Chinese pole artist and musician Mikael Bres is coming to the Adelaide Fringe Festival for the world debut of Limbo – The Return, 11 years after the first Limbo show was created. Did you know that he’s afraid of heights? We talk to him about both shows, his circus career and much more. Read our interview with him below.
Mikael Bres, you’re returning to the Adelaide Fringe with Limbo – The Return. Tell us about this show.
Well Limbo is a show that was created 11 years ago. In 2013 January we created it in Melbourne. Initially, we were going to do the Adelaide Fringe and play for five months in London. It was a huge success and we toured everywhere. I left for a while with other projects, but the show ran until 2019, until COVID blocked everything. I did most of the shows.
It’s a show that has turned the cabaret world on its head a little because we came up with the concept of a story, a central theme in a cabaret show, which isn’t necessarily what happens every time, because it’s more like a cabaret, more like number after number. And here it’s really based on limbo. In other words, when you get to purgatory, do you go to limbo, so do you go to hell or do you go to heaven? So that’s the atmosphere, not dark I’d say, but otherwise it’s pretty brooding and 30s.
I loved doing this show and I never got tired of it. So here we go for the 11 years with a slightly new cast, a few originals inside. Otherwise, some new acrobats are joining us.
Personally, I saw the show for the first time at the Sydney Festival, I think.
Yes, that must be it: 2015, at the Sydney Festival. And I also saw it at the Adelaide Fringe a year or two after that. I see the show has some different versions, so it was Limbo, I see there’s Limbo Unhinged.
That was created later in 2017. There have also been smaller versions of Limbo at smaller festivals, with a slightly smaller cast, but Limbo and Limbo Unhinged are nothing like each other.
In Limbo – The Return, I think there will be little bits of Limbo that will be put into the normal Limbo to have a slight compilation, but the highlights.
And for those who saw the first Limbo show, what are the differences between Limbo – The Return and Limbo the original?
And the first Limbo? Well, there are a few different artists. There are three different artists. Clara is a burlesque performer from Melbourne who sings, makes fire and so on.
So Heather who used to do the fire acts isn’t in it any more?
Heather couldn’t do it. So we’ve got Clara. Then there’s Ben Loader, an acrobat from London, who’s also a great aerialist. I worked with him on Blanc de Blanc.
I was wondering if you were also in Blanc de Blanc because it’s from the same company, Strut & Fret
Yes, and the last newcomer is David from Spain, who does slackline. So there are three new artists and then the originals. So me, Mick Stuart on drums, Sxip Charlie who created the music, Grant Arthur on sousaphone and Hilton who does tap dancing.
But I think people are going to come back to see Limbo – The Return. First of all, they’ll be emotional because it’s a show that left quite a mark on the Adelaide Fringe. And so, in order not to be too redundant, that’s why there’s this return which takes up a few things, a slight change but which will remain in the Limbo atmosphere that people know.
Yes, of course. And you do Chinese pole in the show?
That’s it, I’ve got the mast. Always the mast number. I’m going to beatbox, play guitar, sing and dance.
I was going to ask you a bit about the music. So you’ve incorporated music into your performance
Yes, that’s right, I help the band. I’m there for the group from time to time, when it’s needed.
That’s great. Since you’re French, how did you get started working with Strut et Fret, an Australian company?
So I worked for a year in Berlin in a cabaret called Le Caméléon. One evening, the artists from Strut & Fret did a show called Tom Tom Crew. It was a show that mixed break, urban, graffiti, music and DJing. They came to see the show at Le Caméléon. And that’s how I met Scott. He gave me his card and said “if one day we’re looking for someone like you, I’ll contact you“.
Two years later, Scott called me. He said, “Are you still doing pole? Would you be interested in being part of a new creation by the company? It’s called Limbo.” I said “I’d love to.” And I left, I put my feet down in Australia and I’ve never left since. I’ve always come back and it was quite a spectacular adventure because it was 10 years of my life and it continues to be.
It’s a show that’s been so well cast backstage and on stage too, so it’s been a really great, great experience with great people. And it also encouraged people who were still students to want to do cabaret and to want to do Limbo. And it was something that a lot of people said to me, “I’d love to do Limbo.” Well, now they do.
The show is so entertaining and you can sit really close.
There’s the central stage and the people are spread around it in a semi-circle. The people are an integral part of the show because they’re there.
So the Chinese pole is higher than the normal poles.
Yes, like a boat [mast]. Chinese pole is a discipline that was created in China. So there was the Chinese mast, me, there’s the swing pole, there’s the balancing pole, there’s the dance pole, but this one, the one I’m doing, that’s the six-metre Chinese mast.
So it’s much higher than the normal poles. So you’re not afraid of heights then!
I’m not afraid when I’m performing. But I am afraid of heights.
So why did you choose the Chinese pole?
Maybe because I’m stupid, I don’t know.
Or to confront your fear?
To face it, yes. But when I’m performing, I don’t have that apprehension. It’s more when I’m rehearsing that I’m afraid of the void. But otherwise, when I’m performing, because there’s light, there’s adrenalin. I always enjoy myself.
Fortunately it’s good! I hope you’re not scared on stage.
Just the normal stage fright, no.
Why did you choose the Chinese pole?
Because I thought it looked good. I’m a dancer too, so the floor and the verticality of a circus apparatus suited me, so I wasn’t always on a trapeze, on straps. I love being able to mix the floor and circus equipment, so I thought it was a great thing. And also because a lot of my friends in circus school were doing pole, so I guess I was also guided by them, they taught me and then I said ” right, I’ll do that”. But it was the best discipline I could have found, in fact.
And you studied circus in Belgium.
I studied circus in Brussels, yes, at the École Supérieure des Arts du Cirque.
And why did you decide to study the circus?
I started dancing when I was 14. My mother was a journalist, so I often went to see shows with her and I wanted to dance, I wanted to dance, I wanted to dance. So I started very early with hip hop. After that, I did contemporary dance and ballet and I wanted to go to the conservatoire or a national dance school. I also did a bit of circus after classes, and I have friends who used to say to me, “it’s great to go to a circus school because you’ve got dance, but you’ve also got acrobatic training, acrobatic stunts and circus experience“. So I said to myself, “I’m going to apply to a circus school so that I can have more material experience, so that I can open up a wider range of disciplines.“
Je faisais du cirque aussi un petit peu après les cours et j’ai des amis, ils me disaient « en fait, c’est chouette de faire une école du cirque parce que tu as la danse, mais si tu as une formation acrobatique, cascade acrobatique et les expériences de cirque. » Donc je me suis dit « alors je vais présenter à une école de cirque pour avoir plus de bagage matériel, pour pouvoir plus ouvrir un panel de disciplines. »
So when you were a teenager you wanted to be a dancer.
I wanted to dance. Yes, I wanted to dance. And then I did art in high school, I did design, art and literature. After that, I went into dance and the circus. It was as simple as that. I never asked myself the question. So that’s great.
So to talk a little about your music, you beatbox, you sing, you play guitar and saxophone. How long have you been doing this? And which one first?
The saxophone. I started very early. I started playing the saxophone when I was five until I was 18. And I was fed up with playing classical saxophone. Even if I took a little jazz course. But it was a classical conservatoire.
So I wanted something else, I wanted to create something else. And so, as soon as I started working for the first time at 18, I bought myself a guitar and I learnt on my own from then on. In 2003, there was no YouTube, there was nothing. So I learnt on my own. I got together with friends, took a few short courses and then I just went for it. I started composing little by little and then, well, I played, I learnt jazz, I took influences from all over the place and that’s how I create.
I beatboxed. I wrote a song for Limbo. In fact, I don’t know if we’re going to do that song. There’s a part where there’s a stripper taking her clothes off and they’re wearing white, so bam bam bam! And so, for that scene, I wrote a swing. So all of a sudden, I hope I’ll do that song. I hope it stays in the show.
It must be a dream for you to be able to do all the things you love: music and Chinese pole, acrobatics.
Yes, totally. Travelling and meeting people, doing festivals. Being able to do happy shows, sad shows. Seeing how each time it affects our performance and being able to give the best for the audience each time. It’s great to be able to do that, to be able to make a living from your passion.
I think that’s the most important thing. You don’t have time to be bored in life. You have to do the things you love.
Yes. And you’re on tour for how many months of the year?
So we do Adelaide for six weeks, then we go to Newcastle. And then, I think it’s a pretty safe bet, we’ll be doing two months at the Grand Electrique in Sydney.
So it’s a bit like what Blanc de Blanc used to do
So Blanc de Blanc stops. We’re taking its place and we’re residents for two months. In any case, after a few months we’ll have to see if we want to go back to Europe. But I’ll come back if I have to.
You’re doing a bit of a tour of the world’s summers.
Brilliant, that suits me very well.
There are a lot of circus shows now, more and more, I’d say. How is Limbo different from other circus shows?
Because, as you said earlier, the audience is very, very close to the stage and is a very, very integral part of the show. And it happens around them, in front of them, above them. And our characters are very distinct from each other. So I think it’s a show that you can come and see several times, not just once to focus on the artists independently.
So what’s different about our show? It’s really very interactive. And in fact, it’s very rare to be able to see an artist’s performance up close. I mean, when I’m sliding down six metres to the ground, the first person in the audience is just 1.50 metres away. So I think that adds a bit of a wow factor.
So it’s much more human. It’s a show that’s much more human with the audience, because we’re there. And why? Because we’re good. People want to come again because Scott manages to cast great artists.
I’m not just talking about me, but he manages to create an atmosphere that’s pretty crazy and he trusts us. So we put our heart and soul into the show. I think you can feel it – the audience can feel it and that’s why they have a special attraction for Limbo.
Why do you recommend that people come and see Limbo – The Return? For all the reasons you just mentioned?
Exactly. It’s a nostalgia for Limbo. First of all because we came, we did the Fringe really three times I think. With Limbo, we toured and did, I imagine, no fewer than 1500 shows over eight years. So we really toured a lot.
And because they had a great time and I think it’s a bit like Proust’s madeleine for most people who saw Limbo ten or so years ago at the Fringe and they think “damn, it’s back, we’re going to come and see it. How have the acrobats aged? Are they the same?”
I was 27, now I’m 38. So it’s a different kind of maturity on stage. And I think people will really appreciate it because it’s still just as crazy, even if you’re 10 years older.
So you’re older but you’re not wiser.
I’m older, not wiser, and still in great shape. Even fitter
How many of you are there?
There are eight of us. And we were nine before.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?
I don’t have anything else to say, just that it’s going to be great. I’m sure it’s going to be absolutely brilliant. I can’t wait for the new guys to experience it. I’m really looking forward to it!
We thank Mikael Bres for this interview and look forward to seeing Limbo – The Return at the Adelaide Fringe Festival next week.
KEY INFO FOR LIMBO – THE RETURN
WHAT: Limbo – The Return
WHERE & WHEN:
The Spiegeltent, Garden of Unearthly Delights
Every night except Mondays from 15 February to 17 March 2024
The Spiegeltent Newcastle
From Wednesday to Sunday from 3 April to 5 May 2024
Buy your tickets for Adelaide via this link
Buy your tickets for Newcastle via this link
Read also our review of the show Blanc de Blanc from the same company, in which Mikael appeared for a while.