ZWAI: Tempestuous love as circus performance

Fatma Khaled, Wednesday 29 Mar 2017

The Backstreet Festival opened with ZWAI on Tuesday but will continue with a variety of shows in Alexandria until 1 April

ZWAI performance by Jonas and Esther Slanzi (Photo: Fatma Khaled)

The Backstreet Festival opened on Tuesday with ZWAI, a stage performance by E1NZ (from Switzerland), at Cairo’s Darb Al Ahmar Arts School (DAAS).

ZWAI is a circus performance that takes the audience on a wild emotional journey, with Jonas Slanzi starting by hysterically organizing bottles while Esther Slanzi sits calmly on a table and hands him a ball to juggle.

In the course of the 40-minute show, the performers presented a display of acrobatics and juggled with a diabolo, while simultaneously acting out a thrilling love story.

As the show unfolds, Esther tries to annoy Jonas, who is paranoid and admires organization. She sits on his table and teases him by her behavior, while he is drawn to her dominance and bold attitude.

Both artists present their circus skills, with Jonas trying to push Esther away from the table, at which point they start juggling and dancing together.

Jonas is seen walking on bottles throughout the show, a skill he says he taught himself.

Jonas studied theatre and circus in England. Having been a circus artist for 18 years, he added acting to his performances at a later stage.

Esther has been a circus artist for 10 years and has been performing circus shows with Jonas for four years.

ZWAI show
ZWAI Swiss performance at Backstreet Festival in Cairo's DAAS (Photo: Fatma Khaled)

The music accompanying the show is a blend of piano and percussion that reflects each emotion portrayed.

“Music is important to this performance because it reflects the emotions we seek to deliver faster to the audience, where they hear first and then see,” says Jonas.

ZWAI creates a bond with its audience by mirroring society with the use of bottles and a table, which symbolize real objects present in people’s daily lives, according to E1NZ’s official website.

The show also highlights the personality of both protagonists: Jonas is obsessed with organization and Esther is a strong woman. They end up loving each other.

Esther says that the interaction between her and Jonas through the show helped depict the good and bad parts of love and relationships.

“I tried to play a strong woman who speaks her mind and is not afraid of doing something wrong because normally women performers tend to express their feminine and soft side through their body gestures in circus shows. Therefore, this was different, combining dominance with femininity," Esther told Ahram Online.

She says the silent-acting performance, complete with physical gestures, contains elements that are intended to deliver certain messages to the audience, part of an effort to create an actor-audience bond.

“We wanted to create a special bond with the audience through the theatrical part of the show by giving them things they use in their daily lives that they can associate to their personal emotions, such as sliding items on the table clumsily. This part expresses freedom and things you can’t do on certain occasions,” she added.

As an experienced circus performer, the issue of bonding is also at the forefront of Jonas' mind.

“Bonding with the public always depends on the choice of audience and performance. Circus art is able to address the public’s emotions, but it requires the artists themselves to play a major role in delivering messages,” Jonas told Ahram Online.

He adds that circus artists need to research the chosen topic performed, whether women's rights or environmental causes among others and point the performance in that direction using circus skills.

“Circus arts can also be political. Some circus artists tell stories while performing. One example is the refugee crisis in Europe that has become a popular theme now and is portrayed in several shows,” says Jonas.

ZWAI show
ZWAI Swiss performance at Backstreet Festival in Cairo's DAAS (Photo: Fatma Khaled)

Other circus/theater shows portray the cycle of life, illustrating the processes of birth and death, according to Jonas.

Despite the range of topics presented through the art form, Jonas says his goal is to deliver an easy-going show, rather than an intellectual one, drawing smiles on the faces of viewers.

Esther believes that the best way to promote circus arts within society is to put on more shows, since the art form attracts and fascinates audiences of all ages and social classes.

“Circus art is simpler than any other form of art, because it allows you to easily grasp what is happening, unlike theatre, which tends to target certain audiences with its content,” she adds.

Khawla Abu-Saada, the art director of DAAS, highlights the organisation's attempt to promote circus art and establish a visual learning process for their students.

“Egypt has long been known for the circus parades that used to fill the streets in the past. But over time, the circus shows moved to tents. ZWAI helped revive the concept of street circus," Abu-Saada tells Ahram Online.

She adds that the ZWAI performance provided a visual learning segment for DAAS students, who will later be encouraged to practice and train on what they witnessed.

“Students will be inspired by those performers and challenge themselves to create similar shows while being educated about modern circus, which includes details, theatre, and acting,” says Abu-Saada.

The multidisciplinary Backstreet Festival hosts its fourth edition this year, mostly in Alexandria, featuring contemporary circus, theatre, and music performances.

The brainchild of Amina Abo Douma, entry to the festival is free and involves 19 events from 28 March to 1 April.

ZWAI show
ZWAI Swiss performance at Backstreet Festival in Cairo's DAAS (Photo: Fatma Khaled)


For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts  and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture

Short link: