Thursday, 31 December 2015

Chapter 121: My #Bestnine Circus Skills of 2015

Instagram is my playground, a scrapbook of images of life through a circus lens, #nofilter required. If you are a fellow Instagram user, you will undoubtedly have seen a variety of #bestnine photos on a number of accounts recently, and it got me thinking about what I have learned this year. So, from the top, anti-clockwise:

I have been learning tightwire at the National Centre for Circus Arts ( as a beginner, part of their Level 1 Equilibristics course, which I've done a couple of times now. It comprises 4 classes on tightwire, 4 on unicycle, and then a couple on rolla-bolla (the plank balanced on a ball) and globe-walking (a hard, giant ball). I have fallen head over heels for tightwire. Literally, on more than one occasion. 

See posts:
Tightwire and Wrong Turns (click here)
An August Summer, and where tightwire takes you... (click here)
Tightwire practice and Lessons Learned from the Edinburgh Fringe (click here)
Hold On - stunning performance at Greenwich & Docklands International Festival by my tightwire teacher at National Circus, Stefano Di Renzo (click here)

My love affair with all things pole is solely down to one person, Anna Milosevic, founder of Polefit London. Classes run out of Stockwell YMCA, which is a great height for floor to ceiling poles, and the more intimate studio in Merton that has up to half a dozen stand alone poles. A professionally trained ballerina, Anna has grace, patience, a great sense of humour, and fabulous taste in music to get you pumped up. Anna now runs aerial hoop classes as well, ballet stretching classes and aerial yoga  - see (click here).

See posts:
Pole, and Boudoir Photography (click here)
Back in Pole Position (click here)
Pole in the Park (click here)
Pole (the show) at Edinburgh Fringe 

Part of the Equilibristics course at National Circus. I ended up buying a neon pink unicycle, my very own Doris bike, very cheaply on Amazon. Soon discovered why, as a design flaw meant that one pedal kept falling off at random moments, and I would go flying, much to the kids amusement. Still, my enthusiasm, in principle, is kept going by a number of unicycle enthusiasts on Instagram, including someone all the way over in Patagonia. 

In Level 1 aerial skills at National Circus you have four classes each in static trapeze, flying trapeze and on rope. I assumed rope would be a transferable skill from pole, but despite some similar moves it never really clicked (see post on learning the ropes - click here). Trapeze on the other hand was a dream come true. The only space available for flying trapeze originally was on a Saturday, so by default I caught level 2 classes in static trapeze instead. Thanks to my wonderful teacher Layla Rosa, I have fallen in love with the discipline. There is plenty of scope for working on shapes and movement, and choreographing it to music, so it appeals to my performance-orientated nature, and I love the informal end of term group performance - see our latest (click here)

While my daughter was learning trapeze at Flying Fantastic in Battersea I was allowed to practice on hoop with another mother, a fellow aerialist, though way more advanced than me, as well as a couple of classes with Anna at Polefit. I thought it would be quite straightforward transferring moves learned on trapeze, but again, not so simple. Flying Fantastic (see has now started up adults and children's classes in Wimbledon, which my daughter is joining with some school friends in the New Year. 

See posts:
The Circus Mum (click here)
The benefits of learning circus skills for kids (click here)

Muppet that I am, it had never occurred to me that by the end of a two hour workshop with Sarah at The Fire School we would actually be swallowing fire, and while it is a skill that had never been on my bucket list before, I am completely converted. It's a very zen discipline, like tightwire, requiring absolute concentration in the moment. I am ashamed to confess publicly that my exotic fire-sticks are looking decidedly virginal, and am looking forward to going back in the New Year to reignite the passion. Next step: to have a go in an aerial harness. Worth noting that The Fire School has just extended its deal "bring a friend for half-price" until the end of January. 

See post:
Playing With Fire (click here

I first started learning handstands against a pole, thanks to Anna. Unsupported handstands are still very much a work in progress for me, but I find a deep relaxation and satisfaction in inverts and will carry on working on them, along with headstands, in yoga with my fantastic teacher Callum in the New Year - see In static trapeze classes Layla reiterates how important it is to keep yoga practice going alongside circus skills.

I learned to juggle three balls when I had to keep warm overnight in a bus station in Madrid, and haven't progressed beyond that. Balls, apples, bath-bombs - as long as it's small and round I'll give it a go, another form of relaxation for me. The goal for the new year will be to learn to jazz it up a bit, thanks to Circus Geek Jon Udry, after seeing him punch gravity in the face (click here).

In Autumn, I went to an improv workshop for parents at my son's school, run by Hoopla! that confirmed to me circus really is a state of mind (click here). It gave me the confidence to sign up in November to a course with clowning maestro Ira Seidenstein, which was a real eye-opener and a unique lesson in the language of physical performance. I even incorporated a few of the exercises into yoga practice, including my favourite, playing with Laurel and Hardy banter. Click here for my post on Clowning Around. 

Clowning and improv are part of an essential toolkit for any performer, while it taught me, a blogger, how to own my space and retain my centre, rather than constantly going out to others. As a result, it benefitted my storytelling, use of social media and ease in the world at large. Well, ok, maybe it's a work in progress!

2015 has been an extraordinary year in terms of challenges, frustrations and rewards. I haven't done nearly as much day-to-day consistent training in circus skills as I would like, but on the flip-side the time spent on writing has reaped dividends. My readership over the past year has tripled, and I am enjoying getting the word out about the terrific projects going on and #circuseverywhere. 

But that's another story...

Monday, 28 December 2015

Chapter 120: On Gypsy, Burlesque and The Art of Blogging

"Some people sit on their butts, got the dream, yeah, but not the guts"

A clown remarked recently on the intellectualised eroticism of my writing, which made me laugh. Well, you either got it, or you ain't, right?! And he got it. Burlesque is the raison d'être of this blog, after all. From the Italian "burla", the laugh, here is a space to make fun of life when it all gets too serious, a space to play around, tease out the words, and have some fun in the process. But as any cabaret performer worth their salt will tell you, there's a lot of hard graft behind a façade of frivolity, as I was reminded last night watching Gypsy, the Stephen Sondheim "Shakespeare of Musicals" streamed direct from the Savoy Theatre to BBC4. Gypsy is available on BBC iPlayer (click here) until 26th January. 

The story charts the evolution of the overlooked, mousey Louise into the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee, a burlesque star who could take quarter of an hour to simply strip a glove. The driving force behind her is the indomitable Mama Rose. I cannot do justice to a show that will go down in theatrical history as a thundering tower-house of a production. Imelda Staunton as the award-winning Mama Rose was magnificent, terrifying, fierce, mischievous, hilarious and unrelentingly heartbreaking, Laura Pulver worked pure alchemy in her transformation into Gypsy, and Peter Davison (Kevin Whately in the in the video) was everything I imagined as the touchingly long-suffering Herbie. Eight shows a week, imagine! I heard on the grapevine at the theatre that each week Imelda Staunton had her larynx pulled out in order to cope with the demand on her voice. That's guts for you. 

The show brought home a few important points about blogging for me. Self-evident truths maybe, but worth reiterating, especially when quoting from Gypsy:

1) "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" to succeed, as the worn-out old strippers in the burlesque house lecture Louise. Or as theatre critic Lyn Gardner memorably advised a group of bloggers at a workshop in Winchester: "Find Your Niche". 

2) "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing slowly... very slowly". Write your heart out, but take your time editing, proof-reading, and strip away.

3) Whatever you do, whether it be stripping or blogging, remember it is the way you do it that counts: "Do it with an air, and never admit you're scared."

4) Finally, if you are scared of revealing too much, and looking ridiculous, remember: "Nobody laughs at me! Because I laugh first!"

And that, there, is the heart of the burlesque guide to blogging. Go on, knock yourself out! 

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Chapter 119: Zippos Circus Christmas Spectacular

It's Christmas Eve and the family are all fast asleep. Good. I have one more story to tell, and it's my Christmas Cracker. 

This time last year 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore was on at the newly refurbished Sam Wannamaker theatre at the Globe. Superbly cast and sexy as hell, I'd heard so much about it but it was sold out, except for a front row matinee ticket the last afternoon the children were at school. I took the tube to London Bridge and walked along Southbank, past Southwark Cathedral, the Golden Hind, grabbing a mulled cider from a Christmas stall and feeling time wind backwards. By the time I got to the Globe, I was quite merry and open to the delights ahead. The theatre was candlelit, and my breath caught. Next to me there was a gentleman on his own. An American professor, a visiting academic to Worcester College, Oxford, and very engaging. Talk turned, as it does with me, to circus. His face lit up. When he had been a student himself at Oxford, his tutor had been Zippo's father-in-law. "Many people may say their son-in-law is a clown, but his really is!" 

Zippos is a catchy, and very familiar name. You only need to say it and it conjures up a smile. It is an old-school big top circus that has been going since the 80s, and that encounter at the Globe made the connection all the more personal. So this year, I made plans with a dear friend, the one who recommended Slava's SnowShow, to go with our children. 

Getting there was quite an adventure. We took the tube to Green Park (note, Knightsbridge is closer) and struggled forward while a tornado spun us back (or so it felt!), like the wind blaster in Slava's finale. Still, it was the first time for us all at Winter Wonderland, and as we crossed into Circus Town, we really were over the rainbow. Arriving at the last minute avoided any queues to get in and we took our seats with barrels of popcorn. The place was packed, and there was a hum of excitement. 

The warm up was from Mr Lorenz, in spats straight out of a vintage silent comedy, orchestrating applauses the crowd's applause like an Italian conductor meets the Marx brothers. Winnie the Ringmaster was as I'd always imagined, gratifyingly traditional in his red tail-coat, smart white gloves and top hat, a true show man. Pip the Clown, his foil, made me think of the Michael Crawford brand of joker - (in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em rather than Barnum!) - a hapless, clumsy innocent, and a real delight. 

The first act were the Tropicana club: Cubans doing acrobatics on the Russian barre, with a touch of salsa - a flipping brilliant way to get the party started. 

Next was Miss Jenny from Australia on the Spanish web, beautiful grace in motion. An interlude of clowning with Pip followed, segueing into a masterly piece of juggling from Mr Lorenz. 

Romance was in the air next with a beautiful sequence on silks from Duo Stefaneli from Bulgaria - the girls in our group enchanted, my son terrified they were about to kiss (he's at that age). Having just seen Star Wars they were in fits of laughter at the Star Wars sequence next where Pip's light-sabre turns out to be a ... and loved the laser light show that followed streaming shapes onto the ceiling. 

The final act was the Wheel of Death, something I could hardly bear to watch. Watching these Moroccan acrobats spin round like hamsters in a wheel at first looked like fun, but when they started standing on the outside, with just their balance to hold them my heart shifted gear. By the time they threw juggling, skipping over a rope and a blindfold into the equation, we were all on the edge of our seats - as my son said, "epic!"

Afterwards it was a joy to meet meet Stefan and Neli while buying a helium Olaf balloon for our littlest, and then as we were leaving Winnie the Ringmaster. They are as gracious, warmly welcoming and old-school lovely in person as they are charismatic on stage. The show wasn't long - under an hour, which was perfect for families with young ones like ours, and for the grown ups, left wanting more, there is is the siren call of the more adult, contemporary circus show Cirque Beserk that is also running in the round at the Winter Wonderland before it goes off on tours in theatres round the country. 

So, there we are. It is Christmas Eve and time to get cracking, much to do. My husband gets home from hospital this afternoon having had successful surgery on his leg (see previous chapters!), and I am hugely grateful to the world of circus for keeping our spirits lifted in the meantime. Whatever your plans are for the festive period, wishing you peace and joy for a very Merry Christmas and love from us all. 

Note: Zippos Circus shows are on until 3 January at Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park - see: (click here)
More footage, including videos, on Instagram @Lucylovescircus and @zipposcircus

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Chapter 118: Slava's SnowShow

Photo: (click here)

Slava's SnowShow is a beautiful show that celebrates the poetics of clowning, and is the creation of Russian artist Slava Polunin, developed over several decades. It had come onto my radar thanks to a friend, not linked to the circus world in any way, but very much a circus spirit, open to wonder, who shares my love of quirky humour and the art of silent comedy.

I had tickets last January and had to give them away at the last minute, but seeing it with the children and their cousins on Saturday couldn't have been better timed. We were in sore need of distraction and some festive cheer, while we waited on news of my husband in A&E with a broken leg (see previous post). In addition, I had heard so much about the show in November in the workshop, with Ira Seidenstein (see post on Clowning Around - click here), who had worked with Slava and his wife in the show. It was a workshop that had deepened my appreciation of the art of physical performance and I fired off a message to the London group we have since created, who would understand my excitement.

As we walked into the auditorium there was therefore a frisson of anticipation. I had heard some anecdotes, nothing prepared me for the surprises in store, and for that I'm grateful. While there are some wondrous special effects, the real magic is in the comedy generated by the the movement and expressions of the performers. It is an exquisite lesson in the art of clowning and the type of show, with a unique energy, you could return to again and again, like the family behind us on their third outing. 

The children were spell-bound from the word go. The opening scene, focussing on a gently despondent clown's abortive attempts to hang himself, was both poignant and darkly comical. It will be one of the reasons the show is given a recommended age of 8+, but my youngest, nearly 4, was not in the least perturbed, and simply laughed at the spectacle of a funny man playing with a rope, while older children fell about at the introduction of a second clown, the foil. I was lost in the moment with them, while also finding echoes of Beckett's fools Pozzo and Lucky, and wondering at the absurdity of life.

But, even during the quieter of moments, the mind never wandered - this is a show that engages on a visceral level, an experience that touches you, quite literally, in all senses. We were sprayed with water, showered with paper snow, and challenged at every turn to use our imagination to make sense of the narrative. It has a superb musical score that is timed beautifully with the action, leaving your feet tapping through the interval as the clowns spin their web of enchantment out over the audience, and your heart roused at the grand finale, which is quite literally a blast. At the end we ran down to the front, tipping snow on Slava's friends, reaching up to punch one of the giant balls crowd-surfing overhead, and chasing after the ghosts of fluttering ticker tape as though to catch it carried the same good luck as a falling leaf. Our delight carried on into the foyer, where there was a whole carpet of snow begging to be played with. Then, just as we were leaving, the phone rang. My husband was out of hospital and on his way home as well. Perfect timing. Bring on the clowns. 

Slava's SnowShow is on until 3 January at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. Click here

For a fascinating interview with Slava Polunin see  "A Monologue with a Clown": (click here)

Monday, 21 December 2015

Chapter 117: Clowning on Ice

Christmas is hotting up. I know this because we arrived at the Tower of London rink on Saturday to find the sun blazing and a pool of water several inches deep covering the ice. Still, we had my husband's family over from Geneva and not to be deterred, the Swiss Family Robinson ventured out on ice. 

Very much a beginner, I have been skating several times over the past couple of weeks in an effort to keep up with a family that has grown up on ice. And also, because I love it. Working with balance, momentum, pushing myself beyond my comfort boundaries, embracing my fear of falling - skating has a lot in common with learning circus skills, and is just as much fun. I can now get round the rink on my own, but I love to hold hands. Whether with my husband, best friend or an ice guide, it creates a connection, trust and intimacy that makes the world go round. 

I laughed as I watched my husband and his sister spray each other with skid stops, just as we do in skiing, made my son laugh as I tried to race him, and smiled at some spectacular falls skimming the pond from fellow skaters, no harm done. By the end our feet were all sodden, but we were happy. Sinatra came on over the speakers. My husband, chuffed to pieces at my improvement since our date skate, barely a week ago, caught my hand and soon we were flying around in time to the music, picture postcard perfect. He leaned in to kiss me squarely on the lips, but that was a move too far. As I lost my balance, he dived to try and catch me, but too late, and we ended up a couple of clowns in a tangled puddle. It was a beautiful piece of slapstick that had onlookers in fits of laughter. Only there was an audible crack and a cry. My husband's leg, broken, we knew in a heartbeat. Soon there was a Beefeater helping him into a wheelchair, and he was carted off to A&E. You really couldn't make it up, could you?

Meanwhile his sister and I took the children to Yo Sushi on the Southbank, an annual tradition, "though it's not the same without Papa". In sore need of distraction afterwards, and some Christmas cheer, we passed  a poster for Slava's Snow Show at the Festival Hall, a couple of doors away. Funnily enough I had been checking out availability online in the morning, much to my in-laws delight, but unsurprisingly we couldn't find seats for so many. Maybe turning up in person at the box office, half an hour before curtain up, they would have returns, or maybe one less would tip the balance. As luck would have it, there were seven seats in the front stalls, where I heard you should sit if possible, kids were half-price, and fate seemed to be giving us another break. Clowning, that had been our downfall, would now be our refuge. But that is another story, to follow...

In the meantime, please don't let this cautionary tale put you off. Christmas for us now has untold disappointments, but digging deep we are also discovering hidden gems and things to laugh about. My husband hasn't ruled out skating in future, just the hand-holding part, while I maintain, it was really the kiss that really toppled me... And if you want to see some truly vertiginous acrobatics on ice check out the phenomenal Le Patin Libre who are presenting their latest show "Vertical" at Somerset House 12-16th January: (click here).

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Chapter 116: It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...

'Tis the season for Bublé, bubbles and baubles, preferably braided in beards. And the last class of the term at the National Centre for Circus Arts in Hoxton, which means only one thing for those of us on static trapeze: our group performance.

I nearly didn't go. I haven't made a single class this term, and then a friend alerted me to a tempting alternative on the same night: a screening of "Grazing the Sky", a documentary following circus acrobats from around the world. The film would be followed by a Q&A session with the Mexican director, and one of the performers afterwards. Speaking Spanish, chatting to random strangers, I'd have been in my element, so of course I opted for the scarier option and turned up to class.

Aerial gaiters by
Christmas Stags
Walking in through the doors, seeing familiar, friendly faces, teasing warm ups in the lofty Turbine Hall - it hit home how much I have missed this circus space, and how good it was to be back. I didn't intend to join in the group performance, per se, just to touch base with friends from the term before. Still, I pulled on my aerial gaiters. Their snug fit seemed all the tighter now I've taken up running over the past month, and there was a warning tenderness across the front of my right foot, but with their dark silver tongues, grips of suede and stars on the side, they demand to be worn. 

I joined in the rehearsals for the group choreography, thanks to the gently persuasive encouragement of our teacher Layla, and was surprised to find myself learning a couple of new moves into the bargain: the "lamp-post", balancing on one foot on the bar while leaning back into the rope, and the "Julie", a graceful recline in the air. It was fun, and joining in the routine was a wonderful reconnection. What I enjoyed most of all, though, was watching a couple of superb solos in our group, poles apart in style, one touchingly poignant, the other achingly hilarious.  Seeing how much classmates have expanded their repertoire of moves since last term was inspiring, and watching them have fun with that was a joy. As with the improvisations I have watched in recent workshops (see "Clowning Around" - click here), it was an incredible privilege to be seeing performances that existed just for that moment, for them, for us. Decamping to Cirque afterwards had to be done, and as the medicinal brandy and ginger coursed through my veins, so too did the desire to get stronger and make more shapes. Intoxicating stuff. Cheers!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Chapter 115: Gandini Juggling presents "meta"

Photo: The Guardian (click here)

The other day I sat in a cafe, hidden away on the edge of a wood, and wrote six sides of A4 to a friend. The retired gentlemen next to me, 70 if they were a day, were entranced. Who writes letters anymore? They decided it must be a steamy, impassioned love letter. That took them back. It took me back too. I remember the first letter to make me blush, from a friend who'd moved town, describing at length her first snog. Getting to first base, what a milestone!, and the memories came flooding back the other evening as Gandini Juggling brought the terminology again into play in their latest show meta

meta had been commissioned by Jacksons Lane in honour of their 40th anniversary, and boy, did they have a lot to celebrate. This theatre up in Highgate has an incredibly diverse multi-arts programme, and is at the forefront of the contemporary circus scene. Under the artistic direction of Adrian Berry, Jacksons Lane has given space to companies, both in the UK and abroad, to develop works in progress that are exciting, thought-provoking and inspiring to watch. Who better to deliver that message than Gandini Juggling, in their element constructing and deconstructing patterns of expectations. 

meta was a vibrant and joyous celebration of the messiness and beauty of the human condition, our love, our brokenness, and finding humour in confusion. Taking its cue from 4x4 (see post on Ephemeral Architectures - click here), with Chris Patfield picking up where Owen Reynolds left off, (a)musing on ways to begin a show, there was a dialogue set in motion between juggling and ballet that captured the grace of both disciplines, while pushing boundaries in all directions. Furniture was broken up and smashed with explosive menace, while Lynn Scott's definition of "bases" and the stages in sexual relations was delivered with a halting, upset vulnerability in which I read a sense of loss and nostalgia for an age of innocence. This was offset by surreal moments, the appearance of a shamanic figure at one point, a goat's mask at another, which had all the tomfoolery of a morris dance, with an edge of The Wicker Man. 

The reference to baseball was taken up again in a reworking of the classic Abbott and Costello sketch "Who's on first?" (click here). The funny thing is, that reference completely passed me by the first time round, when I saw that extract in rehearsal. I just didn't get it. The humour, I mean. I was drawn to the patterns of repetition, but going round in circles made me think more of Beckett than slapstick. This time round I had been at the clowning workshop (see previous chapter), spending time in the pub afterwards chatting away, and recalling the likes of Lucille Ball and Abbott and Costello, who were very much part of my television landscape growing up. Now, I felt a giant, cartoon lightbulb flick on over my head. Doh! Of course! With that sense of illumination I enjoyed the co-ordination of repartee and ripostes of movement even more. What had struck me before as fascinating, now slapped me in the face with its genius. And they were very funny, the dancers and the jugglers alike. I enjoyed watching the dancers engaging in the choreography of juggling, and loved the joyful, spectacular sequence set to Bach's Brandenberg Concerto #2, the fluidity of a diagonal line of jugglers circulating clubs, and the breath-taking moments when dancers slipped through the interstices in the patterns. 

Nudity was, as promised, on offer. A tongue in cheek response to the presumption that sex sells, and there is plenty of it around in the circus world. As one female juggler was laid out on a table, while another stood over her, in clinical fashion, holding a conical flask full of dark liquid, I have to admit my heart sank. The table now appeared like a slab in a morgue. What were we in for now?! Pig's blood? Bestiality?? Necrophilia??? Then treacle was poured... very slowly... there was something about its gloopy consistency that was rather hypnotising to watch, as it slowly changed shape over the contours of her body. It reminded me of the installation of oil flooding a floor of a room in the Saatchi gallery, a play on light, colour and perspective. Point made, I thought it was a slick way to end the show, Gandini Juggling rocking it once again as Agent Provocateur.

Note: for link to video report by London Live on Gandini Juggling at Jacksons Lane click here (