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. 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Chapter 210: Postcards Festival Finale... Shhh!

"Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung"  (PT Barnum)
Michaela O'Connor and Sean Kempton
All photos unless otherwise credited: Liam Croucher (

Every so often in life a night will come along that takes me completely by surprise, and that's what happened on the last night of the Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane watching genius clowning at play in a cabaret where every single act had all of us in the audience gasping at the sheer talent, audacity and risk. Humbug! I can hear people say. You curated the show. Of course you'd say that! Well yes. Barnum has been the soundtrack of my circus journey since the very beginning. I love both the honky-tonk musical and the character of the circus impresario who brought the colours of his life to a world fixed in black and white. As with Barnum, I sing out, because these guys are worth it. I am very grateful for the illuminating photography of National Circus graduate Liam Croucher (see, that speak volumes about the artists involved where my words fail.


Darkness. The music cranked up - Do you wanna funk? - and the spotlight fell on Sean Kempton and Michaela O'Connor centre stage in white shirts, gold lamé leggings, and a slash of red. 
Photo: Giusi Tomasello

Jessica and Jair Ramirez were the first act. Jair came on with a broom and carrying a mannequin over his shoulder which came to live and led into a deeply romantic acrobalance routine.  The poise and precision, undercut by the tension in the positions, brought the story to life as much as the mannequin.

The mantle of the broom was picked up by Michael Standen, gazing after Jair, holding it tight. Hands materialized seductively around his body, and then shoved him off as Soulnia took the stage to "Give me a reason to love". A Portishead temptress with hoops set on fire in all sorts of articulations, she swallowed a ring only to rethread it through her neck onto a chain.

Michael returned with his own hoop, through which he did all manner of contortions. Set to the xylophone music bubbling out Chopin in C, it was both a hilarious and kooky act in contrast to the studied depth and brooding beauty of Sophie Page Hall and Will Davis' aerial tango set to Piazolla's Libertango. 

Argentine melodies continued as audience members were roped onto being on stage, teased on with a tango dance then literally tied into position as one of four corners of a square. Down the stairs, making her entrance in a burlesque of boxing, came Betty Bedlam in a red satin robe with her name emblazoned in gold on the back. It was a class act, the very essence of "burlare", from where burlesque derives, which is to poke fun, and she did that by teasing out the audience. A burlesque act needs to have a hook, and as a boxer as well as performer, Betty Bedlam certainly had one, knocking out squats and press-ups with gusto, and delivering up fierce sass on her own terms, she was a bonafide circus strongwoman with real punch.


The second act opened in overdrive with Sean and Michaela clowning around with the audience again.

Jair's high-octane act on aerial straps powered home. Tension built as he gracefully wound up and up into the straps only to jerk into a sudden drop, suspended by just one foot. 

Michael Standen came back, but, as Ade Berry observed later, this was "Michael as we've never seen him before" in a blonde Cleopatra-cut wig, nude leotard and shorts, he performed extraordinary feats of gymnastics and handstands on canes in a Sia tribute act, as his svelte frame took on the impersonal robotics and androgynous hue of the child model in the Chandelier video, poles apart from Jessica's fully fledged female mannequin. This was cabaret with an agender.

Soulnia cast a spell this time with mind-reading tricks.

Sam Goodburn, whose solo show you can catch at the Edinburgh Fringe at the moment (click here for post on Dumbstruck ) zoomed around on his unicycle in Top Gear, and to that style of anthem, whipping off clothes, putting them back on, and making the audience crack up. Things went wrong, but were recovered in such a way you could never quite be certain whether by design or by accident - as if to prove that point the smiley face on the back of his boxers would flip down to a sad face emoji in an instant. Ha! The video below says it all:

For the grand finale it had to be Beyoncé, with Michaela O'Connor mixing her original triples trapeze act from Vegas (click here for video) with Single Ladies Will Davis and Sophie Page Hall. To be honest, with a track like that they could have got away with simply standing on the trapeze and throwing in a few diva gestures, but with two aerialists who had been involved in a Guinness World Record Breaking Challenge and one Circus Maximus Winner, they brought the house down. 

Thanks to Adrian Berry and all Jacksons Lane, and to this cast of circus heroes who gave it their all and rocked it: Sean and Michaela, Jess, Jair, Sonia, Michael, Sophie, Will, Betty Bedlam and Sam it has been so much fun off and on the stage with you (even when I least expected it!), ENCORE!!!

Thanks for the feedback!

Rhia O'Reilly @rdpixie Jul 30
@Lucylovescircus awesome show last night! You curated an eclectic bunch of talented wonders!

A Girl & Her Passport @agirlpassport Jul 30
This was amazing last night! I highly recommend.

Luciano Rila  @DrTrapezio Jul 30
@Lucylovescircus Thanks for putting together such a fantastic show 🎪🤸‍♀️

Leslie Tate  @LSTateAuthor Aug 11  
@Lucylovescircus A fantastic show. Thank you, Lucy! 🍎🍒🥦☀️

We've just checked out the Autumn programme now. If that's the quality, Jacksons Lane is the new Sadlers Wells for us!

Jacksons Lane @jacksons_lane Jul 31
Great times at glorious Shhh! Cabaret on Saturday, which closed our 3-week extravaganza of circus, cabaret & lots of fun #Postcards2017

*Ade Berry @Ade_Berry 1 h*
Replying to @Lucylovescircus @jacksons_lane
Same time, same place next year please! But don't quote me on that... 

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Chapter 207: A Postcard from Jacksons Lane

Photo credit: Kasitzjay (@kasitzjay on social media)

Back in London this week I have been making the most of Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane, especially as come September we look set to start sailing round the world and I don't know when we will be back. I have seen so many amazing shows at Jacksons Lane over the past three years that have changed or broadened my perspective, met so many wonderful people and I am incredibly grateful to Artistic Director Ade Berry and his team. In many ways it has been a life-line for my own sanity and energy as a Mum of three doing my best. This week I have been able to sample some of the amazingly eclectic programme over three consecutive nights, and there has been something for the kids too.

Photo credit: Kasitzjay
On Wednesday night my son and I went along to see Simple Cypher's Kieran and Chris, and their friends, bring the house down with their blend of dance and circus schools. We went with a friend of his and his Dad, a self-taught fire-breathing juggler with a sharp eye for timing. The blend of the group's humour and easy-going nature translated into a chilled evening, but at the same time it was super high energy. An awesome DJ made for great vibes - and a superb breakdancing cameo in the encore at the end! - with his music framing sharp dance moves that had robotic elements, muscles popping in all directions, and hands twisting, slicing and weaving in and out. There was lots of fun with the juggling and the play in dynamics between Kieran and Chris. One of my favourite visuals was watching when all the cast held balls around Kieran and passed them round as though tossed in slow-mo.

I could watch the Cyr wheel forever too, mesmerised by the coin-spinning movements of the large heavy hoop of metal ("aka wheel of death Mum" whispered my son as it slammed on the floor at one point). I especially liked the foot hook moves, one outside and one inside the wheel, and the nonchalant one arm hangs. It was great to see National Circus graduates Josh and Tessa again. Last act I'd seen them Tessa had Josh on her shoulders while en pointe in ballet shoes. This time round there was more wicked acrobalance and gender inversions, and a fierce move that saw Josh lifting Tess single-handedly by the roof of her mouth. Respect all round! 

What is true love? How do you find it? How does it feel? How long does it last? The spotlight was on Sean Kempton on Thursday night, for answers in his solo show Stuff. I loved the show already last year (see post on Stuff - click here), and the way Sean weaves in prerecorded interviews exploring the subject with his (then) 6 year old daughter Chloe, Jessica Ladley who is in her 20s, and an octagenerian family friend. It was great to see Stuff home from home at Jacksons Lane, where it had originally started out life. I loved the magic of the props: a book of light, flashing phone, mischievous lamps, all illuminating. 

Stuff is a responsive, dynamic piece in which half the beauty is the way Sean brings the audience into play in a tapestry of connections. The show underlined for me was the notion of real love that can be tender, but can also be this incredibly raw, powerful, act of revolution that blows worlds apart and I think the anarchy of clowning makes such a great bedfellow in terms of conveying that. There was plenty of laughter as rules were broken, nowhere and no-one was safe in the audience. There moments of body-slamming, gut-wrenching brokenness. Sean's was a tour de force performance of unbridled energy and he had the whole tango of love, and a wonderful audience, at his fingertips. Genius clowning.

Then last night, Friday,  my daughter and I went to see juggling legends Bibi and Bichu's life-affirming Circus Abyssynia.  The premise has its origins in Gifford Circus' Moon Songs, which we saw together a couple of years ago, where two boys in Ethiopia dream of running off to an English Circus. Bibi and Bichu have expanded the concept and brought together an evening of vibrant, fearless and utterly astounding circus skills. 

The show started with a video came from Tweedy the clown as the Man in the Moon, and my daughter was delighted as the last time she had come to Jacksons Lane it was to see him in his solo show Lost Property. My 9YO was in awe (as was I!) to see children, Alemayehu (young Bichu) and Ezra (young Bibi), somersault onto an adult's shoulder in a three-high human tower, along with all manner of tumbling, acrobatics and juggling. We loved the serpentine contortionists, dizzying foot juggling and laughed at the classic clowning around.  It was a great evening soaking up the energy and joy of extraordinary talent, and the show-stopping group finale on Chinese pole raised the roof - catch them at Edinburgh Fringe! 

So now here I am back at Jacksons Lane, sitting in the auditorium for the tech run through for circus cabaret Shhh! tonight, which will be high-octane, no holds barred fun. It is a wonderful feeling for everyone to have a sold out house again this year.  The bar is open til 1am and in the festival spirit we will continue into the night celebrating the finale of three weeks of stellar shows and incredible artists. If you are coming tonight, say hi, and if not, watch this space...

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Chapter 206: Breaking news... Shhh!

Jessica Judge Ramirez - (click here)
Photo credit: JB Davies

Counting down to Shhh! at Jacksons Lane on Saturday night and thrilled to finally announce that we have a new addition to the cast, Jessica Judge, who founded Freedom2FlyDA, the aerial school for dancers, with her husband Jair, who is also in the cabaret. Jessica and Jair met in Singapore in 2009 on a cruise ship where Jessica was one of the professional dancers and was so impressed by Jair's aerial acrobatics that she asked him to teach her some tricks. The rest, as they say, is history, and herstory. Training intensively with Jair, Jessica's first aerial performance was in Jair's home country in Colombia, in front of the Colombian president no less, no pressure! Jair and Jess were married in 2014 in Cartagena, and if you watch the circus skills and love in the beautiful wedding video of Mr and Mrs Ramirez (click here), you'll see why they are a match made in heaven. For those of you that saw Jair's solo show Sugarman (see post - click here) at Jacksons Lane in this Postcards Festival you will know that he has a wonderful clowning side. Jessica also has a wicked sense of humour, sending up situations and making the world laugh. Find out for yourself this Saturday night and catch their acrobalance duet which will open the show... 

Shhh! is the final night of Jacksons Lane's three week Postcards Festival which has a Pay What You Decide policy so you can reserve tickets now (while you can!), and pay on the night. A pretty wicked concept!

Jess will be joining these amazing artists (see post - click here - and check out their pages linked below), from top to bottom, left to right:

Sophie Page
Michaela O'

Sean Kempton:

So, come and enjoy Jess & Jair's spectacular duet along with all the magic and mayhem, aerial and acrobatics, Beyoncé and burlesque, cabaret and clowning around of Shhh! on Saturday, 29 July at Jacksons Lane. Book here: