Sunday, 19 July 2015

Chapter 90: Circus Girls

Circus Girls
photo: Channel 4/All 4

As I walked up to the Channel 4 headquarters on Horseferry Road on Friday night I clocked the big signature "4" standing there invitingly in primary colours, like some giant climbing frame. Is that what looking at life through a circus lens does to you, I wondered? And clearly it wasn't just me as, a short while after, the Circus Girls rocked up having used it as just that. Who are the Circus Girls? They are the subjects of a series of portraits by free-lance film-maker Umut Gunduz, for the on-line All 4 (click here) that is due to go live this week. They are, in order of appearance:

Angelica Thistel Klüft - Straps
Imogen Rose Macrae - Cloud Swing
Lynn Scott - Contact Juggling
Le Renn: Jackie Le and Rebecca Rennison - Aerial Hoop Duo
Missy Macabre - Fire-Eating
Lily Raptor - Contortion 

The screening took place in a basement cinema, and the audience comprised of the music makers, producers, and of course the Circus Girls and mates, missing Lynn Scott and Lily Raptor. There was a brief introduction from Umut and Adam Gee, C4 commissioning editor, explaining the genesis of the project: how a chance mention of circus training and injuries sustained by Kat, aka Estlin Love, in a short on relationships, had set Umut off at a tangent down the circus path. I was fascinated by the process of the actual making of the documentary, which merits its own post, and impressed by the courage of each of the girls handing over control of their own story.

Each portrait of Circus Girls is about three minutes long and they fit together as a complimentary body of work, balancing each other out in their variety. I was fascinated how, in such a short space of time, you could get a personal handle on each performer. Without disclosing the content, as such, Angelica's portrait nailed the essential why of circus: the love of a body not for how it looks but what it can do, as the adrenalin and endorphins carry her past the bruises and burns to power through on straps. The portrait of Imogen is that of someone whose spirit has been carried off by the gypsies, and her performance on cloud swing pulls you into a dream space, reflecting her love for all things immersive. Lynn's contact juggling with a crystal ball was hypnotically zen, demonstrating beauty in simplicity in both practice and life-style. Le Renn pay clear homage to the Kill Bill school of superhuman strength, with their focus on power moves, showcasing flexibility and strength and a dynamic portrait of a friendship. Missy Macabre blazed her way onto stage with a serene sense of self, challenging the audience to cross boundaries and own the depths of their desire. It made me think of Alexander McQueen, in the previous post.  Finally, descending into the crypt, Lily Raptor's extraordinary contortion underlined the incredible self-discipline and focus, bordering on the obsessive, and the strength of mind required to keep faith in an industry where you are effectively your own boss, and assume full responsibility for every outcome.  

From left: Angelica, Missy Macabre, Imogen, Jackie, Rebecca and Umut
Photo: Channel 4/All 4
Together the portraits are a celebration, and testimony, to the free spirit and dedication of the Circus Girls to their craft, going beyond reasonable limits of pain and endurance to train their bodies to do incredible things. That, for me, is key to understanding the powerful attraction of a circus strongwoman - yes, these Circus Girls are each uniquely beautiful, but they are not the subject of some reductive male fantasy of a cute crotch in a leotard, rather each is performing the type of work she would like to see herself, and inviting the audience into her space, on her own terms. 

Circus Girls is out this week on All 4.

Photo: Channel 4/All 4

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