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 ...

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