Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP
FRANCE - 17 June 2017: To enter the world of Cirque Plume is to fall into a magical wonderland of fairies and otherworldly creatures -- a musical universe where artists flit around the stage, sometimes in slow motion.
Poetry, the idea of a "poem in action", is the signature of this French circus company based in the eastern city of Besancon, near the Swiss border.
And after more than 2,500 shows in France, Europe and across the world, including in New York and Sao Paulo, the dream is ending.
Cirque Plume has just embarked on its farewell tour with "The Last Season", a "show that moves through seasons the way we move through ages" and confronts the reality of climate change along the way.
It was created in 1984 by the two brothers, Bernard and Pierre Kudlak, and seven of their friends.
"A Cirque Plume show is made by the living for the living," Bernard Kudlak says on the company website.
"It's joyful, colourful, profound, poetic, messy, rough and ready, and precise. It's like life."
In the "Last Season", under decorated skies that depict autumn, winter, spring or summer, performers act out every day life or get down on all fours to transform into animals.
They dance, sing, scream, play instruments and twist their bodies into acrobatic feats on a stage resembling an enchanted, mythical forest.
"I wanted this show to be a poem with lights, with shadows of tree branches and snows of feathers," Bernard Kudlak, who serves as the company's director, said. "A poem to share, one last time".
Once "The Last Season" winds through the traditional seasons, the show hints of a fifth, "threatened to be the last", on a planet crippled by pollution and its reliance on plastic, Kudlak said.
Bernard and Pierre Kudlak will be in their mid-60s by the time the curtain finally falls on their show for the last time.
They'll pack up their materials and manuscripts, dismantle the bright yellow Cirque Plume tents and send company notes and archives to France's National Library.
But for a successful tour company that started as just a gangly group of poor street performers more than 30 years ago, the ride has been more than worth it.
"We were all plebes from outside the traditional circus world which gave us total freedom," Pierre Kudlak, a clown and musician, said.
"We weren't held to any standard. We could create our circus in our image".
The group's "image" turned out to revolutionise what circus was at the time and what it could potentially be -- expanding the medium into more than just a series of beautiful and daring high-wire acts.
Where traditional circus dictated that the entertainment be placed in the centre of a venue, on a circular stage with the audience around it, the group opted for the half moon shape of a theatre with a facing audience.
Every single production of Cirque Plume also employed an entirely new cast -- unlike other established companies with a permanent cast of performers.
And they've played to audiences worldwide totalling more than two million people.
The last three shows, "Plic Ploc" in 2004, "The Artist's Studio" in 2009 and "Tempus Fugit" in 2013 were seen by more than 300,000 people -- nearly 400,000 for "Plic Ploc".
But the Kudlak brothers insist the "Last Season" will be their final production.
The show started in France and will tour worldwide, ending its run in 2020 when the circus act folds.
The brothers described the three-decade run of Cirque Plume as the "adventure of a huge vessel set to dock" after "having lived an extraordinary human and artistic adventure".