Saturday, 8 August 2015

Chapter 96: An August Circus

Every couple of years over the past decade, we have family photos taken. It's a way of charting time and watching our little community grow, like the height chart marked off on a kitchen door frame. We had a happy, relaxed morning with James Bignell (, now a valued friend and part of our family landscape, barely registering the shutter blinking - that's his gift. At the end, ever the exhibitionist, I did a little tightwire for a captive audience(!), renewing my commitment to circus training over the summer, and  posted a picture publicly to hold to that. The photo was picked up by NoFit State circus, inviting me to come and practice more at their Open House with Stratford Circus, which it turns out was kicking off that very evening at 6pm.

Cie Animotion - Transmission15 at Jacksons Lane
I was already shooting up to Jacksons Lane in Highgate for 4pm that afternoon to see French company Cie Animotion present their work in development as part of the series of #Transmission15.  Read about this annual circus residency programme here, in the blog written by Artistic Director Adrian Berry: It was a stretch to get to Highgate, but I'm learning that this circus journey is a bit like doing the splits. Just when you think you can't get any further, you push a little more, and something gives. In this case, I am very grateful to my uber-understanding other half for minding the kids. Again. But really, then getting to Stratford afterwards for 6pm? Impossible. 

At Jacksons Lane I was meeting up with friends, Fola and her daughter Jaja, who were coming back to ours for the weekend. We bumped into each other on the tube, always a good sign, and arrived laughing and a touch out of breath at the theatre with a minute's grace. There we saw Cie Animotion's beautiful exploration of the dynamics of relationships and range of emotions through aerial dance, acrobatics and a touch of tango, set to awesome electronics and live music. There are five more Transmission dates happening. Tickets are £5 a head, for an incredible opportunity to see circus projects in early stages and listen to the artists talk about their ideas for development. It's a two-way street as well - feedback forms are given out at the end and there is the opportunity to chat.

We also found the Jacksons Lane team well-versed in the quickest way to get to their friends at Stratford Circus, and, so encouraged, Fola, Jaja and I decided to go for it and leg it to the Open House, arriving in the nick of time. Why was I so determined to go and see NoFit State there? Well, I'd first seen their show Bianco a couple of years ago, and remembering it in a post (click here: Chapter 9: NoFit State) led me into contact with fount-of-all-knowledge Kate Kavanagh of The Circus Diaries, and to discover NoFit State's social agenda, running programmes of outreach that extend both to their local community in Cardiff and further afield (see the involvement of NFS creative director Ali Williams with Chapter 20 - Circus Kathmandu). For me, such a company really is the heart of circus.

We joined the crowd - not a circus audience per se, but the Stratford community - rolling up to a street show, and I'm sure many had no idea what to expect. So full credit to the compere for introducing them to the NoFit State experience, encouraging them to follow the action round and then join in. And to the performers, constantly engaging and drawing the public into their space, forging a new community bond in the process.

Our Juggling Routine Class 
First we saw a taster of what's on over the weekend in terms of incredible circus skills. In a nod to the seaside and the British weather, the performers conjured up the indomitable  holiday spirit in choreographed sequences balancing umbrellas and deckchairs. There was twists and tumbling on trampolines, springboards to dancing atop a van, impressive hand-balancing on canes on another van, and all sorts. And then came the public's turn. Jaja and I joined in the juggling, and tried our hand at the tightwire. There was a hula-hoop competition, a superb team effort some 15-strong jumping a skipping rope together, and a Chinese pole to explore which attracted not only the littlest monkeys but big, burly Dads surprisingly nimble, spinning over the top. As I was about to join in round two of the juggling, I heard over the tannoy the announcement of a unicyclist about to cross a tightwire. I dropped the balls and raced over, for having just passed the next level of Equilibristics at Circus Space these are two disciplines close to my heart. I had never seen them combined except on video when googling the Circus Maximus (click here) winner this year, Sam Goodburn. Of course, it turns out it was Sam, and it was a complete nerve-wrecking joy to see him live, again and again.  We all had loads of fun and seeing such a variety of people, of all ages, take part and have a laugh, is testimony to the power of circus to connect.

So roll up, roll up - the sun is shining and the darling buds of August are blooming here! 

Saturday 8 August: 4pm, South Lawn, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford E20
Sunday 9 August: 11am & 2.45pm, South Lawn, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford E20

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