Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Chapter 70: Airealism: Circus That Takes Us Down the Rabbit Hole...

It's a funny old world, I think sometimes, curiouser and curiouser. Chance conversations and meetings converge, and give life its own quirky rhythm. I had been admiring Fiona's ariel boots in class, and it turns out that another Circus Space student, Isabella Mars, had made them. I remember going on Isabella's website - see - and falling in love with the colours, designs, and the glamour. There was something otherworldly about the leather and the laces, maybe all that reading of Lucy Ribchester's "The Hourglass Factory" (see Chapter 68) had encouraged the fantasy of being a suffragette trapeze artiste, the archetypal circus strongwoman. So I met up with Isabella in the foyer of Circus Space, where she brought swatches of leathers and suede and measured me up (my feet, rather than skillset!).  A couple of weeks later they were ready, and they are a work of sheer beauty. Soft black leather with suede where grip is needed, and dark silver tongues. I am in awe and, determined to live up to them, they are my talisman. I managed my first ankle hang in them only last week. As we were chatting it turned out that Isabella was part of Airealism. This is the circus collective comprising some 20-strong (make that super-strong) amateurs, in the most fundamental sense. That is to say they hold down day jobs and train on the side for the love of it. And, 150 years on from Lewis Carroll, they were bringing Alice in Wonderland circus-style to the Vault Festival, taking the audience Down the Rabbit Hole.

As I descended down the stairs into this warren under Waterloo, hand-in-hand with my six year old daughter for the Saturday matinée, there was a frisson of excitement. I love the space in the Vault tunnels, the dank underworld of adventure it promises. As we lined up outside "The Pit", it was a joy to bump into Malcolm from my static class and Edel and Chris from Flying Fantastic. Name badges were handed out  - familiar, yet different, we were all Alice! - and then ushered into a departure lounge of an airport. Announcements were made over the tannoy and the stewardesses gave safety instructions as we prepared to take off into Wonderland.  As the lights went out my daughter tugged at my hand for security. The black curtain that had sectioned off half the space fell away to reveal a stage set for tea-time, where it is always six o' clock, and a central runway - less for airplanes, more a space to lead the characters up the garden path.  

It was brilliantly executed. The Mad Hatter, Dormouse and March Hare provided the entertainment (and the Foxes Glacier Mints!) to cover the transitions between acts, charismatic raconteurs engaging the audience, while the skill of the circus acts themselves was creatively captivating. The caterpillar - well, more of a silks worm! - morphing into the bread-and-butterfly and swooping down in the drops left us goggled eyed, the sultry flamingo on silks smouldered, the Cheshire Cat was a fluroescence of feline grace on the lyra, the frog courtier had echoes of Frederick Ashton's Jeremy Fisher on trapeze, the imperiously silent Duchess span round at dizzying speed, the pages to the Queen of Heart's stunned as a duo on static trapeze, and the Queen of Hearts made her regal entrance and hopped on the hoop. I left thinking how Circus complements Wonderland. Both connote a transformative space where the impossible is possible. If only you believe. And with practice, I now myself believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast, while these guys show where you get to by tea ...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Chapter 69: Company New World's "Globally Wanted"

“A theatre is the most important sort of house in the world, because that's where people are shown what they could be if they wanted, and what they'd like to be if they dared to and what they really are.” 
 - Tove Jansson

Billed as "sex, love and violence in black, pink and turquoise" Finnish Company New World (Circus Uusi Mailma) brought their astonishing show Globally Wanted to Jacksons Lane recently. Five fragile creatures in an iron acro-cube exploring boundaries of emotional and physical resilience.  "A black burlesque belch" one Finnish critic observed, picking up on the elements of dark and grotesque comedy. Think Clockwork Orange meets (Visi)Goth Vamp and you get the gist.

As I wandered into the intimate space of the Jacksons Lane auditorium, eyes adjusting to the lighting, I registered the cube structure first, and only after a few moments noticed the performers on top, and gazing fixedly out from the shadows. It caught me unawares. Destabilising. And that's the show - an off-kilter balancing act. I loved the use of the acro-cube, a mass of edges that functioned as Chinese poles and monkey bars that the performers fly around. Delineating space but not limiting it, a construction of borders repeatedly crossed.  There was, for instance, an ingenious use of parkour movements to scale the walls and access doors and fire exits beyond. 

One of the performers, pictured above in pink, moves in bi-mechanical fashion (the only way I can think to describe a cross-dressing manbot) and then turns into a wicked drummer, raising the energy levels through the roof.  Pairings and triangles criss-cross with a look, a longing, a tease of a kiss and then are ripped apart with a slap, limbs becoming bandaged, bodies wrapped around poles or strapped into wheelchairs. It's not pretty. And that's the point. As if to say what doesn't kill you really does make you stronger, the injuries and their supports become a springboard for new tricks. A crutch is unscrewed and fixed into the base of a trapeze swing, the wheel chair swings round the pole, gaining momentum and becomes a fundamental spoke in the circus apparatus.  There are breath-taking moments of physical brilliance, the whole raison d'être of any circus performance, combined with an absurd take on representing the dynamics of relationships in all their cruelty that was very funny. We laughed, we whooped, we shifted in our seats uncomfortably. Globally Wanted now translates into Globally Appreciated. And I'm sure they'll be back ... in some shape or form.

Love hurts. Circus hurts. Embrace it. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Chapter 68: The "F" word.

"What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives"
Anne Morrow Lindbergh (author and aviator)

So true. Life is an act of juggling compromises. I had to miss the last unicycle class this week as I was working through a science experiment examining sound and vibrations with my son. The one where you make walkie-talkies with paper cups linked by a piece of string, and use juggling balls to explain molecular action. Obviously. And I really missed the class. Circus Space is such a familiar part of my landscape now, it's hard to believe I have been going there barely a year. Tomorrow, 8th March is, in fact, our anniversary.

A year to the day since I rolled up with a dozen girlfriends in tow, for a "circus experience" afternoon. It also happened to be International Women's Day, which hadn't registered initially but was so apt as we were a complete hotchpotch of nationalities, just the ticket for the BBC crew that turned up there filming and interviewing for a travel programme.

Lucy Ribchester at the Brixton Book Jam

As we march towards that date again, I have found this week to be a celebration of sisterhood and friendship. And I swear by the "F" word.  Feminisim. That marmite word you either love or hate. Feminism may signify to some dungarees and DMs, the man-eating Miss Guided. For me it signifies a reclamation of space and redressing the balance. A positive celebration of female empowerment does not connote a castration of manhood. Because I am more, does not make you any the less. And this circus adventure over the past year has brought it home.

Recently, reading Lucy Ribchester's "The Hourglass Factory" a page-turner of a conspiracy set amidst the suffragette movement  (click here for post: Circus Strongwoman) has brought home how far we have come since the days when women were either stuffed into corsets or stuffed into Holloway. Funnily enough I met Lucy this week at the Brixton Book Jam at Hootananny's, after watching her on stage read aloud from the prologue, where the suffragette trapeze artist, Ebony Diamond, is preparing for a leap of faith in more ways than one. It struck me that a circus woman historically has been regarded as a figure of emancipation. Independent and strong.

Superheroines - the artists
But while we have the vote, sexism pervades all areas of life. That was brought home this week on a trip to the South Bank where I was meeting up with the founder of Boylexe (click here for post: Boylexe - Man, I feel like a Woman) for coffee at the BFI and talk turned to recording and witnessing personal stories verbatim - as in the Burlexe show he had also produced to great acclaim. Afterwards, joined by my circus buddy/partner-in-crime Anne, we bumped into the founder of Femme Fierce (click here to access the Facebook page) being interviewed in the Vault tunnel by Waterloo. As a mother with a teenage daughter Ayaan was struck by the male dominance in the street art scene, where cartoonish figures of nipped waists and blossoming boobs prevail,  and has instituted this festival that reclaims space for women. Last year, in aid of Breast Cancer Care, they painted the tunnel bubblegum pink and then sprayed graffiti over it. This year the charity being supported is the children's charity Plan, and so their signature blue will be used as the base. Ayaan was joined by Austrian, whose ceramic street artwork - a hyena encrusted with dollar signs - Anne recognised from a recent trip to Berlin (you can also find it in Tokyo!). We also met Mariana, an artist over from Greece, and a couple of students recording for posterity. It was quite simply a moment, a meeting, an inspiration.

Anne and I left them and walked all the way home, some 7 miles. The journey became a sort of cultural pilgrimage as we dipped into a friend's art gallery en route, bumped into one of my static trapeze teachers from Circus Space,  and generally set the world to rights.

As Jude Kelly (Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre) said in her talk at Battersea Arts Centre last week: "We all have a chance, all of us, to do something to make the world a bit more positive". So if you are free tomorrow, Sunday 8th March,  join the women and girls for some or all of the painting, which begins at 8am in the morning at the Vault tunnel. Make your mark.

8 March 2014
NOTE: Kaveh Rahnama (pictured) was our course instructor that afternoon. Fitting then that a year on, to the day, we will be going to see his directorial debut of Genius Sweatshop's Lab Rat and mind-altering puppetry in the Firsts Festival  at the Little Angel Theatre, Islington, tomorrow (and on Monday too) click here for more information: 

*Post Up-date*
Sunday at the Vault Tunnel with Femme Fierce was a truly incredible community experience. Took my girls and we met women, and men, who had travelled from all over the world for this inspirational event.

Read more about it here in my circus partner-in-crime Anne's superb blog post and sign up for next year!
On Femme Fierce, International Women's Day, Leake Street and more Gorgeous Graffiti

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Chapter 67: Cirque Eloize's "Cirkopolis"

"It's fantastic! It makes you happy, surprised, amazed and makes your life full of colour!" 
(Kids' verdict)

Last weekend I also went to see Cirque Eloize's Cirkopolis at the Peacock Theatre, Sadlers Wells,  as a family birthday treat. We had seen their show I.D. there a couple of years ago, a high-octane meditation on urban living, exploring the different tribes we live in with sensational street-style, circus tricks with skipping ropes and BMX bikes and we came out bouncing.

Cirkopolis the people's circus, da?, starts off in a colourless state. A human factory of grey brick and grey trench coats, as though we had stepped into Brazil, the film, not the country. A place of anonymous functionaries and functionality. A man sits at a desk in the Aegean stables of admin, attempting to rubber-stamp an ever-growing pile of forms. Bit by bit, he, along with a dozen or so other mysterious characters rebel against the monochromatic tedium of their existence with spectacular circus skills in flashes of glorious technicolour (so it's not just me then -  see previous post click here) - the red dress in a Cyr wheel,  the mustard-yellow kicking Chinese pole duo, a purple dress splitting her steps atop supporting hands, to name but a few. It is darkly comic, both in terms of humour and the graphic set design (think Metropolis meets shades of Gotham City), while the cast really are multidisciplinary Marvels in the feats they perform.

Without an interval the show propels you forward relentlessly with tricks of contortion, trapeze, juggling and flying off teeter boards until the characters finally succeed in breaking out of their factory settings and into the circus space of a Big Top. The hard-core adrenaline-fuelled moments are counter-balanced with suave instances poetry in motion, such a cliché I know. But had you seen the tour de force on the German wheel, the spinning sighs on the Cyr wheel, the torso on straps or clown Ashley Carr's (former Circus Space student) poignant romance with a coy dress on a coat hanger, you would understand why words fail me.

"Poetry in motion": Léa Toran Jenner on Cyr Wheel

We loved Stéfan Boucher's musical score as well (see the behind-the-scenes video below). "Something chimes in me" indeed, and I highly recommend buying the CD. Having bought the soundtrack to I.D. last time round, we found it really does reinforce the memory of each individual act, and trust me, if you see this show you'll want to prolong the experience. Enjoy!

Note: Cirque Eloize's Cirkopolis has finished its run in London  but is still on tour in the UK until 11 April.
For the tour schedule click here.