Friday, 20 June 2014

Chapter 16: Bird with a Broken Wing

The poetics of circus is a funny one.   The poetry of physical movement speaks volumes, but recently there seem to be more and more shows reciting, as well as embodying, the written word, with varying degrees of success.  One example is the Australian production "She Would Walk the Sky" which I saw at the Roundhouse as part of CircusFest 2014 back in April.

The narrative, such as it was, laid an emphasis on the idea of a circus family being a delicate balancing act.   The bird with a broken wing in this case is pining after her dearly departed sailor boy.   She leaves the company to search for him, with her ardent admirer, the Strong Man, in hot pursuit.  The faded grandeur of the circus carnival set mirrors the disintegration of the company as it loses one of its wings.  I loved the surreal clown who brought the story together, but whether he was too far out on a limb from the rest of the performers, having "wandered in from another show", and whether the story-telling simply distracts from the real talent of the acrobats. is an interesting point made in Lyn Gardner's review in The Guardian.  

What lingered for me, after the show, was the theme of the bird with a broken wing.  The strength, skill and extraordinary focus of the performers counter-poised with the potential danger, illicited frequent gasps from the audience, and had me leaning over to my brother at one point whispering "I'm not sure how much more I take of this ... "  The idea that however strong we all have our Achilles' heel, stayed with me; we are all damaged goods in one way or another.  The bird that is soaring may then find she is knocked off her perch by desire, the strong man may find himself unmanned by unrequited love, the family may realise it is missing a limb when a member goes walkabout.   

Life is so bloody fragile, I think.  A lesson that was brought home to me last Friday when I was training out on the Common and put my shoulder out of its socket.  In an excruciating moment of funny-bone pain, writhing around to knock it back in place, and with my training partner thinking I was having an epileptic fit, I remember thinking, "this just can't happen to me right now, I need to go and pick my son up from tennis in a minute, then my daughter from a playdate etc." Eventually, after a moment where time seemed to stand still and extend infinitely outwards in all directions, the bone slotted back into its groove.  I'm hyper-mobile and this has happened before, you see, though never quite as severely.  The pain went in an instant, but ache of vulnerability lingered.  

So going back on Tuesday evening to Circus School (ie. The National Centre for Circus Arts, formerly known as Circus Space) was not a little daunting.  I had missed two lessons and with Circus School's half-term to boot, my absence added up to a month.  Ditto my partner-in-crime Anne, doing the acrobalance course.   It was great to see the familyar faces in my group again, at the same time missing the couple that weren't there. We don't rely on each other physically, as the acrobalancers building human pyramids do, say, but there is an instant trust and support there.  My first lesson on static trapeze, then, was their third (that much was obvious!) but it was thanks to their encouragement that I could get up at all.  And also thanks to our teacher, Lorraine, who it turned out was subbing for the usual teacher.  That was a stroke of luck, as it turned out that Lorraine had taught static trapeze to my friend Vicky over a decade ago, and knew her very well.  And it was Vicky, her energy and her stories, that had inspired me to sign up, in turn.  

Lorraine had the perfect balance of encouraging us to go beyond our comfort levels without forcing the issue, and supporting us when we (ok, I!) froze.   We practiced moves again and again, at times with our eyes shut to reinforce the sensations.  It was fabulous.  At the end, Lorraine invited us to practice a move where you drop from sitting into a half-angel.  Half-angel.  Short a wing.  Love that.

After class, I found Anne had pulled a ligament up the back of her leg in her tumbling class.   She was in huge pain, not that that will ever stop her. Anne had been doing a star turn, complimented on her round offs,  and observed that pride does come before a fall.  I was hobbling too - simply because a surfeit of lactic acid, pumping into my muscles when fear gripped hold, meant my biceps and calf muscles had seized up as a result. What a pair we made.  Still, proud of our efforts, even when we have to wing it.  Birds a little broken, but still soaring ...

... and still tweeting.   Being on twitter this past month has retuned me into the delights of discoveries on radio as well.  I heard a song the other day that struck a chord.   "Let Her Go" by Passenger. Looking into Passenger's bio, I was fascinated to learn that he has made it big-time from busking, so, like circus, he has his roots in street performance.   No beauty without pain.  No flight without falling.  She Would Walk the Sky if you Let Her Go.

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