Tugged in one direction at the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF), I registered, in the distance, a head bobbing up and down behind a crowd in the other. That evening, flicking through the wealth of information in the festival newspaper, I realised that the act I had missed was Stefano Di Renzo's "Hold On". Dammit. I had come across "Hold On" at Canvas (see Chapter 75) in a speed-dating style market-place at the Arts Depot. In "Hold On" Stefano explores, through use of the slack rope, the precarious balance of an individual struggling to control a system, and the limits that in turn imposes. Well, that struck a chord. It also happens that Stefano is my *Equilibristics teacher at Circus Space, where I am on the beginners course. Again. In fact I should be there right now, but there is no way round the tube strike so I am here tapping away instead. Ironic really. Luckily, the paper informed me, "Hold On" would be appearing again in the "Dancing City" element of the GDIF festival at Canary Wharf. It meant missing a polefit class on a Tuesday afternoon, but surmounting a number of obstacles in the dash to get there was a pretty decent high-octane parkour alternative.
Arriving in the nick of time, I sat down on Cubbit Steps by Cabot Square and took in the view. The audience was a far cry from Bohemian festival-clad Greenwich. This time there was a sea of jackets and ties, and I felt in a time warp, rewinding to a period of my life as a child-free suit-wearing accountant in the City and resident Docklander. I was hit by a pang of nostalgia for a time when I was both caught in a system and yet, earning my keep, felt I was my own free agent. That, for me, was the ironic beauty to staging "Hold On" in a financial district. The phallic stack of towering buildings and cranes in the distance had their own symmetrical beauty, alien to the romantic history and leafiness of the Cutty Sark and her environs. The sun was harsh, the sky a deep azure blue. It was the most striking setting, so familiar and yet utterly removed from where I'm at now.
Looking through the camera lens of my phone, I realised I was a bit to close to the stage and moved a couple of rows back to take a better shot. As luck would have it that landed me bang next to Jan, from Joli Vyann (see Chapter 61), and it was a lovely surprise to see a friendly face. As with watching Dynamite and Poetry (see Chapter 85) next to Mr Bates, it struck me how circus and street performance function as social glue, encouraging and celebrating such chance connections in a crowd. Boum.
And then I was struck by Stefano's gentle comedy. Wheeling round a plank with a mug pinned by gravity and skill, balancing on his head utilitarian objects - planks and a bucket - made me think of all the daily chores that press on my mind, ready at any minute to clatter to the ground. I could learn from this. Focus. Then came the turn on slack-rope, and I was mesmerised. You see "Hold On" is the greatest lesson I have taken away with me from tight-wire classes. I have to "hold on" more, to fight for every step, to fight the temptation to surrender to the slightest wobble. That goes for life in general too. Every single day. Slack-rope is even tougher as there is more movement in the line. It requires a different technique, more bend in the knee and the leg muscles burn even harder. Well, that's as far as my experience goes any
way, having made it across a tight-wire a number of times now, but never more than a couple of steps on a slack-line. To see Stefano, il Maestro, in action not only deftly crossing forward and back, but tumbling along the line, tying himself in knots in the system, taking hold of it, on occasion nearly strangled by it, yet keeping his balance, well, it was both great entertainment and a fine example of life in sway. Hold On. Indeed. Bravo.
*A course in equilibristics at Circus Space (the National Centre for Circus Arts) comprises the balancing disciplines of tightwire, unicycle, globe walking and rolla bolla.