He did gymnastics for the Dutch Junior Team. Travelled the world with Cirque du Soleil. Played with Danceworks Rotterdam, The 7 Fingers, Ulrike Quade Company. Teaches, coaches. And has been part of Panama Pictures’ stable core since 2018. Tarek Rammo, acrobat on a journey of discovery. “I don’t get ahead on cruise control.”

Art and culture? Tarek Rammo (33) had little to do with it as a child. Gymnastics is his passion, it takes up all his time and energy. It even got him into the Dutch Junior team. “I had very serious plans, wanted to reach the top as a gymnast”. Until, around his seventeenth birthday, the competitive spirit begins to wane and he sees Cirque du Soleil on television. “That was a discovery: gymnasts who dealt with the sport in a totally different way. No competition, not beating each other, but taking on new, interesting physical challenges together. I thought that was cool.” So cool that he auditioned at Cirque du Soleil – in vain. “They thought I was too young and lacked theatrics. And they were right, I’d never seen a dance or theatre show before, only gymnastics. Go and develop yourself first, they said.”

Circus or gymnastics?

Tarek sought that development at Codarts, the circus training college in Rotterdam which had just started. “I entered it a little na├»ve. I was the only one there with a background in top sport. Cirque du Soleil was my goal and I wasn’t really open to new things.” So when he suffered a serious injury in the first year, doubt struck. “How was I going to continue? And what did I want: circus or gymnastics? That period was very frustrating. Dance and theatre lessons, but above all visits to performances, brought solace. “Especially the first dance performances were eye-openers. I realised that this is also possible, using your body in this way. But I still had a lot to learn.

And he did, Tarek gained a lot of stage experience during an internship with Het Zuidelijk Toneel and after his graduation with Ulrike Quade. When he auditioned again with Cirque du Soleil in 2011, he was added to their ‘database’. “Those shows play six to seven days a week, all year round, with a run time of 10 to 15 years. So replacements are often needed. But the chance of being chosen is small. It has to be exactly right, if you are just a little too tall or short, you drop out.” Finally, from March 2014, he will play in the performance Dralion for a year.

In the deep

Meanwhile, Tarek’s interest shifts from circus to a combination of dance and acrobatics. That quest leads him, after Dralion, from project to project: short productions, replacement, events. In addition, he teaches, acrobatics and aerial work, at Codarts and other academies. “I was very searching. Should I start something myself? Make a performance? Start a company?”

And then he saw Portraits and short stories, a production by Panama Pictures. “It was a combination of everything: dance, circus, music. This was the form I was looking for.” A meeting with Pia Meuthen follows and in 2017 Tarek is in Go North. “That was quite spicy. I was not yet familiar with Pia’s movement language and was thrown in at the deep end. At Panama Pictures a lot happens on the floor without words, it’s up to your own sensibility whether you pick it all up. In the first three weeks of improvisation a performance is largely made, your input determines what will eventually be put on stage. That was a real test. A challenge, but a fun one. And I immediately knew: I want to do this again.

Fluid

Tarek has played in eight productions at Panama Pictures; the way of working has become his own. “You are really co-creating. Pia asks what the performers need, gives a framework and her artistic vision, and within that you can move very freely. Almost fluidly.” But the input goes further. “We also talk to each other about the direction. About the company: how do we develop, which way do we want to go? And about the performance: which cast fits here, what should it look like? Those are very good conversations. Certainly now that we are making larger productions, with more people and more challenging sets. How do you retain the power of expression, the intimacy and humanity?

“I have discovered that it is in such quests and challenges that I come out best. Full on, with open eyes and a fresh outlook, finding something new. Journeys of discovery. Keep searching, for the essences and the forms that fit. It mustn’t meander, mustn’t become self-evident. I can’t move forward on cruise control.

Photo: Ben Nienhuis