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Breaking up is hard to do for Undermän's trio of Swedish acrobats

Getting dumped inspires great art—that’s nothing new. But Circkus Cirkör’s Undermän is likely the first show documenting the particular heartbreak of the acrobatic base. A base—or undermän, in Swedish—lifts, propels, catches, and otherwise helps their partner (the "flyer") contort, balance, and, well, fly during hand-to-hand acrobatics. When Mattias Andersson (Cirque du Soleil), Peter Åberg (Swedish Theatre in Helsinki), and Matias Salmenaho (7 doigts de la main, Cirque Aital) all got dumped by their longtime flyers, they created Undermän, which premieres in North America at this year’s Montréal Complètement Cirque. Åberg talked to NIGHTLIFE.CA about how to turn breakups into circus.


Mattias Edwall

How did life turn into a show?
We broke up with our partners in both love and work. When you do hand-to-hand acrobatics, especially if your partner is also your lover, your life is revolving around this relationship. So when that goes, you’re left with nothing. The story’s about how to start fresh. A friend of ours, Olle Strandberg, the director, realized that we were all in the same situation and said we had to tell this story.

We had no budget so we went for two weeks to a circus school in Finland where we got to work in the space. We lived in a 10 square metre room, all four of us. Shut in there for two weeks, working all day physically and trying to create some material together, we didn’t know what the show was going to be and then at night sitting drinking beer and talking about life, we got very close, really fast.

The show kind of makes it feel like we’re getting to know you over beers, right?
It’s just like telling a friend. [Mattias Andersson, the main narrator] tells it almost exactly the same way as when he told us the first time. We have no characters. It’s us on stage and I think that’s why it’s easier to maybe relate to. We wanted to be ourselves because it’s our stories.

Is that why there’s no real set and you wear street clothes—you even wear your glasses, and not as a prop?
Actually, Matias was just wearing that kind of clothes the day we were talking about what to wear. We also thought we wanted to represent some kind of manly man, like a trucker who has jeans, a woodcutter’s shirt. That’s pretty stereotypically manly. We want to crush the stereotype.

Mats Bäcker

It’s a show by circus performers about the circus life, but it’s not just for the insiders?
I think everybody can relate to the story. We’ve played almost 100 shows and it seems so. It’s about being left and having to start over, and everybody’s been left. It’s kind of funny when middle-aged men usually come—which I never experienced before with another show—and sincerely thank you and want to give you a hug. It seems that people connect and then maybe they see it’s ok to show some feelings even if you’re a man!

What will people be in for other than the narrative?
We had to figure out what to do because we cannot do the same tricks as we used to because we had 45 to 50 kilo flyers and now we’re three 95 kilo guys, so it’s not that easy to lift each other. But we have a lot of acrobatics, there’s also cyr wheel, other things. We involve a lot of juggling and music.

Tell me about the music.
There’s also a musician in the show, Andreas Tengblad. He’s playing and then we all play. As long as we don’t do anything on stage, we basically play. All different instruments.

Mats Bäcker

What kind of music is it?
It’s a wide selection, from very soft minimalist music to full-on rock.

I can’t help wondering—what do your exes think?
My flyer saw it and that was okay because I don’t reveal too many details about our relationship (Åberg, the only one with a male partner, was also not romantically involved with his flyer) but I know that one of the other guys’ flyers came to see it and he didn’t know that she was there. That was kind of… sensitive, for both of them! But we don’t mention names and we still try to keep them anonymous.

July 9 to 14 (In English with French subtitles)
Le National | 220 Ste-Catherine E. |