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Q&A: Artist Kalle Nio on Magic, Miscommunication and Dreams on Stage

Combining cinematic video projections with 19th century stage-magic techniques, Finnish magician/artist Kalle Nio creates mystery, unease and dark humour in the award-winning Lähtö (Departure), performed as part of the London International Mime Festival. Run Riot caught up with Kalle to ask him about playing tricks on his audiences and making room for the subconscious.

Eli Goldstone: Could you describe a little the ways you have been inspired by 19th Century magicians' stage illusions in your latest show, Lähtö?

Kalle Nio: I’ve always been very interested in the history of magic and what magic actually is. For Lähtö, many of the scenes had classical illusion as their starting point. For example I wanted to play with the classic Pepper’s Ghost illusion that was originally presented in The Royal Polytechnic Institute of London in 1862. But instead of doing the illusion as it was originally made, we took the secret mirror and made it a visible part of the scenery and an object which we can play with. So the starting point was in the classic magic illusion, but the result is quite far from the original trick. For me it’s not so important if the trick fools you or not. For me magic has many other interesting aspects as well than only the secret of the trick. I like to explore the definition of magic. If you know the secret, is it magic anymore and if not, what is it then? So quite often the starting point can be a trick but the result in the end may be something completely different.

Eli: What are the themes explored in the piece?

Kalle: The piece deals with human relationships. How it it is often difficult to know what you actually want. Would it be better to break up or stay together when nobody has done anything wrong. But it’s not a piece with direct storyline. It’s bits and pieces, past and present mixing together. I wanted to do a piece where the internal feelings of the characters are expressed mostly by the external elements. In the piece the set design and the clothes are as expressive element as the actors. We leave many things open and unclear, as it is often very unclear in the human relationships. We play with mirrors and perhaps the whole piece can be some kind of mirror for some people.

Eli: Do you think that working with soundscapes and illusions makes the experience much closer to dreaming?

Kalle: I want the audience to have impression that anything could happen. Perhaps that kind of feeling gives you the freedom to see the show like a dream. I like the logic of a dream where you feel there is a clear reason for everything, but you just can’t explain what it is. When creating things, it’s really important for me to trust the intuition. Very often the decisions made with feeling end up being the right and the logical ones. I think subconsciousness is a much bigger part of the brain than the consciousness, so trusting too much into consciousness may lead you to make conventional or boring decisions.

Eli: How does your work and training as a magician influence your other artistic practices?

Kalle: Magicians are always thinking two things at the same time. There’s always two realities happening simultaneusly in a magic show. What the audience sees, and what the magician is actually really doing. I think this influences my thinking a lot... There are always two scripts going on at the same time in my head. The visible and the secret. But also I really respect tricks. Often the word trick is being used in negative way, meaning something superficial, but I feel that in order to have something to feel as a trick you need genuine ideas and intelligence. If you can express something and have it to be a trick at the same time, for me it’s the best possible combination. Like Tennessee Williams put it: "I don't want realism, I want magic”. 

Eli: Does the fact that you don't use dialogue in your work mean that it is easier to perform internationally? Are their audiences that are more open to this kind of work than others?

Kalle: For sure it helps. Lähtö is an interesting show because it has been performed in theatres and in venues made for contemporary circus, contemporary dance, puppetry and even art museums. The piece is really a mixture between different forms of art. How the audience sees it really seems to depend on which context it’s been presented in. It’s curious how the audience's expectations can chance so much the way you see it. For me the best audience is the one that doesn’t expect anything. Doesn’t expect to see a magic show, or to see drama or plot or dance, but just comes with an open mind and ready to see something that may take some time to open.

WHS: LÄHTÖ from WHS on Vimeo.

Eli: Who is your greatest influence?

Kalle: For Lähtö, one of the influences was the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. Specially his "trilogy on modernity and its discontents”, meaning the films L'Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse and even Red Desert. For Antonioni the exterior, the scenery, the landscapes (and the colours in the case of Red Desert) are representing the emotions of the characters, and that was something I wanted to explore in our piece.

Eli: The work is being performed as part of the London International Mime Festival. What sort of innovations do you see being made by physical/visual theatre makers?

Kalle: When seeing text based theatre, I often feel I would have rather read it... I’m often not into theatre or films that are too much about the text. For me the strength and beauty of theatre and cinema comes from doing things that couldn’t be expressed in written form. So for me most of the really interesting and innovative things happening in theatre in general happen in the physical/visual theatre. I also find it interesting that visual arts and visual theatre are merging together in many cases. There is a lot of interesting things happening in installation and performance art and it’s really interesting when visual arts mix with the theatre world.


Kalle Nio/WHS

LÄHTÖ (Departure)

Platform Theatre

10th-13th January 2018