Leo: Dancing on the Ceiling
From the creators of Soap comes Leo, a spellbinding mix of stage design, video projection and live acrobatic performance. Peter Burdon spoke to the creator and performer, Tobias Wegner.
Tobias Wegner remembers, as a child, the delight he felt when he saw Fred Astaire dancing quite literally on the ceiling in the Hollywood classic Royal Wedding. “I was just so amazed at this wonderful sight,” he says, “and the memory has been with me as long as I can remember.” Wegner seemed destined for a performance career from a young age, so that’s a long time. “I went to circus school as a kid,” he explains, “and then I went to a high school for circus arts in Brussells, where I really got into acrobatics and especially trampolining. And what I really loved about it was reaching the highest point in every jump. I wanted it to last forever.”
It wasn’t all that long before he found out how that famous scene from Royal Wedding was made using a huge rotating steel cage. The mechanics were actually pretty simple. “I wondered if I’d be disappointed when I found that out,” he says with a laugh, “but in fact I wasn’t upset at all. I still admired it for the beautiful scene it is. It was showing me how he’d found a way to defy gravity, like I was doing in some way with the trampolining and acrobatics. It all seemed to fit nicely together.”
Wegner worked in circus for some time, but all along there was a niggle about that Fred Astaire scene. “Then in 2008 I was doing a little clown act with the company in Germany that went on to produce Leo. It was part of a burlesque and variety show that they put on in Berlin, and I was already trying to play with the movement using walls and the floor, and after a while they asked me if I could develop a little act out of it, so first I did a five or six minute piece, and it gradually grew to about fifteen minutes, then they eventually asked me if I thought a whole show could be developed. I knew straight away this was the chance to put some of my dreams into action.”
With the support of the production company Circle of Eleven, Wegner teamed with director Daniele Brière and video designer Heiko Kalmbach to develop Leo. Performed in a three metre box, the live performance sits to the right of the space, the projection to the left. “The performance is fed live to the screen, but it’s altered so that it can be projected sideways, or upside down, or on an angle,” he explains, “but you can see me moving in real life at the same time so you know there are no tricks involved. I know it sounds a bit disappointing, but it really grips the audience. They feel really involved with being at a performance that is so hand crafted. That’s part of Leo’s strength. You don’t hide anything. You lay it all out, show it to the audience, and they become very attached to poor Leo, who struggles a lot in the beginning, a bit like all of us, but he eventually discovers he can do things he didn’t know he could. So we see his talents emerge in a really poetic way.”
Leo has evolved over time. “We started with the live movement and the projection,” Tobias continues, “then we brought in our wonderful animator Ingo Panke who has injected some of his own talent into the show. So there are times when his animations are fed into the projection as well and combine with the movement. It’s wonderful to see.”
Leo has been such a success that since it began in 2009, it’s spread across the world. “We now have two companies on the road,” Tobias says, “but we travel incredibly light, really it’s just a couple of road cases, the camera gear and the computers. We’ve discovered in the past few years that it’s easier to build a box in each country than cart them around the world, so we’ve got one in New Zealand, and one in Africa, and two each in Europe and the USA. And hopefully there’ll be one when I go to Korea, which happens after the Fringe in Adelaide!”
One of the hallmarks of Soap, which we expect from Circle of Eleven, was its outstanding production values. “Leo is no different,” Tobias assures us, “It’s really well crafted and it’s a pleasure to watch as much as it is to perform. And in the Garden of Unearthly Delights I’m actually performing it in a tent for the first time, which I’m really excited about, because it did start with circus after all.”
Photo: Heiko Kalmbach
Leo runs for the entire Fringe, except Mondays. It’s also available in a group ticket for another of the big ticket items, Circolombia. Book at Fringetix or online.