Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Chapter 74: Circolombia at The Roundhouse

No se me importa un pito que las mujeres
tengan los senos como magnolias o como pasas de higo;
un cutis de durazno o de papel de lija.
Le doy una importancia igual a cero,
al hecho de que amanezcan con un aliento afrodisíaco
o con un aliento insecticida.
Soy perfectamente capaz de soportarles
una nariz que sacaría el primer premio
en una exposición de zanahorias;
¡pero eso sí! -y en esto soy irreductible

- no les perdono, bajo ningún pretexto, que no sepan volar.

from Espantapájaros (Scarecrow) by Oliverio Girondo 
or see my interpretation at the end

 Espantapúblico: Circolombia's Julia Sanchez Aja 

Lianna - check out her website:
When I was about 12 I fell in love with Spanish. Or maybe it was the Spanish teacher at our little convent school. The formidably fierce, elegant, young Mercedes held us in thrall decked out in her modern Mediterranean colours (all taupes, olive greens, russet browns) in contrast to the old-fashioned black and starched white habits of our Irish sisters. And more exotic still, Mercedes had a boyfriend. Suffice to say the spark that she ignited has since become an all-consuming blazing fire. I love speaking Spanish. It gives me a freedom to communicate a passion, warmth, joy and enthusiasm that in English may get  written off as "excitable". For me, Spanish is more than a language, it is a state of mind, just like circus. A space that challenges constraints and crosses boundaries.  So what a treat when the two worlds collide, when they fuse and I short-circuit, as with  Circolombia and their show Aceleré, which gets the heart of circus pumping, and the audience pulsating, to an urban latino beat. And on Friday night I went along with over a dozen friends for the ride. The friends were all from different areas of my life (sounds familiar? See Chapter 1: A Circus Experience), and while some may have crossed paths before, in the main they didn't know each other. Still, they all share that curiosity and openness to otherness and new experiences that makes them great company. 

I felt a bit like the Pied Piper actually. As I travelled up with a girlfriend on the Northern Line, one friend got into our carriage, then her partner at the next stop, and so on. By the time we got out at Chalk Farm most of us had been united, and introductions were made over heads in the lift on the way up to the general a(be)musement of the rest of the occupants. We hit The Roundhouse buzzing, connected, and ready for more.

Soledad Gomez Acevedo & Oscar MauricioRojas Guasca on straps
The performance that followed was one of extraordinary strength, agility, courage, playfulness, power and poetry. All the world-class performers in Circolombia are graduates of the National School "Circo Para Todos" which provides support through professional circus training to young people at risk, founded by Brit, Felicity Simpson, building bridges. Watching the Circolombia guys backflip from a hand-to-hand handstand onto a pair of hands behind or somersault from swings onto a platform of hands, left me not speechless, but rather drained of expletives. I don't normally swear in English but the words jerked out of me at every climax. Each time there was a sense that the performers were continually responding and assessing whether they could go that little bit further today. And then go for it, or on occasion maybe not. Absolute trust and breath-taking risk. Fundamental cornerstones to each trick. And that gave the show its raw edge that made it both terrifying and exhilarating to watch.  As well as astonishing acrobatics from teeterboard, swing and from each other, there was an extraordinarily sensual duet on straps, a cloud swinger whose aerial state defines her identity and a sequence where butanes of gas, with lights on the base became suspended aerial supports round which four performers whirled with a graceful luminosity. Ironic really, as the energy the evening generated was so high-octane it lit up the Roundhouse and spilled onto the streets.

John Rodriguez

Afterwards some of the performers stayed behind to sell CDs of Ryan Willmott's superb musical score, have pictures taken with their adoring (excitable!) fans - what's the Spanish for groupie anyone? not acosadora, por Dios! - and generally chat. Talk about stamina. They revealed themselves to be utter sweethearts whose gentle, easygoing nature explained the relaxed insouciance that was part of their on-stage charm. The English me still cringes at the thought of introducing myself to these young guys and handing over my cards, but in Spanish I'm a shameless sinvergüenza which overrided any embarrassment,  and afterwards we decamped to the bar where the caipirinhas did the rest. So here's to old souls and new memories. 

Cheers Circolombia! Salud! Aché!

Juan Eugenio Bonilla Landazuri, Gustavo Adolfo Quinones Castro, Jhon Edward Angulo Ibarguen, Jhon Gerlin Rodriguez Riascos, Daniel Muñoz, Juan Manuel Navarro Rubiano, Juan Camilo Gaitan López, Soledad Gomez Acevedo, Oscar Mauricio Rojas Guasca, Julia Sánchez Aja, Lianna, Diana Vargas.

Standing ovation all round

My Interpretation of Oliverio Girondo's Scarecrow:

I don't give a toss whether women have breasts soft as magnolias or wrinkled as prunes;
a skin soft as peaches or scratchy as a filing board.
I am completely indifferent 
as to whether their morning breath is an aphrodisiac
or tastes  of insecticide,
I am can perfectly well put up with 
a nose that would win first prize in
a carrot competition
but know one thing, and on this point I am resolute:

- I don't excuse, under any pretext, that they not know how to fly. 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Chapter 73: A Circus Break

Well, it's still the holidays, we are down by the sea-side and I am trying on wetsuits. In another life when the hot young surfer dude asks if I need help getting out of my wetsuit, I would shake out a mass of bed-head beach curls in reply, unzip the suit, slip out of my bikini and into the Hawaiian sunset. But having come straight from Billy's beach cafe in Bracklesham Bay where the kids and I brunched on babs, burgers and ice-cream sundaes, sexy doesn't quite cut it. I feel more like a beached sea-lion, all fumbles and flippers, just missing the red ball to balance on my nose. I can manage the zip across my chest thank you very much, but I do need his help getting the inner sealant-loop back over my head. Then back in the changing room, red-faced and determined, I wriggle out of the rest and figure that maybe I could make it as a clown-cortortionist in a cabaret act.  

Beach-life is like a second-skin for me. Here down in the Witterings we've spent the week in a surprise of sunshine catching up with family and friends, and exploring local attractions like Arundel Castle and Fishbourne Roman Palace, landmarks from my own childhood. West Wittering beach has become, in loco Londinium, another Circus Space, inviting balancing acts on surf boards, handstands against sea markers and juggling with beach boules.  In the evenings, the kids and I have been enjoying Noel Streatfeild's Circus Shoes (originally The Circus is Coming), about a couple of orphans who runaway to a travelling big top in search of their uncle Gus. Streatfeild tented with a circus for a couple of seasons in the 1920s and there is something about dipping into that bye-gone era that suits the gentler pace of life here.

Back in London, circus is in overdrive. In Circus Maximus 20 stellar circus acts have been battling it out over four heats for a place in the final on Sunday and a £4k prize.  In the running are Alula Cyr (mentioned in Chapter 71 - click here), Angeliki Nikolakaki on straps, JD & Nikki hand-balancing, Tom Gaskin juggling and Sam Goodburn juggling/unicycle. All I can say is pity those having to choose between them. Tonight (Sat), at Jacksons Lane in Highgate, leading contemporary circus Acrojou is curating A Frantic Evening (click here) that promises to be wet and wild. To complete the hat trick, see Circolombia, circus with guts and gustoat the Roundhouse in Camden. I'm going with over a dozen friends on Friday, 24 April - if you are around then *wave*!

For a comprehensive guide to what's on in the world of circus over the next month check out National circus website - click here.

Meanwhile, love from the seaside. And breathe. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Chapter 72: Back in Pole Position

Circus Space is shut for the holidays, so I used my night off this week to go back to my old pole class in Stockwell YMCA. It's been well over a year, and I was missing it increasingly. There is something steady about pole that makes other aerial circus apparatus like trapeze, rope or silks seem, well flighty. You can a rely on a pole to always be exactly where you left it. It's a strong, dependable support - you often use similar movements for rope and silk, but they flap around, any false move and they drop you like a stone. And the trapeze is a tease, you can take your feet off the bar, just don't expect it to be there waiting for you when you get back. 

Pole with Anna kickstarted this whole circus journey (see The Polelogue). I remember how scared I was at first. Stripping off for starters. Not that I'm a prude, but well, a woman of a certain age who's had three kids ... I wouldn't want to inflict all that bare flesh on anyone else, it's just not seemly, is it?! Couldn't I just come for a one-to-one, I asked? Well, that was a bit precious, so instead I invested in a St Tropez tan for the first month or so to tone down the glaring white flesh. My mask. I remember the first few weeks clearly. Step with left leg, hook with right, fall back and spin. Or grind to a halt in my case. It took weeks and weeks to get the most basic of moves, but there was never any judgement, simply support and encouragement, and my mask slipped away.

I remember the first time I climbed to the top of a pole, touched the ceiling and the applause that followed - we all progress at different speeds, but I had got there in the end, hurrah!  "We Are Young" by Fun. came on, and how my eyes creased with laughter, exhilaration and disbelief. There have been a few crashes since. And tears of frustration. Caterpillars, butterflies, mermaids and amazons are called forth and I'm still waiting for my metamorphosis. Has a year of circus made a difference? Well, yes, absolutely. I am relishing being stronger than ever and was utterly wired for a good 24 hours after the class this week with a couple of new moves under my belt, but disappointed to find a very real, and inhibiting, fear is still there. Fear of falling. Fear of pain. Which is why I will return again and again to this space that encourages me to believe the impossible is within my grasp. And grasp I will. Luckily Anna is now running a daytime class down the road in Morden that I can squeeze in once a week before the school pick-up - time to work harder! - but I will always have a soft spot for those YMCA nights with the girls, where it all began.

 Rehab … it's good to be back!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Chapter 71: Circus Students Going Places

It was the last equilibristics class at Circus Space and Max, our instructor, brought out all the equipment that we'd been learning on during the term: tightwire, unicycle, rolla-bolla and the globe - I felt like a kid in a candy shop. But in my lust to try the lot at the last-chance saloon, I ended up the fool of all and mistress of none,  getting tossed by my bucking bronco of a unicycle in the corridor of doom, teased by the tightrope and dumped on my arse by the globe. If only I'd just stuck to one thing - that's the first-class lesson I'll be taking with me next term when I repeat the course …

A lesson that was brought home by going on afterwards to watch the end of degree show by year BA Hons degree students at Circus Space. Having successfully passed the two-day audition process "where they are tested on strength, balance, dexterity and flexibility, as well as their ability to learn a choreographed routine" (see the article Where high fliers learn the ropes ) these guys have been sticking to their training of 35 hour weeks for three years.

And the end result? Two shows this year called Fire and Earth and Air and Water:

I saw Fire and Earth and what I loved about the acts, and I'm sure this applies just as much to Air and Water, was the story-telling as much as the phenomenal skill. There was a huge variety of narratives and styles, ranging from the autobiographical to the fantastical. From fiery childhood tantrums and burning, bloody love to a smouldering phoenix and a twisted dragon. They were all legends quite frankly.  I also really enjoyed the group cameo opening and closing the show from the first year students given the stage a clean sweep, and the vaudeville style comedy threading through the evening courtesy of that self-deprecating juggler Ian Marchant

So congrats to all the guys in both shows - to the first years at the beginning of their journey through Circus Space, and the third years who have stuck to their course and are about to launch onto new horizons. You were in your element. 

Cast of Fire and Earth:

Michelle Ross - Swinging trapeze - Silenced finding a voice on trapeze, not one to be slapped down, struck a chord on a visceral level
Kerrie Denton – Juggling - Unfold Me touched by balletic, graceful interpretation of the struggles of developing juggling skills 
Craig Gadd - Hand Balance - Grown up toys phenomenal strength toying around with serious handstands and beautiful form
Fiona Thornhill -  Cyr Wheel - The Tensile Twitch dizzying study in Olympian athleticism, rhythm and timing (one third of Alula Cyr girls)
Natalie James  -  Single point dance trapeze - Phoenix exquisitely smouldering and supine spinning
Claudia Hughes – Contortion - Here be Dragons disturbingly, extraordinarily enchanting movement  in tune with the siren call of Rosie Kohl's violin
Lil Rice - Cyr Wheel - Haima Terrific voice as one with the lyricism of the apparatus she spun, accompanied by Ollie Clark on guitar 
(another third of Alula Cyr girls - the final third, Jessica Ladley, was in Air and Water!)
Luke Hallgarten – Juggling - Jugla "I now know my type: a British guy in a suit who juggles" declared an American friend ...
Humour, rapport and skill reminded me of Gandini Juggling 
Maisy Taylor – Rope Ethereal and effortless grace, utterly spell-binding

 Supporting Cast (Foundation Degree 1st years): Daniel Ash, Charlie Caplan Wilson, Charlee DeBolla, Jason Dupree,  Pierre Riviere, Matthew Wood, Jodie Williams, Kate Shaw, Ben Nicholson, Habiba Noach Herce, Jessica Miller

The Foundation Degree 1st Years
Photo credit: Danny Ash @AmbientAsh

Post-script: I came across the inspirational Josh Billings quote last night in the Twitter feed of Australian musicians Syre & Fresko.
They've written a song called Tightrope (click here) - what's not to love?!