The word “circus” conjures a vivid scene: elephants and lions, clowns, tightrope walkers, bareback horse riders, popcorn, and cotton candy. It’s for exactly this reason that Daniele Finzi Pasca avoids the word.
“To me, the term ‘circus’ is a lot of the time inappropriate,” the Swiss theater director explained on the phone from Montreal, after apologizing for what he called “my not so good English.” Finzi Pasca is the creative force behind Nebbia (which means “fog” in Italian), the third in a trilogy of productions by Quebecois company Cirque loize. His previous show in the trilogy, Rain, wowed Santa Barbara audiences in 2005 and returned to town in 2007. “The story of the circus begins 200 years ago in England with athletes and horses,” Finzi Pasca continued. “But there was before the circus something that existed as early as the story of life, and that is acrobatics. To me, Rain and Nebbia are acrobatic theatrical shows.”
Raised by a family of photographers and painters, Finzi Pasca trained in gymnastics and circus acrobatics, but his artistic eye led him to begin writing and directing theater productions. In addition to having directed his own acrobatic theater company, Teatro Sunil, since 1983, Finzi Pasca tours the world to work with various groups. He created Corteo for Cirque du Soleil in 2003, and in 2006 he directed the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy.
With Cirque loize, though, Finzi Pasca has found the ideal collaborators. Co-Directors Jeannot Painchaud and Julie Hamelin discovered Finzi Pasca’s work eight years ago, and knew immediately they’d found an artist whose vision fit their goals for the company. Finzi Pasca knew it, too.
“The company members are willing to take risks,” he explained. “In my shows, all the images and ideas are supported by the humanity and power and generosity and talent of the actors. I feel like I give wings to the actors onstage. So I am very happy when I see them floating.”
Audience members who saw Rain will remember the show’s blend of poignant human exchanges, staggering feats of contortion, strength, and acrobatics, and artful light and stage design. In Nebbia, Finzi Pasca says he was once again influenced by his childhood memories, as well as by his desire to make the show universally appealing.
“These shows will go around the world, so I said from the beginning: What does everybody know?” he said. “You may perform for someone who has never seen the ocean or a mountain or the snow, but everybody knows the sky.”
In order to explain why he chose fog as his theme, Finzi Pasca told a story about his family. “My grandmother is now 103 years old, and in the last two or three years she is a little bit changed,” he said. “It’s like a strange fog has come in front of her eyes. Sometimes she recognizes us, sometimes we have the perception that she does not see anything, or that she transforms what she sees. So I have been influenced by this story of a woman who leaves this life slowly, slowly, like a big boat that sails away into the fog.”
It’s not exactly what you’d expect from Barnum & Bailey, and Finzi Pasca is the first to acknowledge that his vision is different. “My work is about the fragility of humanity,” he said. “I always try to bring on stage not perfection but instability. There are two kinds of heroes in the story of humanity-heroes who are strong and powerful, and the other kind of hero, like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton: the people who lose, but they fight. The real heroes are normal people who try and fail and try one more time, and continue to be heroes even when they lose.”
Cirque loize performs Nebbia at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Friday, April 17, and Saturday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, April 19, at 2:30 p.m. For tickets, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.