Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Chapter 111: Catalonia - Circus Cabaret at Cronopis

Florinda on Cyr Wheel
On the outskirts of Barcelona, a good 40 minutes on a local train, Mataró is Catalonia's Croydon, home to an alternative circus space, Cronopis, where a collective of circus artists work together to develop and promote the circus arts. For over a year now the circus space has been relocated to a warehouse about a ten minute walk from the station and it's not an easy place to find. Not in the dark, anyway. Luckily the fates were kind - a good friend, who has been on many a circus adventure with me, happened to be out in Barcelona and came along for the ride. This made the search a very relaxed one - a problem shared, is a problem halved after all. 

Even accounting for Spanish time and late starts, we still missed first an act or tow by the time we got there, including Gaston Villamil on Chinese pole, which I'd have liked to see, but being in full swing, the atmosphere was terrific. The warehouse itself reminded me of The Fire School building, a hub of creative energy, tailor's dummies competing for space with trapeze bars. While La Central Del Circ had very much an international feel, where a variety of nationalities are brought together using Spanish as the common denominator, here at Cronopis there was very much a sense of Catalan identity. It took me back to the last time I was in Barcelona, at the start of trip to Cuba with the Catalan Communist Party. Maybe the leftie politics inherent in circus account for the doppelgänger sensation, but these guys were still in their twenties, while time has marched on for me. 

Compañia Fills de Fusta
The evening was organised by Ariadna Juncosa in aid of the Noelia Foundation, which supports children who have congenital muscular distrophy, and had been several months in the planning. There was a personal connection there through a friend, and that's what I love about a circus community that uses its skills in solidarity with others. So much hard work, planning and thought had gone into the evening, and it was all wrapped up in a particularly lyrical fashion.  Ari, whose main discipline is tightwire, introduced acts with Catalan poems, while acts were choreographed to the music from a superb live band. The first act I saw was an accomplished Cyr wheel routine in vintage dress that was a contrast to the modern vibe I'm used to from Alula Cyr girls. There was a certain other-worldly oneirism to her motion. Next up were Thomas and Vicente, Compañia Fills de Fusta, with a puppet on a string routine where a fabulous "Negra" cabaret singer, accompanied by an accordion player, was singing a cheeky song, about various loves, Pepe, Tito and the like. Was she Celia Cruz, or some great Argentina tango diva? To me, the marionette conjured up Candita Batista,  "la vedette negra de Cuba", who I met in Camaguey when well into her 80s, full of stories about her time in Paris, crossing paths with Jospehine Baker and the like. What a star. The actions of the puppet were brilliant, the sultry turns, the winks, the vivacity all captured, and I was enchanted. 

A love triangle via a lively acro routine combined with steel-tipped shoes had my toes tapping next, and made me think of Juggling on Tap that I had seen pitching at Jacksons Lane for as part of the Canvas marketplace. Then came a duet between a brilliant female pianist and a trapeze artist. The male artist used the trapeze in a way I've not seen used before, like a tightwire. He bounded onto it from the ground with an ease and deftness of balance that had me transfixed from the word go, playing with shapes, and on occasion using the piano as his playground as well.

Uri on trapeze
I found my thoughts turn to Alula Cyr again and the combination of circus skills and singing in Lil Rice, as a female acrobat belted out a powerful rendition of Portishead's "Give Me A Reason To Love You"*. As she sang, her body of a temptress, a nude dress, was peeled away by her partner to reveal a sky blue leotard, and then like a lark she skimmed through the air, executing an exquisite Korean cradle, to return to base every so often and carry on the song. Finally we returned to La Negrita, who once again endowed the ambience with old school cabaret. 

There wasn't a programme, and we had to run by the end to catch the last train back to Barcelona, so I was unable to catch the names of the artists, but that in some ways reinforces the spirit and solidarity of the whole collective. As we left, we were invited to take a rolled up poem for a basket, and I saved mine until I got back home to the UK. 

"Excuse me for asking pears from you, I didn't know you were an elm." The poem reads. Now, in the middle of the most extraordinary improv and clown workshop led by maestro Ira Seidenstein, mentally reciting those lines cuts me some slack, and makes me smile each time I feel out of my depth. Who knows what sort of fruit it will bear?!

For more information, and professional photos from the circus cabaret evening, check out: "Cronopis Espai de Circ" on Facebook. The website is: (click here)
Check out Ariadna Juncosa's website at: (click here)

Amanda & Jorge from Vol de-Ment on Korean cradle

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