One charming night
Gives more delight
Than a hundred
Than a hundred
A hundred lucky days
(The Fairy Queen)
Experience that for yourself at Jacksons Lane, up in Highgate, now into its second week of the Postcards Festival! It has a stellar line up and a variety of circus encompassing physical comedy, cabaret, contemporary dance, theatre monologues and a club night. I am there for three consecutive evenings this week (and wondering about a timeshare option on a broom cupboard), and last night went to the double bill of Cul de Sac and Meeting Point, where there crowd was absolutely buzzing. Writing about it on a timely basis is going to be a challenge, especially with the kids on holiday, but I'm setting a 24 hour turnaround for each of the three nights I'm attending in order to capture these fleeting impressions as quickly as possible and to give a flavour for what's out there.
No better place to start than Cul de Sac, a tango, of sorts, between Chinese pole star Gemma Palomar and the smoothest of jugglers José Triguero. I was looking forward to this having heard so much about Gemma's skill and seen José in action in 8 Songs (See Chapter 86), and it was a joy to see them together. Their show looks at "raw human behaviour" through an exploration of the dynamics of their own partnership; the tension between working as a duo yet retaining their own personal space, or dominating that of the other. It was funny, it was dark, and, at points, it was gratifyingly absurd.
At the beginning it would appear that Gemma literally has the upper hand, throwing down balls from the top of the Chinese pole for José to then catch and juggle, then descending, inverted to the point that her tumble of hair literally covers José's face, and swallows it up. Subtilely though, there is a shift. Gemma moves round the space repeating a beautiful movement sequence, followed, and continually interrupted, by José humping the floor. Recognising music from Purcell's "The Fairy Queen"* it made me think of the ethereal Tatiana being upstaged by a subversive Bottom. The clowning mood darkens as José then chucks proverbial balls at Gemma, relentlessly hurtling instructions at her, by turns cajoling and insulting, to make her climb the pole, drop reluctantly, jerkily - not smoothly, as is her want, - and go up again, more and more. On one level I imagine it is a depiction of a working relationship between circus performers, challenging each other to stretch beyond their limit, but for me, it also carried echoes of a working girl being pumped to death - maybe that's McQueen's influence (see Chapter 86)! With Gemma reduced to a limp, rag doll José is free to give his monologue in the spotlight. It is very, very funny - some of the humour clearly impromptu, and responsive to the delighted audience - owning to a Catholic guilt instilled by the priests at school, underscored with black humour, that made me think of Almodovar's "Bad Education". But the victory of being centre stage is ultimately a hollow one for José - he is in that dead end, or cul de sac, with no way forward without his (sparring) partner, and the final act centres on the challenge of resurrection.
Out of Order - Meeting Point
Contemporary dance intimidates me. I have no education in choreography. Like an abstract painting, I can respond to the shapes and the colours but always with the slight reservation that I am completely missing the point. I wonder sometimes that it's my own Catholic education speaking, that instilled a dread of misinterpreting intentions from on high.
But I will dive into a response to Out of Order's Meeting Point, where circus combined with contemporary dance, because it was an incredibly beautiful piece to which I want to bear witness. Beginning with a head in a birdcage, and old-style briefcases swapping hands, I was transported to a train station, the start of a journey, with all the excitement of the promise of travel. Watching Angeliki take to the straps, the most challenging of aerial disciplines in terms of strength and discomfort, was exhilarating. Dressed in a white leotard and flowing back trousers, her monochrome costume set her apart from the rest of the group all in black. While there were moments of synchronised dance, I enjoyed it when each performer had their moment to showcase their own discipline. Eirini and Julian come from a dance background, thetas clear, and JD and Nikki I knew already as extraordinary hand-balancers from seeing them at Circus Space for Canvas (see Chapter 75). In each case I was struck by the shapes that they weaved both in tandem, in groups and individually. The grace of Eirini's hand shapes and movement, the charismatic challenge in Julian's physical language, the steady power of JD's base and the trust in Nikki as she uses him as both springboard and catcher. I loved the meeting point of disciplines - as seen when Angeliki, JD and Julian take a strap each and perform a sequence in trio that was fluid and touching. Later, Angeliki quietly strips off in the shadows down to a nude bodysuit and leggings, and takes to the straps, now gashes of red, a particularly striking finale to a series of musings of our journey through life.
* I saw "The Fairy Queen" a couple of years ago, and was struck by the spritely acrobatics as much as the music. And together with the tumbling toreadors in Carmen, and ex-Cirque de Soleil's Franck Saurel taking the spoken lead as the Pasha in Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio", at Glyndbourne recently, again it strikes me that circus is everywhere, if you keep your eyes open.