speaking, was Korea. The audience there reacted really nicely to the show; they have a very subtle humour.

LL: Also, I suppose the music plays a very significant role to make people involved with the play…

M.A: Yes, having live music on stage is very powerful. Other projects that I am preparing try to incorporate live music as well.

LL: The scenography is very special, it is made entirely of paper. Do you find it hard working with this changing and disposable element?

MA: Well, we try to reuse all we can, we have a big sheet of paper that we use as background. We reuse any waste and we make use of it in the next show. We create big balls with this waste that we use as props. Some time ago we took the paper scraps from the scenery to wrap our Christmas presents and Xavi (Erra) made a diary out of the paper we used during the show. Some people associate the set with Origami. But the main thing we wanted to emphasize in having paper as a foundation, is the ability to make a consistent, solid base from something fragile.

LL: The recession in Spain is affecting the Arts in general and the theatre in particular. Do you think the circus is being affected by this situation?

MA: Yes. However, nowadays, in Spain there are many more circus performers than twenty years ago. The street theatre is a very good platform for these performers. Circus “in tent” was in decline, although in France it has been promoted through funding for a few years now. Nobody thinks the art of theatre is going to disappear, even though the situation now is not the best, it will survive this recession as it has survived many things because it is able to create and recreate and this is what make theatre inherently strong.

LL: Could you tell me a bit more about your future projects?

MA: Circus is a very physical art, so I think I need to start taking it easy from now on, but I would like to make the most of the energy left in me on the stage, not behind it.
To finish, he said that in order to produce a show every little detail is important. This statement says very much about the philosophy of this artist and the collaborative project they are presenting in London on December. When a production is full of passion, such a feeling is transmitted to the audience and when that happens, it leaves no one feeling indifferent.

Folds will be showing at the Southbank’s Purcell Room from December 7th

Idea: Manolo Alcántara and Xavier Erra
Directed by: Manolo Alcántara, Enric Ases and Karl Stets
Performers: Manolo Alcántara, Xavi Eliçagaray, Claudio Inferno and Karls Stets
Scenography: Xavier Erra