Grock’s Logic – the embodied know-how
One of the greatest and most iconic figures in modern clown history is Grock, the stage name for Charles Adrien Wettach, born in 1880 in Switzerland and one of the most acclaimed clowns of all time. Despite the limited amount of moving images of Grock’s practice (the most significant one being Carl Boeses’ film of 1932 Grock – La vie d’un grand artiste), there are references to the way the “King of Clowns” performed his act. Clown theorists such as Disher (1925), Rémy (1945), Towsen (1976), Diercksen (1999), and Davison (2013) have described Grock’s performances as an example of mastery of the craft. Grock was a multi-talented musician, an acrobat, a tightrope walker, a juggler and a contortionist – the knowledge of these skills was precisely practiced know-how or embodied knowing, meaning that it was Grock’s body that possessed them. Recalling Merleau-Ponty (2005) and H. Dreyfus (2014), embodiment is a matter of absorbing skilled coping into one’s body schema. This tacit embodied knowledge was at the base of Grock’s performance and the ‘logic’ that he applied to resolve problems in clown performance is entirely linked to this embodied knowledge. My claim is that misfit logic is the logic of doing by presenting an alternative way of being in the world through showing the what-else-for of the object, of one’s body – and perhaps one’s very ‘being in the world’. The body of the clown in action shows a transgressive and unpredictable way of performing a common mundane action, changing and challenging in this way the perspective of the audience. Grock is an iconic example of the kind of performative attitude that is induced by the clown’s logic. In one of his turns, Grock is sitting in front of a grand piano, getting ready to play a recital. But the clown realises that the piano stool is too far away from the piano. Rather than moving the stool closer to the piano, Grock decides to move the piano closer to the stool. Paul Bouissac (2015) suggests that the referential totality shown on stage (in this case the piano, the stool, the score, etc.) could be compared to a ‘syntactic whole’ where each element of the scene forms a ‘mutual dependence, like words in a sentence.’ And he adds:
Grock disarticulated, so to speak, the syntax that was at the basis of the spectators’ expectations. In so doing, he displayed a logic that reflected the odd, anarchical nature of his mind. Despite such a blatant pragmatic abnormality, we have to acknowledge the limits of the rationality of our expectations when we witness this kind of behaviour. It would be an error of appreciation to interpret Grock’s gag as a proof of stupidity. It was the displaying of naked logic… a kind of logic unbounded from pragmatic constraints. (Bouissac 2015: 62)
Bouissac suggests that the audience has an expectation based on the ‘syntactic order’, that is to say, a pattern of logical development of the performance that could be compared with language and discourse – where words and sentences make sense. In the quote above the referential totality is compared to the ‘syntactic whole’ we encounter in language; the clown pushes the limits of this sort of pragmatic rationality through his actions. I am suggesting that the referential context is based on the practice of everyday behaviour and way of coping with wordily situations. These pragmatic constraints would suggest that the stool should be moved closer to the piano and not the piano closer to the stool. The clown is being analysed in this dissertation as a pragmatic doer and yet at the same time the logic that is embedded in his actions should not be linked with pragmatic constraints. On the contrary, a misfit logic challenges the pragmatic constraints of everyday being- in-the-world, subverting them (and the standards of success associated with them) and proposing another way of understanding things that differs from the common sense of das Man.
I will push the argument further and suggest that Grock shows us a sort of logic that is not only revealed by his action but also wholly embodied – his is ‘a logic of the body’. This anecdote exemplifies the clown’s embodied logic, when put into practice:
Grock took a chair and sat on the back of it in order to play the violin. One day, as Grock records, the seat of the chair fell out: “And there I was in the middle of the chair, with both feet on the ground. The audience saw that this was not intentional [him falling in the hole left by the broken seat] and were all the more delighted, what was Grock going to do now? … All that I knew was that I wanted to be on the back of the chair to play the violin… the simplest thing would be to jump out. I collected myself, jumped, crossing my legs in the air, and landed on the back of the chair… No other artiste has ever done this. Many have tried, among them fully trained acrobats”. (Grock in Staveacre 1987: 87)
What is important in this example is that Grock, in order to resolve a complicated problem (how to get out of the broken chair) used the embodied logic – manifested through his embodied know-how – and suggested a simple (for him) solution. This example refers to the specific dimension of how clown cognition works, is demonstrated, or even disrupts and inverts the traditional priority afforded to mental acts by logicians. It is also related to Merleau-Ponty’s (2005) concept of bodily motor-intentionality and prereflexive action. The way Grock’s body behaves is determined and intentionally directed, though not necessarily mediated by reflection, meaning thought does not precede action. Both Keaton and Grock also ignored danger, so clown logic does not take into consideration the possible future of broken limbs, but deals with the immediate issue of needing to sit down. Normative logic implies a sequentially (and consequential) line of thought that the clown does not have, so the misfit logic breaks the ‘syntax’ of everyday practices. All bodily comportments – the things we do in our everyday lives – are grounded in the ‘logic’ of practices that constitute our being-in-the-world; but in the case of the clown – and Grock in particular – that ‘ground’ is transformed through the use of a misfit logic – and at the heart of that logic is the idea that practical solutions to problems encountered by the clown are always subject to a contrariwise response: so rather than an easy solution for a given situation, the clown will take the most complicated route and vice versa.
To understand the clown’s logic we have to think about the reverse of it. What would be the behaviour led by conventional logic if you were sitting on a broken chair? To jump out? To find another chair? To fix the chair? For an ordinary member of the audience ‘the simplest thing [to do] would be to jump out’ or to stand up, but Grock jumped in a summersault-like movement releasing his bottom from the hole of the broken seat and putting his body in an even more precarious situation, balancing on top of the back of the chair. His understanding of failure (failure of the chair or the possible failure of the act) results in acting contrariwise to normative practiced being-in-the-world. He executed with mastery a prereflexive action, or, in other words, he reached the clown maximum gestalt in a leap. He would not execute this risky movement if he did not have the skills for doing it. The first time Grock performed this action, as we have learnt through the anecdote above, was an act of improvisation. However, after doing it for the first time, the clown perfected his movements – through rehearsals and training, and repeated again and again the same risky movement. Grock might have been lucky or reckless when he did it for the first time. However, the fact that he was able to repeat this same action until the end of his career shows us that even a prereflexive action can be mastered. This is also an example of a gag that had its origin in an improvised reaction and became a ‘crystalized’ (in the sense that it was then later fixed and polished) – a fragment of narrative that could be used as part of Grock’s routines. I am arguing that misfit logic is manifested in this kind of clown bodily reaction to a given situation. Misfit logic has to do with a sort of understanding that is not rational: it is the understanding that clowns demonstrate in the way of responding prereflexively to the concrete situation. Once again, the clown maximum gestalt is highlighted here – and the paradoxical ambiguity of this gestalt – the (mis) understanding of the ‘clown’ character merges with the (mis) understanding of the clown performer and it is revealed in the body in action of the clown. The clown in question is the clown as he appears to the audience; it is the phenomenon of misfitness that comes to light.
O CANO (TUBE)
O Cano is a show for the whole family; adults, children, teenagers, grandparents and pets. It is a comic performance based on the traditional circus number of ‘musical eccentrics’.
The performance explores and exploits the relationship between music played on instruments invented and made especially for the show, and clowns, who can’t seem to do anything right except make music and, of course, make people laugh.
Our three heroes, the clowns of O Cano, live between the absurd and the unexpected as the performance unravels through magical metamorphosis and everything becomes something else and nothing is what it seemed; bits of drainpipe become an organ, pieces of broken tiles become a xylophone, a barrel plays a samba by itself and bits of set are turned into a trombone. The musical repertoire goes from jazz to Brazilian folk and classical pieces. All this at the same time as juggling, acrobatics, fire swinging and clowning. (see the full CV of Udigrudi’s trajectory here)
The production is so far the biggest hit of Circo Teatro Udi Grudi. It received the Aluízio Batata production grant 1998 and was nominated Best Children’s Performance 1999 by the Brasília press. In 2000 received the Herald’s Angel Award in Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Since 1998 it has been seen by 40.000 people in eleven states of Brazil and in nine different countries: Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Switzerland.
The clowns are Luciano Porto, Marcelo Beré and Márcio Vieira. Luciano and Marcelo are founders of Circo Teatro Udi Grudi and have spent the last twenty years making people laugh under the Big Top, in theatres, schools, bars and streets. Márcio is a musician who for the last twenty years has invented and made musical instruments made from alternative material such as tiles, bottles, drainpipes, keys, straws etc. His work is based not only in seeking original tones through the use of alternative materials, but also in achieving precise notes and high-quality sounds.
The director is the British Leo Sykes who worked as assistant director to Eugenio Barba of Odin Teatret in Denmark for five years, where she also made videos and directed Teatro Sfera di Om and wrote her PhD about Barba’s techniques of directing. She then made a short film in Britain funded by Southern Arts and moved to Brazil.
CIRCO TEATRO UDI GRUDI
In 1982 three groups united in Brasília to create a performance called Circo Udi Grudi. In 1983 this became the name of the new amalgamated group, which then produced the performance Gambira Goiaba and in 1986 realised a dream by buying its own big top and becoming a ‘proper’ circus. For the next three years they performed all over the state of Brasília with shows that were based in the research and relationship between the old and new circus. They performed all the traditional numbers such as juggling, acrobatics, contortionism, trapeze and clowning as well as creating a repertoire of comedies and farces. At the same time as these daily presentations in the circus they produced various cultural projects involving the local communities, street children and other artists.
In 1989 Udi Grudi invited Hugo Rodas to direct A Menina dos Olhos, which won a FIAT prize in 1989 and three prizes from the Theatre and Dance Producers Association in 1991; Best Children’s Performance, Best Set, and Best Sound Track. During it’s three years of life the performance was seen by more than 10,000 people and tickets were available on the black market, an ‘honour’ usually only reserved for football matches.
In 1992 Marcelo Beré and Luciano Porto received grants from the British Council to study theatre and circus in Britain, after which they travelled Europe with their street performances, entertaining the French, German, Dutch, Italians, Spanish and Norwegians.
In 1996 Circo Teatro Udi Grudi received the Aluízio Batata production grant to make String of Stories by Luciano Astiko, and Hex Gram, Tales of the Old Man and the World by Luciano Porto which received various press nominations
Leo Sykes was born in London in 1966. In 1989 she graduated from Warwick University in Italian and Theatre Studies. During her time at Warwick, she founded Salt Theatre Company, which won a Lord Rootes Award to take a performance to the Edinburgh Fringe 1989 and she spent a year in Italy as part of the street theatre group Utopia, founded by Living Theatre actors.
Before and after graduating she worked with the Magdalena Project (an international project for women working in theatre) and in 1991 became assistant director to Eugenio Barba director of Odin Teatret in Denmark. Here she was assistant on the performances Klubauterfolket, Theatrum Mundi 1994 and 1996 (a performance that always occurs during the yearly sessions of the International School of Theatre Anthropology – ISTA) and Kaosmos.
She also directed the children’s performance Ciota Matoc and Gulliver with the Italian theatre company Teatro Sfera di Om, was assistant artistic director of the Transit Festival 1992 and made various videos.
In 1996 she finished her PhD about Barba’s way of directing and moved to Brazil. In 1998 she made the short film A Tale of Two Heads, founded by Southern Arts and in 1999 she directed O Cano, Embarque Nessa, Lixaranga and Ovo with Circo Teatro Udi Grudi. She has also written, translated or been guest editor for The Magdalena News Letter, New Theatre Quarterly, Open Page and Women Travel.
Luciano Porto was born in Brasília in 1962. From 1979-1982 he acted in the performances Manú, A Menina que Sabia Ouvir, A Revolução dos Bichos, O Dia da Noite, Super-Zé, O Espaço Selvagem, João e Maria, Uma História de Verdades e Mentiras, Romeu e Julieta, Ao Sol e As Estrelas.
In 1982 he co-founded Circo Teatro Udi Grudi and has participated in all its activities and performances ever since.
He has also worked in film and television, in the cinema he acted in the short films A Explosão Aborígene and played the lead in the feature film O Cego que Gritava Luz. He also acted in the feature films A Enxada, O Tronco and.Condenado a Liberdade and took part in the Globo TV series Andando nas Nuvens.
In 1992 he received a grant from the British Council to study mime at The Desmond Jones School of Mime and Physical Theatre, circus skills at Fool Time and clowning at the École Philippe Gaulier.
In 1996 he created, produced and acted in Hex Gram, Histórias Velho e do Mundo which won a goverment production grant and was directed by the British actor/director Mark Hopkins. The performance received various nominations in 1997.
Márcio Vieira was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1959. He graduated in Electrical Engineering from the University of Brasília in 1985 and studied music in the Brasília School of Music from 1978-1980.
Based in his knowledge of engineering and music he began to research the construction of musical instruments from alternative materials. He founded the group Mão Suja that used his instruments and also joined the groups Liga Tripa and Musicas-á-Tentativa, the latter of which also used his instruments. The music played was erudite and experimental.
His acting career began with the performances Capital da Esperança, A Hora e a Vez do Jumento, and the first Udi Grudi performance in 1982.
In 1986 he became a professional instrument inventor and maker, selling his instruments internationally. He also began developing instruments for use in physiotherapy centres and hospitals for people with physical disabilities.
In 1984 he won a grant for research into techniques and materials for the creation of musical instruments, developing working techniques and carrying out theoretical research in the area of the physics of acoustics and musical theory.
In 1985 he held an exhibition of his instruments in the state cultural centre in Brasília. For some years he has been giving workshops on acoustics and on the construction of his instruments using alternative techniques and materials.
Marcelo Beré, or Marcelo de Almeida Libanio, was born in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1960. In 1976 he began his acting career in the performances O Rapto do Seu Riso and Fantasias da Marmota.
In 1982, he co-founded the dance group Trupe de Nephilabatas and also joined the group Músicas-à-Tentativa.
In 1983, together with Luciano Porto and Luciano Astiko he founded Udi Grudi Arte e Cultura and has participated in all their activities ever since. In 1984, Beré graduated in Fine Arts at the University of Brasilia and starts his career as a fine artist and mural painter.
In 1986, he became a theatre teacher giving workshops for professionals as well as teaching circus skills to street kids and mounting large scale street performances.
In 1991, he received a grant from the British Council to do an MA at London University in Theatre Studies. He wrote his dissertation about circus and education and won an education award in 1994 for the project Circus in the Classroom.
After finishing the course, he and Luciano Porto travelled Europe with their street performances.
Once back in Brazil, he took part of the production team of large-scale cultural productions such as Temporadas Populares (a month-long theatre/music festival with 10 performances a day) and the Brasília Festival of Brazilian Cinema. He also directed the theatre spaces of Espaço Cultural Renato Russo 508 Sul 1994-99 in Brasília.
From 1998 to 2011 he tours the world with Circo Teatro Udigrudi, acting as a clown, producer and tour-manager.
In 2012, Beré starts his PhD in clowning at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. He takes part of the Tete-a-tete Opera Festival in London, in Paul Barker’s piece called Two Clowns, presenting at the Riverside Studio and other venues. He writes and publishes academic peered-reviewed articles and performs at Collisions, Central’s festival for practice-based researchers. After becoming a doctor in 2016, Beré is invited to be the assistant director of the National Museum of Brasilia and the educational coordinator afterwards.
In September 2020, he starts his post-doctoral research as a visiting researcher at RCSSD/UL. The main focus of his research is the Poetics of the Clown, more specifically, eccentric music: People, Instruments and ways of doing.
REVIEWS OF O CANO
In Edinburgh, half a million go to the theatre
Amongst the 1.350 companies present this year, only one represented Brazil. It was the group from Brasília, Circo Teatro Udi Grudi with the performance ‘O Cano’. The group acheived top star rating from the critic Jan Fairley, from the newspaper The Scotsman.
Folha de São Paulo
28 August 2000
O Cano – Circo Teatro Udi Grudi
**** Four star review
On the hitlist
The final mystical scene sees drums catching drips, and flames creating music from wind chimes. Before you know it you are listening to the elemental rhythms of life.
24 August 2000
…they are the Udi Grudi boys from Brazil and are “barrie”. Luciano Porto, Marcelo Beré and Márcio Vieira’s musical clowning is a big hit with the bairns, believe us.
23 August 2000
Circo Teatro Udi Grudi
***** Five star review
Often there is one show on the Fringe that somehow or other restores one’s sense of wonder. For me, this year it is this magically inventive Brazilian circus involving three eccentric ‘naive’ clowns…If you have any children, take them at the weekend or let them take the morning off school.
Above all, take yourself along and wait to be rejuvenated.
22 August 2000
Tonic for those jaded adults
Awarded O Cano The Angel Award
By the time you’ve reluctantly wandered out of the magical, musical playground created by Circo Teatro Udi Grudi, you don’t just see the world in a different light – you hear it differently as well….The finale…is entrancing: mystical and merry – this show is a tonic for jaded adults, a treasure trove of fun ideas that children actually can try at home!
If there was an award for original and innovative use of plastic piping, this show would undoubtedly win it.
O Cano: The Best of the Year
O Cano distinguished itself in the cultural production of ’99 both for its’ research and work with new instruments…and for the originality of its’ staging…O Cano is a performance guided by the principles of invention and metamorphosis. It is circus that becomes theatre, that transforms into performance, that incorporates music…The performance is more than just a game, it is a delicious lesson in artistic sensibility…This performance proves that what is good enough for Brasília, is good enough for São Paulo, Paris, New York, Mars…For all these reasons O Cano has been chosen by Civilização as the best children’s performance of 1999.
Severino Francisco and Renata Caldas
Caderno Civilização, Jornal de Brasília,
Mixing Belts with Avocado Pears
This weekend no mum or dad can complain that there’s nothing interesting to do with the kids. Answering the demand of the ‘ladies and gentlemen of the respectable public’, Circo Teatro Udigrudi is back again for a very short season with the performance O Cano…. I am one of the numerous spectators who saw this performance and demanded its return. Furthermore, contaminated by the circus absurdism of the performance I am going to give a quick retrospective of ’99: note this, O Cano is one of the most important cultural events of the year in Brasilia. If you like humour, nonsense, juggling, clowning, invention, you cannot miss O Cano. It is a performance that mixes this all in one scene….
The three clowns of O Cano (Marcio Vieira, Luciano Porto and Marcelo Beré) extract music from straws, from juggling tricks, from xylophones made of tiles and drums made of barrels, from an orchestra of dripping water. All the instruments are made by Marcio Vieira…In the hands and mouths of the three clowns the objects enter into a state of permanent metamorphosis. The humour of O Cano is not that of telling jokes, but that of the surprise of invention….O Cano is a performance to cleanse your liver, light up your intelligence and spark your imagination.
Severino Francisco ( Editor of Cultural Section)
Jornal de Brasilia
Humour in the Pipes
Imagine three clowns, without the traditional clown costumes, but just as funny, looking in fact more like escaped cartoon characters. Now imagine the three in a chaotic set made of plastic drainpipes. Pipes which, together with pieces of wood and stretched string make original musical instruments. Now imagine the clowns in this dream set, jumping, shouting, singing and gesticulating in an almost wordless dialogue. Singing, doing pirouettes, balancing lit torches and literally making it rain. Can you imagine it? Neither could we before seeing this fantastic trio made up of Marcelo Beré, Márcio Vieira and Luciano Porto. O Cano, a small pearl that is currently taking the Brazilian stages by storm is the result of work that has been matured, like a good wine, by the Udi Grudi troupe, a constellation of clowns that came together 17 years ago. Directed by the British director Leo Sykes and in total harmony, the trio mixes music and clowning with gentleness and comedy. Special attention should be paid to the concert made with the alternative musical instruments created by the genius actor-engineer Márcio Vieira. Inspired by the traditional circus number ‘Musical Eccentrics’ O Cano is a performance for all ages. Go and see it, and don’t leave the kids behind, no matter how young. They’ll be guaranteed a unique performance, as they sing, jump and create each scene together with the actors. Today Udi Grudi is reaping the benefits of a lot of effort…good work, insistence and an excess of talent.
Tablado (Theatre Magazine)
14-26 August 1999
Joy in the Drainpipes
O Cano is a visual score in the form of a poem. While the actors play, sing and dance, they show us, without words, funny scenes, poetic pictures and surprise us constantly. What more can we want? Only to see it again and to recommend it to all our friends…and if the funding bodies are clever the whole of Brazil will soon discover something new emanating from the centre of the country.
Maria Lúcia Verdi (special correspondent)
Jornal de Brasilia
Theatre or Tent
- Stage: Proscenium or semi arena.
width: 10,60 m.
depth: 9,50 m.
height: 5,50 m.
- Floor: Flat and even
- Conditions of Space:
Adequate lighting rig (see plan)
Adequate sound equipment when in tent, large or noisy space
Obs: if the stage is smaller than specified above, contact us to check the possibility of adaptions.
- Usually we use no sound equipment at all. If the environment is too noisy or too big, we use 03 or 04 stage microphones : AKG C-547, AKG C-391B, AKG CK-91 or similar.
Duration of performance:
- 60 minutes
- Family show. Suitable for all ages.
Get in, Get out and Warm up:
Set – Time of get in:
- 3 ½ hours when first time(unpack and set).
- 50 minutes when “pre-set”.
Set – Time of get out:
- 2 ½ hours to completly disasemble and pack.
- 30 minutes to partial disasemble and leave stage.
- from 02 to 04 hours. (we have two versions of lighting design depending on the venue conditions)
- The actors must have exclusive use of the performance space for at least 2 hours before each performance.
- 03 actors
- 01 director
- 01 lighting/sound technician
- TOTAL: 05 people
- 550 Kilos
- 12 volumes