Sunday 3 September 2023

Chapter 219: Zippos Nomads

 As if by magic a circus appeared...

Like the shopkeeper who would materialize each time in the fancy dress shop and conjure up a new adventure for Mr Benn, one of my favourite cartoons from childhood (and yes, there is an episode where he runs away to the circus and becomes a clown) there is a wondrous magic about a circus tent appearing in the everyday space of Wandsworth Common. 

A wee bit surreal too. On Sunday evening I had just arrived back in London from a very special family break in an oast house in Kent, sad to hop it (ba-boom!). I just wanted to crash after the train ride back but I had an Amazon deadline of that day to drop off a return at our local collection point,. As I trudged down Althorpe Road, ahead I saw a curious sight. A cluster of caravans on the Common. Well, spoiler alert, you already know it is Zippos, but at that moment I didn't. Was it the travellers back for Bank Holiday? They had swept in a few years back and lasted 24 hours before being moved on. As I got closer I saw trailers too. A film set maybe? Our Common is so blimming photogenic afterall (as you'll notice on my Instagram account!). Then I saw some men in high vis jackets with drills pegging our a large circular space, and on the edge of the Common a poster - the circus was coming to town!

Timing is everything. I smiled and groaned at the serendipity of it all. Of course, Lucy Loves Circus. But as a secondary school teacher, the last week of the summer holiday is when things get serious for me. I have lessons to prepare, admin to sort, not to mention checking that my own three children are sorted - the school labels I bought at the start of the holiday are now nowhere to be seen. That sort of thing. And then there is the school running club... all inclusive of all year groups, the sixth formers signed those of us over 17 (!) for the official Big Half marathon, the day before school goes back, and the morning after a friend's milestone birthday. This then was a week for getting my head down and being sensible. Instead I found myself juggling all that with running off to the nearest tattoo parlour for my daughter to get her ears pierced, ahead of a trip with friends to see Zippos circus on opening night...

And yet, timing *is* everything. When overwhelmed by to do lists, doing something for the sheer love of it pushes away the fear of dropping all the balls. And I've learned a new trick this summer on a course. Work out which balls are plastic and which are glass, and just focus on keeping the latter in the air, the others can drop. Discernment takes a bit of practice...

When the tent was up, the first thing I noticed was the LED display above the ticket box office, showing clips from the show and delivering messages to reel in the punters. Hello Wandsworth! the first one read. Well, hello Zippos!

To celebrate the occasion, I donned my gold circus heels, one with a female trapeze artist and the other a male, and little circus tents on the back. Mindful of the approaching half marathon though, I walked barefoot from home across the Common and just slipped them on before entering the tent. Looking ridiculous, trying to contort my feet into a position to show both them of and the circus ring with my daughter propping them up, got a laugh from the ushers even if the photo failed. Instagram has a lot to answer for! Bringing them was worth it though as we were also joined by Isabella, who I know from this circus journey, sharing a love of aerial. We met when she made my first pair of aerial gaiters, then tightwire boots (ahead of Harry Styles, thank you! see her website and the female artiste on my pair always reminds me of her. 

In a sense, the travellers were back in town. Zippos' show this year is called "Nomads", the souvenir guide opens with Tolkien’s quote "Not all those who wander are lost", and it is a celebration of diversity of nationalities and the tradition of entertainers throughout history who have travelled from town to town to amuse and entertain. That chimes with me, both as a teacher of modern foreign languages, as a sailor who spent two years living on a boat, sailing islands and oceans without a night on land, and not to mention being a wondering blogger… But Lucy, get on, with it, what was it like…?!

Well, there was a traditional circus ring, at the back, there was a curtain, behind which a black background studded with little lights glittered like the stars that were about to make an entrance... And...well, let me just spell it out:

Nerve-wrecking. I have to confess I swore a little, out of earshot of the kids (probably) at tense moments. Acts like Ludvik Novoltny from the Czech Republic layering cylinder after blank after ball after box and balancing atop on the rola rola (the name on the programme – why did I think it was called the rola bola?) in a precarious equilibristic act. Then, in a metal sphere, floodlit blue, with petrolhead fumes and drama that reminded me of Mad Max in Thunderdome, there was first one motorbike, then a second, then a third, with perfect timing in a ballet of speed and wheels courtesy of Globe riders from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, that was the showstopper of the first half.  That segued into the adrenaline kick start of another spherical ring of potential death, the wheel of steel. Alternatively known as the wheel of death (maybe a bit macabre for a family show), this involved Victor and Bismark from Colombia executing acrobatic stunts on two large rotating wheels at either end of a metal arm that rotates around a central axis, both inside, and, more dangerously, outside. I have seen the act before when the blindfold comes out. It still kills me, if not them… Then there were The Mighty Mongolian Warriors doing acrobalance and skipping acts. That sounds friendly enough until you factor in that at one point the rope was a performer, or that they skipped while doing a three high! Note: A "three-high" is a human pyramid with three tiers of people, with one person (the base) on the bottom, another (the middle) standing on the shoulders of the base, and a third person (the top or flyer) standing on the shoulders of the middle, an act that requires incredible strength, balance, and trust among the performers as did their flying and tumbling from one to the other of each others shoulders.

 Ostentatious. In the sense that circus is designed to impress or attract notice. That is the nature of the show, and traditional circus astonishes and captivates the audience with bright and spangled costumes, like those of Ukrainian dancers Sofia Dobrovolska and Diana Muminova, with which the magpies on the Common would have a field day. As they would with the costume of Khulan, from Mongolia, whose grace of movement and hula hoop artistry was mesmerising. It also refers to daring feats and theatrical performances. Take The Timbuktu Troupe, flipping brilliant Kenyan acrobats in leopard print costumes, diving through hoops and limboing under fire with an agility and tempo that lifts the soul. Or Toni Novotony with practiced dexterity cracking whips and whipping out flaming knives to throw at his partner, who is attached to a spinning wheel, the fire adding another layer of risk and visual impact. Part of me would also like to see the tables turn (rather than spin!) so that his partner could have her turn throwing the knives at the board… And finally, ostentatious in skill but the antithesis in terms of understated theatrics, was Moroccan-born Ibrahim, on vertical pole. A study in holding poses, and slowing movement right down at impossible angles, making the well-nigh impossible (as one who’s tried!) looking effortlessly easy.

M is for musical. So important at driving the circus narrative. Epic music signalling its time to hold your breath, but also underscoring the comedy. One of my favourite moments was seeing clown Whimmy Walker coming on with his trumpet playing the most beautiful soliloquoy. It was a familiar tune, something I couldn’t quite place, the same vibe as Miles Davis playing “My Funny Valentine”.Later I contacted Zippos to find out what it was. “The Story of Love” came the reply. Of course it would be. That’s the story of circus for me, and the clown at the heart of it. Which leads on to…


Amusing. That’s an understatement. But there’s no F for funny in NOMADS, and here I want to bring in the clowns. I’ve mentioned Whimmy’s musicality, but his is also a fool who is constantly playing with the audience, when he isn’t juggling an insane amount of tennis rackets, or luggage (back to the Nomads theme!). Or Paulo Dos Santos, his foil, both in stature and character, who torpedos aforementioned soulful trumpet soliloquy with riotous drum-banging, deftly executes both tumbling and the most beautiful aerial acrobatics that kicks of the show, and with his trademark Brazilian joie de vivre always gets the audience engaging and cheering.   


Daring. This I reserve for “our very own Jackie Louise”. London is so international “our very own” made me smile. But at the same time, the pride with which it was delivered was genuinely touching, and it is good to be able to cheer on the UK when deserved. Jackie Louise performed such graceful manoeuvres on the aerial loops… oh jeez, and the neck hang, it’s all coming back … then later stepped into the globe, bikes flying round her, without the hint of a flinch. I also enjoyed when she stood atop the globe, as though she owned the world. Brava!


Showstopper. The final act was Alexander Lichner, from Spain. Hang on, I thought, with my Spanish teacher hat on. What sort of Spanish name is that? Shouldn’t it be Alejandro at the very least? Then I reflected my kids have Dutch surnames, Swiss passports, live in London and English is their mother tongue. And its circus. Nomads. Who is really from where? It was not surprising to read that Lichner won Gold recently at the French Circus Festival of Massy. His entrance descent was a ridiculous feat of balance, then scaling the rope back up could have been an act in itself. The trapeze sequences were beautiful to watch, the toe hang must have been painful enough but the single heel hang high in the gods was almost too excruciating to watch, still, I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Afterwards we took fun pictures of the children sticking their heads through circus-themed face in hole boards, and generally dragged our heels, the last to leave. The children were so animated and delighted, it was a joy to watch their reactions throughout the show and to share this experience with family, bringing them together with their friends and me with mine, well, I felt immensely privileged and grateful.

On the way home we admired the blue super moon in the sky. I hadn’t known it was a thing until Isabella explained it to me. It was beautiful. Like a universal blessing on the night. The only thing it didn’t have were three motorbikes whizzing around inside…

The thing is magic, whether in a sudden circus appearance or a shared family experience, comes unexpectedly. Whether juggling work, family, and personal passions or simply trying to make it through the day, circus is my talisman, a reminder to appreciate the moments of joy and wonder that life brings. Sometimes, the most magical moments are the ones we least expect. So if you have the chance to attend a circus, take it. Zippos has two more shows tomorrow (Monday 4th September) on Wandsworth Common, before moving on. The experience is unforgettable, and the memories will stay with you long after the tent comes down.

See:  and on Social Media (TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) for updates. 

Wednesday 30 August 2023

Chapter 218: Traces of Rebecca Youseffi in Transmission at Jacksons Lane


How does Rebecca Youseffi define herself? "Just a painter" in one interview. An artist who took up aerial in her 20s as a hobby, and then found herself drawn in (sounds familiar), seeing its potential to bring her circus practice into her art. Now, after five years of research and a Masters, her piece "Traces" is the result. I was intrigued. I was short on time. It's a 12 minute performance, I was told. Sold. I used the journey up to Jacksons Lane on the Northern Line to meditate. There is a new app Balance, giving a year's free trial, and I find the only way right now to increase time is to suspend it. One feature I like, a "single", is an immersive wave experience. Listening to the sea, as each wave draws in the phone vibrates gently in your hand, it's very clever. It transports me to another space, the Salt Caves, in Earlsfield, where I can sit in a deckchair, listen to the waves and breath in, if not sea air, ionised particles at any rate. In short, I miss the sea. Like a grounded selkie, my second skin must be hidden away somewhere, I dare not look for it...

Back to reality. I arrived at Jacksons Lane to find the bar shut, so grabbed a coffee from across the road. I enjoy a coffee before watching a performance. It heightens the senses.

This time, no presence on the stage. It was quite literally a black canvas. We waited. A pregnant pause. Timing is everything. Silph or cypher, in black off-setting flame coloured hair. The flame colour of Rebecca's hair reminded me of my niece Fly Davis, (a theatre set designer, who conjured up Ocean at the End of the Lane), and the texture of the hair, thick waves, reminded me of my Neil Gaiman-loving daughter Izzy, a creative free spirit whose imagination is constantly tumbling out into her writing. 

There was no music or speaking, but every sweep of movement and flow punctuated by breath, and the muffled thud of the rope thwacking the floor. Very zen. I was mesmerised. I was fascinated by Rebecca's climbs, the placement of toes curling round the rope, the grace and dexterity, but also the movement, on the descent I believe, where she spun through her hands to face out, back arched, like one of Neptune's wooden angels at the bow of the boat. Earlier that week I had just waved off Dutch friends from Tower Bridge, and as they were waiting at the lock, readying to set sail for Holland, taking a picture of Astrid in a similar position against the lines. So bear in mind I am reading and projecting my own experience onto a work of essentially abstract art, a study in neutrality which I believe, hope, invites such engagement.

As sand tipped onto the floor, Rebecca, inverted, used her hair to create brush-strokes across, tracing semi-circles and waves of light and shadow. Again, there was something about the combination of textual sound and movement that I found gently meditative. I have been thinking a lot recently about the link between repetitive physical movement and the creative process reading Haruki Murakami's "What I talk about when I talk about running". So maybe that is why, at the end, when Rebecca brings on a broom to silently sweep the sand, she reminds me of a caretaker of Japanese gardens where the gravel and stone are raked over and over, into patterns, Karesansui gardens, they are called, which literally translates to "dry landscape", where fertile imagination blossoms, I reflect. Only here the sand is not just swept, but swept away. Gone. Yet, the ephemeral lingers. As the sand was swept away, the medium of film came into play, with a projection of art on a backdrop, making the experience all the more immersive. It was as if the audience was weaving through different moments of movement in a promenade, each brush stroke of sand on the floor mirrored by the strokes of light and shadow on the screen.

I also thought of Jair Ramirez' Sugarman (click here) using sand in an altogether different way, as an autobiographical element to express his relationship with and release from cocaine when growing up in Colombia. Jair, who taught me aerial, from whom I bought the teal green silks that came sailing round the world. A softer sail. I also like the edgy, uncompromising burn of the rope that worked far better here.

There was a Q&A afterwards with Ade Berry, as Artistic Director, where Rebecca talked about her training at the National Centre for Circus Artists and the creative space that had given her as a residency. She also mentioned performing in a medieval church for an Arts Festival. I would have loved to see this in that space. What and which artists inspired you? Bright colours, and Monet. And another name that I didn't catch. My thoughts went straight to "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" by Hokusai. An image at that is everywhere, maybe (like circus!), I still ordered the design for my new iPhone cover that just arrived in the post today. Completely forgot what had prompted me to do that (other than my old transparent case was falling apart) until writing this post and the penny dropped...

What did you used to paint? Asked one child. Circus performers! Came the response. I thought of my next-door neighbour Jane, who travelled with the circus in South Africa and set herself up as the resident artist at what was then Circus Space (now NCCA) some decades ago. I've seen a number of her sketches from those days, beautiful. And I think of @curtis.tappenden, who I follow on Instagram. Often to be found painting performers from Zippos, which in a curious twist of fate has just materialised on Wandsworth Common, where I live. 

In a world where the boundaries between art forms are continually blurring, Rebecca's performance was a testament to the infinite possibilities that lie in the intersection of different creative mediums. It made me reflect on the various artists I have encountered, each with their unique approach to blending tradition with innovation. It's a reminder that art is a language that transcends boundaries, whether they are geographical, as with my neighbor Jane or Curtis, or between different mediums, as with Rebecca. As I look forward to the opening night at Zippos on Wandsworth Common tonight (Wednesday, 30th August), I am reminded that the world of art is vast and varied, from the sublime to the traditional, and I am grateful to be a part of it, even if I am just a spectator.

Check out the interview with Rebecca Youseffi here: Interview at the Coastal Currents Arts Festival

Photo credits: Jacksons Lane

Friday 11 August 2023

Chapter 217: Rosa-Maria Autio in Transmission, Jacksons Lane

 "Anyone else, with any other explanation, and it would be another story," Sam said later, "but for you Lucy, I get it, circus is your crack."

When my phone vibrated against my leg, it was Sam wondering where I was; we had planned to meet for a walk just a few days ago. As the penny dropped, so did my stomach. At that very moment, I was instead seated in Jacksons Lane, beside the theatre's artistic director, Ade Berry, engrossed in watching Rosa-Maria Autio, the Finnish foot juggler, showcase her research and development for the longstanding "Transmission". This series is an inspired initiative of Ade's to give space to artists for creative exploration out of season. Transmission was how I'd met Ade, nearly a decade ago. He liked a piece I'd written on a cabaret by Aircraft Circus ((From Circus Space to Dream Space) and invited me to come up and see behind the scenes. Then I was hooked. Since then I've had many adventures, the majority of circus ones charted here, then sailing over 20,000 nautical miles France to Australia over two years with my husband and three children on our 40ft cat La Cigale (, and bringing all those worlds into play now in my third year as a French and Spanish teacher in a large South London Academy. Basically, I'm still juggling. And dropping the odd ball, as ever. 

The last time I was at Jacksons Lane, newly returned to the UK, the place was a building site and I was wearing a hard hat. It was fantastic now to see how it had all come together. The discovery of stained glass windows, now features, the open view of a hidden turret, the variety of rigging points, sound-proofed studios, and not to mention the glossy bar. Having legged it from school (yes, it's the holidays, but...), I'd ordered a double-espresso. Then Ade arrived and looked at me. "Lucy, it's Friday afternoon. It's summer." Ordering a large glass of wine as a chaser. was the only possible response, along with cheers! in Finnish. It felt so ruddy civilised. Such a great space, so much to catch up on. The last time I'd been in the auditorium it was putting on a show with Sean Kempton and Michaela O'Connor. I miss those clowns in London. Thanks to the recommendation of kettle-bell juggling performer Hamish Tjeong we had a Finnish juggler in our show one year too, Onni Toivonen (see blog post Chapter 153, click here ) who "clubbed to death" (see video here) and brought the house down. 

Back to the present. We take our seats. The audience seems to be primarily local residents and families. I say that because I imagine so many are up at the Edinburgh Fringe and the only other person I recognize from the world of circus is digital artist Mark Morreau.

Rosa-Maria is already on the stage, shepherding the audience into the best seats for the best views. Gently commanding. At ease, connecting with her public. A brave move, I thought, liking her already for that. I hate dealing in stereotypes but... average height, long blond hair, blue eyes, with an openness in her expression, a directness and  kookiness (evident in her choice of circus art if nothing else), Rosa-Maria is so, well, reassuringly Finnish.

Having seen her in NoFit State's show Lexicon, I knew Rosa-Maria was supremely skillful, but it's the type of juggling one step removed from engaging with the audience. The performer is flat on their back tossing objects with their feet, after all, how do you build a rapport from there? From Rosa-Maria's Instragram feed @autio.rosa, one to follow!, I had an inkling of the answer: clowning. 

And that, indeed, was the heart of it. In an outfit ressembling Wonder Woman with a bustle, Rosa-Maria introduced us to her partner, Rizzo, an 8.5 kilo cylinder that soon wore the shirt, if not the pants, of an actual partner. Introduced by the Turtles signature tune (the intro chords playing on a loop like as we took our seats) "Imagine me and you, I do..." Rizzo really came to life. Rosa-Maria and Rizzo, sharing a glass of wine (kippis!) and other moments of togetherness served to highlight the fundamentally solitary nature of working as a solo performer. It's a work in progress, which is why I don't want to say too much about a scratch that is evolving. But I really enjoyed the comedy, the great choices in music, the atmospheric lighting, the gentle surprises and deft footwork. The audience clearly enjoyed it immensely. Brava!

I appreciate being able to swap thoughts with Mark afterwards about the show and hear his insights, with all his experience, as we fill out our feedback sheets and share. And being able to thank Rosa-Maria and her team when they stop by the table. For me, circus is a world where the whimsical meets the disciplined, where the seemingly impossible is made to look effortless. It’s a place where you can find solace in the company of a foot-juggling cylinder named Rizzo or the gentle glow of memories in a refurbished theatre. In this space, both artists and audience members come together to celebrate the shared joy of performance and creativity. The "Transmission" series, among other shows I've witnessed, reminds me that circus is not just about feats of skill, but about the stories that can be told through movement, expression, and the unexpected partnerships forged on stage. As the lights dimmed and the audience began to disperse, I found myself grateful for the journey – not just the one Rosa-Maria took us on that afternoon, but the personal journey of discovery, passion, and the continuous juggle that is life. To all the performers, creators, and supporters of this art form: thank you for sharing your world with us. Until the next adventure, keep juggling and let your passions guide your path. And Sam, thanks for always getting it – and for being you. And my circus talisman. 

Read more in this Jacksons Lane interview here:  In conversation with Rosa-Maria Autio

For more on What's On with Transmission at Jacksons Lane see:

Photo credit: Jacksons Lane

Friday 16 February 2018

Chapter 216: A Circus Valentine

"Not a red rose or a satin heart. 

I give you an onion. 
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. 
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love. 

It will blind you with tears
like a lover. 
It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful. 

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion. 
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are, 
for as long as we are. 

Take it. 
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring, 
if you like. 
Its scent will cling to your fingers, 
cling to your knife. 

Valentine,   by  Carol Ann Duffy

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Chapter 215: VOILA! EUROPE - Juggling - Robin Boon Dale

Photo Credits: Be Festival

"This is a historic occasion. We haven't seen jugglers at the Cockpit Theatre for 17 years!" declared Ringmaster Dave, Artistic Director of The Cockpit theatre, in Marylebone, in a tone that had a twinkle of a challenge to the opening act as much as a welcome. It was the first circus scratch night Circus in the Pound (see blogpost Chapter 163 - click here), so named as the entry fee is only a quid into the traffic cone at the entrance. The act being introduced was a work in progress between Gandini Juggling's José Triguero and Chris Patfield, and juggling is now back centre stsge at The Cockpit  with artist Robin Boon Dale, this time as part of VOILA! EUROPE 2017, the non-Brexit fearing theatre festival that busts the barriers of language, and showcases plays from around Europe and the UK to the multi-national audiences of London: see - click here. As a Brit who has just sailed under a Swiss flag down from France, via Spain and Portugal, and is currently moored in Las Palmas on a pontoon with Swedish, Danish, Dutch and German families, I am very much there in spirit with a festival that brings together such a Euro-Vision.

The festival is the brainchild of Sharlit Deyzac, who has been touring the acclaimed Boys Club with Leonor Lemee as part of Two Tongue Theatre (see blogpost - click here), that came to Jacksons Lane Postcards Festival this summer. VOILA! EUROPE has a cracking line up of provocative, hilarious, life-enhancing, boundary challenging shows running until Saturday 18 November. And this year the programme has a touch of circus thanks to the presence of Robin Boon Dale and his show What Does Stuff Do? 

Circomedia graduate Robin was one of a trio of artists in the excellent bar flair act Shakedown that I heard about earlier this year thanks to Kate Hartoch, organiser with Lina Frank of Circus City, Bristol's Biennial Circus Festival that took place to great acclaim this October (check out the photogallery for starters: and for reportage). Robin told me his show is the extension of an ongoing research project entitled "Is Juggling Liquid?" which explores ideas about creative notation and object oriented philosophy through circus skills and I'm intrigued by the description of this new show which has already won the ACT festival prize this summer and just returned from tour in Spain as part of the "Best of BE Festival":

In his charmingly rhetorical debut show, Robin Dale utilises innovative juggling, physical comedy, and almost-philosophy to guide you through his mind and body of research.
What Does Stuff Do? is a lecture style performance in which Robin strives to understand the ever-unfolding relationships between people and stuff, and to help fill in the space between art and science.
Featuring an assortment of unexpected props and a motivational speech delivered by a man in swimming trunks. Please, bracket for the next 30 minutes any scepticism about the value of the totally obvious.
What Does Stuff Do? is on Thursday, 16 November 2017 8.30pm. 
Find @RobinBoonDale on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook Page. 
VOILA! EUROPE festival runs until Saturday, 18 November at several venues: The Cockpit, Etcetera and Applecart Arts. Check out the shows

Monday 9 October 2017

Chapter 214: Postcard from La Rochelle

 Seul, on va plus vite. Ensemble, on va plus loin.
On my own, I go faster. Together, we go further.

My stomach lurches each time we walk along the sea wall.  We are in France, in La Rochelle, and the French are pretty laissez-faire when it comes to health and safety. It is clearly a well-trodden walkway, yet there is no sign of a barrier, a "garde-fou" or "protecting-the-idiot" (moi!). The wall is a good couple of feet across, the drop either side barely a few feet, threatening at most a twisted ankle, yet despite my love of tightwire, my palms sweat each time as I follow my children, who are skipping along without a care in the world. One day my youngest slipped her hand through mine. "Mum, why did you decide we should go sailing round the world when you love circus? It must be hard to like two things at the same time." 

For nearly a month now we have been living in La Rochelle and working on the boat. It is a very pretty old port, one that I can still hardly believe exists after reading about it for years in the Tricolore textbooks at school. I have fallen for the towers at the entrance to the old harbour, the cobbled streets in the pedestrian centre, the houses set behind walls, doors sometimes opening onto an inner courtyard to offer a stealthy glimpse of a grande manor or hidden secrets. Now into October the wave of tourists is subsiding, but the tide of bicycles is pretty constant, and we zip around on our Bromptons too, our helmets a clear indication that we are visitors. We have stayed in three different Airbnbs here now, finally moving onto our boat this week, a 40ft catamaran called La Cigale. She is named after the Cicada in the old La Fontaine/Aesop's Fable story, singing and dancing her way through summer while her friend Ant toils makes yproverbial hay while the sun shines in readyness for the winter months. For us the music in the name conjures up continental summer evenings, and, of course, she will always be our "Sea Gal".  Ironically though, with all the preparations in tow, I feel more formicide than singing bug right now, but it's all about balance: connecting with both the industrious Ant and the carefree Cicada. That is why I turned to learning recreational circus skills several years ago at a time when I couldn't see the wood for the trees. Circus, and cicadas, are a state of mind. 
I carry my circus aerialist necklace with me, a talisman from a dear friend, my sea-green silks are safely stowed on board (picked up from Jair during a week intensive at Freedom2Fly - click here) as are a whole bag of juggling balls (in case any slip overboard), but still, I do miss actual circus, the community.

Then one day passing La Coursive, a renowned theatre-dance space here, a Gallic Sadlers Wells, I saw a poster advertising Cirque Le Roux bringing Elephant in the Room to La Rochelle next week. It accentuated, if not homesickness or "mal du pays" exactly, rather a sense of "mal du cirque". I had seen these guys up at the Edinburgh Fringe a couple of years ago (see post - click here), and would have loved to see the production again, wondering how it had developed over the past couple of years, and what it would be like to see it in such a different environment among a non-circus going crowd - or so I assume. Cirque Eloize brought I. D. to La Rochelle a couple of years ago, but contemporary circus does not feature heavily in La Coursive's programme in general. When it transpired that further delays to the boat meant I'd be in town to see them after all, I was further gutted to find the dates were completely sold out. 

Ah well, maybe it really is simply time to open a new chapter and not look back as my youngest assumes. But then the day we moved onto the boat a funny thing happened: I passed by the maritime-themed playground my daughters adore in centre-ville, next to the harbour, to find all sorts of circus shenanigans taking place. My Flying Fantastic-loving daughter spotted the black silks rigged first and tugged at my arm. Mum, look! It turned out that the new playground was being inaugurated that day and Cirque en Scène, both a training space and company from 45 minutes down the road in Niort, had been brought in to entertain with all sorts of activities. They had a trapeze up too, a training tight-wire, rolla-bolla, globe, all sorts of juggling equipment and equilibristic apparatus. We were in seventh heaven, because, of course, I joined in too. I loved watching one of the trainers Mikhail clowning around with the kids, putting on his Donald Duck voice and getting them to fall about laughing so they would relax and forget their fear. It worked on the Mummy too, when persuaded up on my old nemesis of the globe, a hard ball that requires the penguin tapping of happy feet to balance atop. The girls and I are itching now to string up our silks alongside the sheets and get cracking again. Setting sail out of the Bay of Biscay on Wednesday, who knows what circus stories we'll discover down the road...

Friday 18 August 2017

Chapter 212: Bassline Circus: FLIP

AndroidX in FLIP
All photos & videography courtesy of Bassline Circus

"Luce, are you coming up to Jacksons Lane to see Bassline Circus today?" I hadn't planned on it. Home alone packing up the house on a very tight deadline, the fact that it was Transmission season was not really on my radar. But it was Leonor from Two Tongue Theatre (see Boys Club - click here) asking, and I wanted to catch up and say goodbye. And I do love the whole concept of Transmission, a circus residency programme run by Jacksons Lane giving at least a week to up to six companies a year to experiment with and develop ideas with full technical support from the theatre. There is no pressure to deliver a finished project at the end, the companies are simply invited to share where they are at and a questions and answers session generally follows. It is always super interesting to see the play and potential. Going to Transmission with three kids in tow though. How would that work?! Well, we could always discreetly slip into the back row... 

"Mum, what are we going to see?" Well, kids, we are off to see a vectorised circus concert... I didn't reply. In fact, I wasn't quite sure myself what to expect. What the FLIP?! A blend of hiphop dance, circus and graphics, it sounded like festival fun, a bit trippy. Still, nothing quite prepared me. 

Back in the foyer at Jacksons Lane, meeting up with Leonor after Postcards Festival was a funny feeling. Boys Club had been part of Postcards as well. The big top of bunting in the foyer was still up, and my son was chuffed to recognise Simple Cypher lads Kieran & Chris on a poster after seeing them there last time for Cypher Stories (click here). But the chalk board now had the Autumn programme up. We went in. Encouraged by one of the ushers, my 5 year old marched straight to the front row. I do trust my kids to behave, I reflected, while confiscating any potential noise disrupters (like crisp packets!).

Director Bex Anson introduced FLIP. Today we would see excerpts with a couple of the dancers: the Krumper AndroidX, and Flexer Kaner Flex for this sharing. In future there will be a handbalancer and the vocals of singer songwriter and emcee Eva Lazarus (see FLIP is an interpretation of Mathieus Malzieu's story of "The Boy With a Cuckoo-Clock Heart", transplanting the story into a boy with a pace-maker - a neat complementarity there with the robotic elements of hiphop movement - who falls in love on-line and enters a world that questions perceptions of reality, exploring impossible worlds. What followed was an awesome blend of krumping (dance), tutting (hand movements) and flexing (contortion that gave the piece a circus stamp) against a backdrop onto which all sorts of graphics were projected and vectorised by Dav Bernard. The sharing was in two scenes. In the first "dimension" the graphics followed the movement of the dancers, who literally emanated energy. It was as though we could see the mind at play on the screen behind, a running narrative of the dancer's psyche. And I was not surprised afterwards to hear the dancers appreciated the organic dynamics of having what they intuitively realise and visualise when they move choreographed on the screen behind them. 

In the second the dancers stepped behind the screen and their shadows played into world of virtual reality, responding to a maze of scenarios that was completely mesmerising and pulled us as an audience onto a rollercoaster of an experience with them. It was clever, being drawn into the perspective of the protagonist, disorientated, searching, negotiating all manner of visual paradoxes, while for the kids it was like stepping into a computer game themselves. It will be interesting to see how these two parts, in essence fairly abstract still, will be propelled by the narrative going forward. 

Afterwards in the Q&A session with Adrian Berry, Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane, my 9yo whispered that the dance moves had reminded her of Jungle Book (Metta Theatre's production: click here), and I was glad to hear that Bassline Circus will be exploring relaxed viewings for families going forward, as my kids thought it was utterly brilliant. I would also like to see it again in full "concert" mode, interested to hear the plans to include live vocals and fully immerse the audience, getting them on their feet just like mine wanted to. The fusion of dance, circus and visual arts that I saw has already created a unique experience that synergised, as well as energised, the audience. Going forward it will be exciting to see how this experience expands: as it stands it was mind-bending and virtually life-affirming. 

Check out Bassline Circus on social media @BasslineCircus for news of further developments. Next stop in Autumn: Stratford Circus.