‘Zic Zac’ is the brainchild of Romanian-Hungarian dancer and choreographer Andrea Gavriliu, who developed the show at college with her friends Stefan Lupu and Gabriel Costin. The show presents an intriguing face-off between a man and a woman, following them through the many different phases of a love-affair, and it opened to considerable acclaim in Romania’s press last year. ‘It is so original and so full of vitality…’ one review said, ‘born from pure artistic passion of the finest quality.’ Last Sunday, Gavriliu brought the show to London for a single performance (for our own review on this site, please see our Culture Section, or link at the bottom of this page).
All three dancers are highly different physically and seem so in temperament too: Gavriliu tiny, intense and razor-edged (at least in performance), Lupu, as her leading man, sensitive and introverted – everyone’s idea of a young poet – and Costin, as the disc-jockeying porcupine who surreally spins them from one mood to another, thickset, warm and, in his own words a rather ‘fluffy man’. The morning after their show, I made it along to the Romanian Cultural Institute, to interview the three of them there.
I start by asking them what brought them together. Gavriliu and Lupu, it turns out, have ‘known each other since we were six… We did middle school, high school and university together. Then our roads separated but we met again in Bucharest, and then we decided to work together on my project, on Zic Zac.’ Lupu then introduced Costin – the show’s Dj-ing porcupine – to Gavriliu and the dance-group was formed. This happened ‘exactly the day when I found out I got into the school in Bucharest, so I was ready to start my project,’ Gavriliu explains, ‘On that day I met him and said yes, he’s the one, so it was meant to be.’ Zic Zac was developed over time, with a great feeling of spaciousness, the freedom to experiment and discover: ‘We took our time. It was not that “Oh my God, we have three weeks to do it. It has to be brilliant.”‘
Gavriliu may seem, at times, the star of the show – it’s a showcase of her dancing skills, with countless different styles of dance – but at others it seems like a shared enterprise. I ask her how much of the work is her own input, and how much that of others. ‘To be more precise,’ she answers, ‘I would say that it was 70% my project and the way I wrote it, but the other got developed during our workshop together. The thing is, after I introduced the project to them, and we started working, we started enjoying it, ideas, new ideas beside the original ones started to come, especially after a day of work when we sat down, we had a beer, and talked about the stuff we did, there were these avalanches of new ideas coming. And we did all of them and then we realised it would be too long, that we would lose the story if we kept all the ideas… So we had to let them go.’
They had, Costin says, 2 hours of material, and as the show neared its performance they had to choose what to discard and what to keep, ‘the perfect little pieces.’ ‘We definitely had some moments when we were fighting,’ adds Lupu. ‘But fighting like friends fighting, about the situations, about the relationship, but it was something constructive. This fight comes from a really powerful friendship between us. Probably fighting is not the perfect word. It was creative. We try to choose all the times the best words, and the best situations.’ They’ve now performed it 31 times, and the show has got all of them jobs, and I wonder whether it carries on changing all the time. ‘Not too much,’ Gavriliu replies, ‘because it’s pretty mathematical. But we improve it with small details. People who’ve seen it a year ago, and now see it again, notice that it’s even more precise. It’s not even so tiring to perform, because we know very well what we have to do, so we have the necessary relaxation to play with what we have.’
One of the things that strikes you about the show is its strangeness – it feels fresh and new, even if the subject matter – the arc of a relationship – is well trodden. I wonder whether this originality cost them, whether it wasn’t something of a struggle. ‘The point was that in my opinion there are no bad ideas but only unfortunate solutions,’ says Gavriliu. ‘So the subject isn’t original, but I think way we solved it, and our way of treating these ideas and the messages we wanted to give are original and surprising. The story basically of the performance is very simple and if you try and verbalise it by telling what the play is about, it doesn’t sound original at all.’ ‘In a few words, a boy loves and girl and a DJ doesn’t let them,’ says Costin.
But Costin’s DJ is a porcupine – one of the show’s many notes of absurdism, and I ask him where this novel idea came from. Costin explains that it’s the double-nature of the porcupine – like a love-affair, perhaps, that puts it in the show. ‘I always was a big boy, a fluffy man, and because I’m like this, I also have these prickly points on me. The porcupine… It’s a need to be with someone, and you want to go to the cookie jar… and you want it more and more. And I think this is the part of the porcupine that is fluffy. And you want to touch it, but you can’t. And this is what I do with them. I don’t let them kiss each other. I put on music, and through music they feel something, and I play with them, somehow getting them in love.’
The porcupine isn’t the only strange note in this love-story: there are also points – absurdist in tone – about the slippage of language, the dead hand of old proverbs, the inanities we speak to keep the ball in the air, a desire to laugh and play with oft-repeated slogans, and I wonder if this is the legacy of post-communism – the gap between official utterance and what is actually happening on the ground. Gavriliu agrees: ‘We are young, so we only lived four years under communism. But we felt the transition. And still now after 25 years, you feel communism’s roots.’ There are pioneer-songs in the piece, kitsch communist-era ballads, and whether it’s intentional or not it seems to feed the main theme of men-women relationships, because of similar tensions in love affairs, the chasm between what is said and what is felt, between the kitsch ideal and the uglier reality.
As for that love affair, it seems to follow a predictable arc, as though lovers are inevitably following the most time-honoured and most unchangeable of scripts – ‘I find it’s always the same relationship,’ Gavriliu says with a wry laugh – from ‘the meeting, the sparring ritual, when we somehow turn into birds, peacocks, and we try to look different than we are.’ Then comes sexual fulfilment – ‘the point where everybody somehow wants to get’ – and the slow relaxation around each other, which may bring the fruits of intimacy but also other things – nose-picking, morning breath, and the simultaneous fears that someone will leave you or stay too long, that you are steadily finding them less attractive or becoming less attractive to them: ‘… there come the problems when you finally get to know, really know, the other person,’ Gavriliu goes on, ‘ and sometimes we tend… I shouldn’t speak in plural… I tend to get scared and not to like it any more, the way the other person really is, when you see the habits, and there’s this constant competition between the two – who’s smartest, who’s right… And then I think things get a bit worse afterwards, when you feel like you don’t want to lose, like you want to be alone again, but still you can’t face that the person near you also has fears, and you also have fears and it gets complicated….That was the point of us starting very glamorous in make-up and suit, and then gradually becoming human and miserable and lonely and scared. Very scared. Totally scared of life and everything.’
‘But the message is really positive, even if we are scared,’ Lupu insists. ‘We know about ourselves that we are sometimes scared and sometimes afraid of things, and sometimes we are not honest with our friends, but we have to work on our characters as human beings…. We all have these periods in our lives, when your brain is damaged, and your soul…. You have to think positive. You have to give love, to be generous, on the stage and off. We don’t have to judge.’
Gavriliu agrees, smiling. ‘We are saying these things, but the whole time we dance… So I like these absurd fusions in theatre, in general, when you say horrible things smiling and dancing and laughing about it.’
That perhaps is part of the show’s appeal – that at bottom it’s fun, that for all the sad truths it offers, it doesn’t take itself seriously or turn into any kind of gloomfest. What Gavriliu calls ‘the recipe’ of show-making has produced something simultaneously light and rich, and easy on the palate. Catch it if comes back to London: Zic Zac clearly have a future, and, as with the early phase of all relationships, it’s a ball to be in on the ground.
ZIC ZAC is part of the project ‘Tales Told in Romanian’, produced by Claudia Cirlig, which aims to promote Romanian culture in Britain.
For Kasia Wroblewska’s review of ZIC ZAC DANCE, please see: