Saturday, 18 October 2014

Chapter 42: The School of Hard Knocks

It was our last lesson of four on flying trapeze at Circus Space this week, and I was standing on top of the platform with my hands crossed over on the bar, the first in the group about to try out a new move called The Turnaround.  As the name indicates, this is where you turn round while in a swing.  Not rocket science, the turning unfurls automatically from the hands overlapping, and the body twisting to correct.  The thing about learning on a petit volant (as opposed to the larger, grand volant) is that being smaller,  the swing is shorter and things move quickly. There is not much margin for error. So I stepped off the platform, and before I knew it, was then spinning round and slamming my thighs into the platform on the return swing.  At speed. Slamming my ego in the process.

It had been a day for hard knocks.  There had been a workshop at RichMix in the morning called "The Actor's Body" with Argentine clowns/mime artists Julia Muzio and Jorge Costa from the previous post.  A workshop for performers, I signed up to it out of curiosity, both excited by the idea of learning a new language (the body's) and at the same time feeling an imposter. I'm not a performer, after all, just a writer with exhibitionist tendencies...

The workshop was, well, more physical than I expected. We started with warm up stretches familiar from yoga and Circus Space, but the moment we got onto the practical exercises it felt as though that magic carpet had been whipped from under my feet, and I was floored.  I struggled with simple exercises like keeping pace with the group shoulder to shoulder, being always a couple of steps behind. Then, squatting down to lift up an imaginary weight there was an audible "riiiiippppp" as my stretch jeans gave way, revealing half my arse to the elements. Well, I reflected, this is a clown class after all. But it was less amusing having to peel off my long baggy top and tie it round my waist to cover up. It left me in just the tight vest-top underneath, you see, and while I guess boobs among clowns are de rigeur, feeling like something straight out of a Benny Hill show is just not my bag. 

So by the time it came to one of the main improv exercises, involving reacting to your partner's movements in front of the rest of the class, I was silently dying. We'd already been sniffing each other like dogs in a practice run, now we had an audience. There were moments when it felt like our movements and responses generated a spontaneous narrative, and I can appreciate relishing the sheer joy of physical expression. I get why Julia's acting mentor would describe the actor as "un animal de placer" (an animal of pleasure - woof!). And I can see how when it clicks, the body can becomes a dynamic and responsive storyteller. Still, by the end of those interminable five minutes, despite (or maybe because of) having thrown myself completely into the exercise I felt so exposed I literally curled up into a foetal position, willing Julia and Jorge to call time. 

After that, moving on to learning about the art of the stage slap, the punch and the kick was child's play. And by that I don't mean it was straightforward or easy, but simply that we let rip and enjoyed ourselves, lost in the moment. It was also a sheer delight to see Julia and Jorge give demonstrations, as these guys are experienced virtuosos of timing and comedy. We practiced (re)creating credible reactions, playing around with the timings of response through anticipation or delay, exaggeration or restraint. It was fascinating, and I look at stage fights now  in a whole new light, having seen several subsequently in the CASA Latin American theatre festival. It was also painful, for while there was no contact on the strike itself, feigning contact often involved tumbling on hard wooden floors, leaving me with a numb buttock, and a swollen palm. But it didn't register. There was an easy energy with my next partner, and it really felt as though we were clowning around.  We laughed a lot. A relief and a joy after the sheer intensity of the previous exercise. 

The aerial class that evening also ended on a high, as we finished up with doing the familiar jarré, or hox (see video below). This is the move where you end up hanging by your knees, then letting go with your hands so you automatically fall, though I need to work on the dismount.  (Note to self: look up to the catcher when reaching out the hands, straighten the legs, bring the ankles together and point those toes).   I'm learning in circus, as in life, that there is a real art to letting go and falling. It's hard work, and you set yourself up for knocks along the way, knocks that bring with them moments of excruciating vulnerability, but boy is it worth it.  

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