"As women we are complex. I am a creatrix. I am a woman, a writer, a poet, a mother, a friend and daughter. I am the sum of many things, but I am more than circus tricks."
The Good Girl Confessional, blog by Charlotte Lea
How I would love to lay claim to being a bag of circus tricks at the moment, but this term I have yet to tumble on trapeze, thread my needle through a hoop or wrap my legs round a pole, such is the life of a Mum in the new school year, trying to find her feet. So yesterday, after yet another school coffee morning, heading to Lakeland Plastics in my knitted cardi and feeling decidedly mumsy, I found myself in the Ann Summers shop next door instead. I hadn't set foot inside one for over a decade, and feeling both grey, and blue, was gratified by the riot of colour that greeted me, the teases of teal and screaming fuschia satin sets interspersed with 50 shades of latex, vibrating lipsticks and naughty knickers. The last time I had seen any sex toys on display was at Ai Wei Wei's exhibition at the Royal Academy, where a set of jade handcuffs were a both a reference to his 81 days of solitary confinement and a cheeky nod to the jade anal pearl sticks in the cabinet next door. Sex, censorship and the unspeakable, it seems, are all intimately intertwined in the arresting development of the voice.
But is there a difference between the male and the female artistic voice? Bumping into Flora Herberich on the train up to Bristol we chatted about the difference in narratives, men very often making a commercial success out of taking on the big topics of life, the universe and everything, while women more easily located in a caring, domestic sphere. Does it matter? Well, for me, no, because I am the author of "Lucy Loves Circus", after all, a blog that to some may appear a sirupy, chirrupy cheerleader of all things circus. Which it is, on a good day. But I have off-days too, where my confidence crumbles. So it was this week I found myself, on Monday, pulling over by the side of the road, overwhelmed with exhaustion and a sense of utter pointlessness, "Is anyone out there listening?" I cried out. "Because right now, I could really use a hand." The universe had fun with that one. The waves subsided, and I was on way again, because that's what you do. Later, cutting through the Common on the way to the supermarket, I bumped into a very chatty guy balancing on a line strung between a couple of trees, time literally suspended in the sunshine. So it was that I found an unlikely helping hand in Peter, giving me my first ever impromptu class in slacklining and restoring my inner equilibrium.
Still, I had another wobble on my way to Bristol at the thought of my husband having to cover the childcare, again. Was it strictly necessary that I go to the VOLT: Women In Circus event? Another circus writer, Kate Kavanagh, would be up there after all, whose critical reviews are highly valued by the circus community, as testified in supporting The Circus Diaries at www.patreon.com/thecircusdiaries. Then I realised I was falling into the classic, dare I say phallocentric, trap of assuming there need only be a single authoritative voice, when what circus needs right now is, as Lyn Gardner once said, "a critical mass" - a multiplicity of voices covering as many angles as possible. All my life I have championed writing from the margins, whether as a feminist discourse in literature, or in post-grad research on Latin American theatre, and it was time now to own my position as newcomer on the fringes, and not be embarrassed by my belief that I too have a right to speak up.
|The stage is set for the panel discussion|
The VOLT scratch night is a biannual collaboration between the independent circus producing company Ausform and Bristol's circus school Circomedia, creating a space for circus artists to present works in progress and get feedback. This evening was a little different as it was drawn into the space of the Biennial Bristol Circus City Festival, with a view to examining the role of women in contemporary circus. Before the performances, which I shall explore in the following posts, there was a panel discussion hosted by Lina Frank of Ausform, in conversation with Umut Gunduz, director of the series of shorts "Circus Girls" (see post - click here), and director and performer Flick Ferdinando.
Umut described the organic evolution in the selection of Circus Girls, looking to encompass a broad range of circus skills and how inspiring he found their determination and commitment to their art form. He was struck by how vastly different each performer was on stage to in reality, describing in awe "these gentle, sensitive souls that exploded into colour", and how he sought to represent all of that in three minutes, of which one minute is entirely focussed on the performance itself.
Flick Ferdinando was asked to speak on her role in contemporary circus in the UK, and talked about her route into circus through training in classical theatre and dance. Instrumental in developing the theatre course module at Circus Space (as it was then, now the National Centre for Circus Arts), Flick talked about how she locates circus in a theatrical context, branching away from corporate fixtures that simply require a series of spectacular tricks, to construct shows that engage in a narrative.
There are so many women making circus in the UK: the touchstone in the discussion being the acrobatic theatre of all-female Mimbre, weaving together individual physiques of women to create a strong, positively-gendered body of work, and the social storytelling of Vicki Amedume's aerial-focussed company Upswing, moving on to mention of tightwire trio Dizzy O'Dare and recent National Circus graduates, TwelveFeetTall and the Alula Cyr (wheel) girls. With all that however, there was a need identified for women to be more forthright into stepping up to shout out about their own work. I guess it was with this in mind that Ausform and Circomedia had been encouraging people in the world of circus and beyond to write in and nominate inspirational women in circus. And nominations are still open - click here to add your voice.
It was fantastic to hear that over 70 women had been nominated, and to give a feel for the range Lina selected a few, reading out the nominations and leaving the audience to guess who they were.
Co-founder of Circomedia in Bristol, Helen Crocker was an easy guess for this crowd, as was Upswing's Vicki Amedume, Ali Williams and Lyn Routledge of NoFit State Circus. Less obvious initially was Ilona Jäntti until you realised "the clue was in the tree" (see post on "Circus Al Fresco"). Most surprising of all for the audience, including yours truly belting out the wrong name from the front row, was the shout-out for the work of Lucy Loves Circus. I was utterly stunned, and then came a huge rush of gratitude at the welcome extended to the newbie and outsider into this community of remarkable women. I don't know who wrote my nomination, and, as much as I am dying to know and thank you in person for that vote of confidence, it is rather wonderful to believe it could be any number of people. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how karma works: when you are at rock bottom, just keep plugging away, because someone is listening and you never know what is round the corner...