Friday, 23 December 2016

Chapter 168: #2016BestNine

My favourite images of 2016:
Tightwire artist Alana Jones at The Cockpit (click here), Ken Dodd & Yours Truly, Slava's Snowshow (click here)
La Soirée with Carolyn, 40th Birthday card from my friend Yolanda, Jair's birthday Freedom2Fly style at The Hive
Flying Fantastic Scratch Night Elves (click here), Mother's Day, Christmas Stag 

Amongst the fun and frolics, 2016 has been a mixture of successes and failures, struggles and graces, the year beginning on the back of a humongous slip-up, after smooching on ice with my husband Xav left him with a leg broken in three places... Here then, are my top 9 moments that picked me up again:

1. Ken Dodd and that custard pie at the Slapstick Festival up in Bristol (Chapter 128 - click here). My initiation into the world of clowning. 

2. Le Patin Libre and La Soirée (Chapter 127 - click here). Two for one? Possibly a bit cheeky to start bending the rules already, but it was the same night to remember. Funnily enough him indoors with a broken leg wasn't really up for going to see a bunch of phenomenal free-skaters at Somerset House, but my skating partner-in-crime Carolyn was. We met my first ever ice guide, also a talented actress and storyteller, Rosie, who was doing front of house that night and were thrilled and chilled by "Vertical" in equal measure. Walking over Waterloo Bridge afterwards we slipped into the second half of La Soirée just in time to catch Denis Lock's spellbinding new bubble act and bump into Bristol-based Cirque Bijou on a festive jolly for good measure. The show is now on in Leicester Square, and according to Lyn Gardner: "La Soirée continues to be a class act, largely because it keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek and never takes itself too seriously." Click here for her review in full:

3. Gandini Juggling & Akhnaten: what better treat for a circus-loving Mum on Mother's Day (Chapter 133 - click here) than to travel up to the British Library with her 8 year old and see Gandini Juggling, choreographed by José Triguero and set to music from Philip Glass' opera Akhnaten. Bowled away also by the voice of Anthony Roth Costanza, I listened to the CD non-stop and a few weeks later found myself at the ENO on the very last night of the opera with Carolyn (Chapter 136 - click here), not just a skating partner-in-crime. Philip Glass was in the audience too that night, and I inadvertently snapped him in the photo taken surreptitiously of the cast taking a curtain bow. The evening was sublime. I do not say that lightly.

4. The Calder Exhibition at the Tate Modern (Chapter 135 - click here). What can I say? My universe shifted again. Einstein was a fan too. I felt connected. It's all relative. 

5. Zippos: It was Zippos 30th anniversary tour this year. I had caught them earlier at Winter Wonderland (Chapter 118 - click here) at Cirque Beserk (Chapter 131 - click here) and then over in Streatham where I saw the legendary ringmaster Norman Barrett MBE do his wonderful turn with his performing budgies. I used to have a pet budgie called Daffodil. She never did tricks like that! Watching the turns on the wheel of death was the most terrifying experience I've had watching circus - especially when the artist was standing on the outside of the ring, blindfolded, and on stilts. 

Zippos and Cirque Beserk are currently at Winter Wonderland  in Hyde Park

6. Barely Methodical Troupe's "Kin": (See The Circus Diaries - click here). I went to the show with Xav, who loved the humour, the skills, Nikki Rummer holding her own with the boys (and then some), as much as I did. It was funny, it was exciting, and you can watch it here:

A little while later I saw one man show Paradise Lost at Battersea Arts Centre with Ben Duke in a bloody brilliant tower-house of a performance. In the bar afterwards with another circus writing Lucy (Lucy Ribchester, who writes for The List, when not being an award-winning novelist), circus inevitably cropped up in conversation. I excitedly started telling Ben all about this great show Kin that had been on at Circus Fest which he absolutely had to see. Turns out he had already. Being the director and all. I guess there are worse faux pas in life!

7. The Hive: That night at Kin I bumped into Jair Ramirez and, chatting about circus training spaces and my frustration at not being able to find daytime classes, he suggested I come along to Freedom2Fly classes in Hackney Wick. Not the easiest of locations, it takes me a whole day, but the space has saved my sanity. The Hive, where it is based, also runs the odd sell-out cabaret, and a highlight in summer was going there to see a preview of Mimbre Acrobats "If I Would I Could", pictured left (Chapter 143 - click here), that tells the day in the life of an everyday hero and the superhuman effort it takes to overcome everyday obstacles struck a chord. 

8. Giffords Circus: It was a joy to see "The Painted Wagon" head to the Wild West not just once but twice this year. Read about the show here in Kate Kavanagh's review for The Circus Diaries. The first time my daughter and I went straight from stomping and twirling in the sawdust ring with audience & cast in the morning, to the hospital for afternoon visiting hours where Mum had just emerged from her coma the day before. Mum had nearly died barely a week before and her recovery was little short of miraculous.  I arrived to find her with a copy of the The Lady by her bedside, directing me to an article all about Giffords. Always full of surprises and ahead of the game Mum, and I am still in wonder that we will be spending Christmas together. Returning to Giffords, this time without kids but with Hamish and Onni in tow, two of the performers from Ssshhh!, the day before the cabaret at Jacksons Lane (see below), was definitely my guilty pleasure!

9. NoFit State: The arrival of NoFit State in London reminded me of my original dream to become a circus strongwoman, and kickstarted my own training again, and for that I am so very grateful. It was so much fun going behind the scenes interviewing the wonderful Delia Ceruti (Chapter 162 - click here) and then climbing up the scenes in a workshop later (see Chapter 165 - click here). Bumping into aerialist Frances Widow there was another highlight. We have been on Twitter together for a couple of years, meeting through an illustration of hers that I admired and used for one of my most popular posts of 2015 (Chapter 65 - The Circus Strongwoman - click here). NoFit State also gave me a night to remember with one of my oldest friends Jane, where we celebrated the sheer talent on display and partied the night away.

The show Bianco is my top review of the year, see Chapter 164 - click here. If you haven't seen the show yet, you have until 22nd January. Catch it while you can. After that Bianco is no more, and NoFit State will be moving on to their next flagship project for 2018, celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of modern circus. 

Of course, my ultimate best nine are the nine utterly terrific performers who agreed to be in Ssshhh!, the cabaret we put on at Jacksons Lane this summer as part of the Postcards Festival. These pictures by Shauna Summers speak volumes where my words fail. It was simply one of those nights to remember, and I am so grateful to Artistic Director Adrian Berry for the trust and confidence he placed in us to let rip.

From left to right:

Michaela O'Connor, Red Sarah, Molly Orange;

Cheryl Teagan, Brett Rosengreen, Hamish Tjeong;

Sean Kempton, Danny Ash, Onni Toivonen.

A huge thanks to those of you who were with us that night, who supported with shout-outs and spread the word. And thank you to all you readers for your interest in the circus scene here. The blog has had over 12,000 hits this month. As a writer that fact brings a warm glow, a sense of being relevant and engaging, and feedback is always welcome. Highlights are listed above, but there are so many more performances and challenges which have made the journey over the past 12 months such an eventful one. 

For all you aerial enthusiasts out there, circus spaces may be shut over Christmas, but you can still keep the exercise ticking over thanks to Paper Doll Militia's competition for exercising aerialists with videos uploaded daily on Facebook. I will be following with interest and am inspired by the accounts already using the hashtag #Fit4TheHolidays over on Instagram. 

If you are looking for that last minute Christmas gift, I cannot recommend highly enough a circus experience afternoon at the National Centre for Circus Artswhich is where it all began for me in Chapter 1 - click here. And please consider supporting Jackson Lane's Christmas Day lunch appeal that reaches out to the elderly in the local community in the spirit of social circus:

Events for your diary over the holidays: Along with Bianco, La Soirée, Cirque Beserk and Zippos, The Mad Hatter's Tea Party at The Roundhouse (See Chapter 55 - click here), check out the two wise men in Two Tongue Theatre's Boys Club (See Chapter 160 - click here), mentored by a third, dark clown Peta Lily (See Chapter 156 on Peta Lily's Chastity Belt ), at Etcetera pub theatre in Camden, 6th (and 7th) January. It's an epiphany! 

Book now for the 40th London International Mime Festival (LIMF) kicking off in January. Top of my list is Thomas Monckton's Only Bones (click here for teaser trailer) and French puppet company Les Antliaclastes' Here Lies Shakespeare (click here for teaser trailer). Also don't miss the phenomenal Alex Walton's in Adrian Berry's poignant From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads (Chapter 161 - click here) back at Jacksons Lane on 27 February for one night only.

Meanwhile I'll be back in the New Year to get "Smashed" with Gandini Juggling, as a special edition opens the London International Mime Festival on 9th/10th January at the Peacock Theatre, Sadlers Wells. Time now to chill... Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all! 

Monday, 19 December 2016

Chapter 167: Aircraft Circus - Greenwich Circus Festival

Photo: (click here)

Once upon a time I had pictures taken by boudoir photographer Stormy Sloane. Following her Instagram account from then on, I noticed one day a circus image that would fit a post I was writing at the time on The Snake Charmers (click here). That was in the days before I started writing about shows. When my blog was simply styled as "life through a circus lens" - a space to share random thoughts through a metaphor where anything is possible. The model in question was a circus performer called Kat, who coincidentally was appearing that week in show called Midnight's Circus (click here) at a theatre up in Highgate called Jacksons Lane, so Stormy and I went along with my husband Xav, and a couple of friends. Ah, it was a great evening, and that was how I encountered Aircraft Circus.

Aircraft Circus is based at The Hangar, on an industrial estate in Woolwich, and, as well as creating shows, it is a training school offering 15 and 16 week intensive full-time courses for artists, as well as recreational classes. It is one of those places that I've heard so much about but never visited, being a nightmare to get to from where I live. This weekend however their Greenwich Circus Festival coincided with Christmas lunch at old friends' down the road, and Sunday driving  outside of rush hour made it all the more accessible. 

It was funny to walk into a circus space where I knew literally no-one, but none the less welcoming for that, buzzing with that familiar festival vibe. My 8 year old and I arrived just in time for the All-Sorts family cabaret show, compered by a Christmas star of an elf. We both sat cross legged on the floor and watched fantastic displays from a mix of students and teachers, compered by the bright Christmas Star of an Elf, Emily. I was delighted to see Aircraft Director Moira in the air again after her sexy wildcat trapeze duet at Jacksons Lane (click here). It was announced that she had been out of action due to injury for a couple of years, so this really was a special occasion, and the performance gave me goosebumps. I also witnessed the most fluid of mermaids on hoop, the youngest aerial ninja on trapeze, a bowler-hatted Malcolm McDowell in a surprise descent from the ceiling on silks, and Moira's students, a duo of sisters executing feats of superb strength and flexibility with insouciant attitude on trapeze. Of course, my daughter's favourite was "the youngest act, Mum" who was so nimble and quick with her turns and her drops. 

Despite her appreciation of all things aerial, the workshop that interested my daughter most was acrobalance. She had a terrific time, despite Nik warning that it was used as a form of torture in medieval times. It certainly stretched her! Watching her with the younger ones, reminded me of how good she is with our littlest monkey, so I was not totally surprised when she said that while learning how to fly was cool, what she enjoyed most was being a base. The kids had lots of fun balancing on each other, and the activities culminated in a three-high human pyramid, that held for at least a second or two before they all collapsed in a tumble of giggles. Meanwhile I went along to the juggling workshop, learning a few neat tips to take home and practice, before we moved onto the inflatable slide downstairs. 

While we would have loved to stay on for the next "Movie Nights" performance, which I heard was excellent, we had to get back to one of our own, arriving just in time to curl up with the rest of the family on the sofa and catch Luke Skywalker's hand-balancing act on Dagobah, with the ever-vigilant Yoda. There you go, I thought, circus everywhere. 

For more information about the festival programme, split between day and evening passes, click here.

The evening included astounding alumnae acts, and the superb Midsummer Night's Circus with aerial, fire-eating, stilts and all-sorts. Check out @nzboyzabroad's (aka Rafiki character in previous chapter!) posts on Instagram and the hashtag #greenwichcircusfestival.

For more information about courses, parties and events run by Aircraft Circus visit

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Chapter 166: Christmas Showcase at Flying Fantastic

Sarah and Katy at Flying Fantastic demonstrating that aerial skills are good for your elf
On Sunday evening Flying Fantastic hosted an end of term Christmas show where students showcased their skills to friends and family. I had been once before a couple of years ago, coming across Flying Fantastic quite by chance, and keen to support circus in my local neighbourhood (Chapter 53 - click here). It was a great night, Edel and Chris Wigan the founders were so welcoming we have been in touch ever since. I ended up going on a fire-eating course (Chapter 88 - click here) with Rachael, one of the students I met in the interval, as well. 

Young Flyer Dugan
This time, my 8 year old daughter, a regular now at Flying Fantastic in the young flyers classes, came along for the ride. Going on automatic we rocked up to our old haunt in Battersea, only to find the show was happening at the jazzy new premises in The Arches, on Union Street, Borough. Doh! Of course it would be! The car was operating on reduced power (aren't we all?!) due to engine problems, but somehow we made it in the nick of time ("Er Mum, didn't the message flashing on the dashboard advise you to drive moderately?!" I was!), to catch Dugan, the son of one of my oldest friends, perform an astonishing turn on silks that held us spellbound. There were three other acts featuring young flyers, all similarly inspiring and a real eye-opener for my daughter to see. "These are the performers of the future" declared ringmaster Kate, "and a credit to young people everywhere". Too right!

Victoria and Dan

My daughter's other favourite act was the duo on aerial chains, "because I've never seen anything like that before, Mummy", as two sexy ladies strutted on in pvc and wearing blindfolds, putting the Sohoho oomph into Christmas. It was a brilliant tease of a piece entitled "Pretty Painful" set to the lyrics "I want to chain you up/I want to tie you down/I'm just a sucker for pain..." Of course, that went completely over the head of an 8 year old who was simply enchanted by the new shapes and sheer contrast to familiar silks. Another new piece of apparatus was the aerial net, which reminded my daughter of her favourite cocoon, so clever and looked enormous fun. 

Wee as Rafiki
While the rest of the acts were on hoop and silks, there was plenty of novelty to distinguish each in turn. Duets could be on a pair of hoops, a pair of silks, or one of each, movement either symmetrical or synchronised. They were all on a par in terms of level of skill and flexibility, executing split balances in footlocks on silks and dizzying rolls on hoops, but what distinguished each was the unique personalities that shone through, accentuated in costume and make-up. I loved the black and white chequered and stripey leggings that kicked off to circus music, the touches of lace and gold lamé, the monkey boy paint and antics of the Lion King Rafiki character, and the stunning peacock with a feathered hat and train as long as the silks she ascended. These were people who pulled out all the stops and had a lot of fun in the process; the energy was infectious.

Efi The Peacock
There were fourteen acts in total, compered by the inimitable Ringmaster Kate Hart who entertained while explaining to an audience, the majority of whom were unfamiliar with aerial skills, how difficult the training was, #circushurts after all, and how hard the students worked. It was important that she did that as the performers all made it look so effortless. None of those students do circus skills for a living, but what they all have in common is a passion that drives them forward, and what is great about Flying Fantastic is that not only provide space to train, but a performance space to bring it all together. 

Ringmaster Kate

It was great to see, but also rather poignant as it brought home to me that it has been two years now since I first saw a Scratch Night at Flying Fantastic and dreamed of having a go, and yet I am still  in no fit state. Ironically, I have a rope class at Flying Fantastic tonight taught by Danny Ash, one of the performers from the Ssshhh! cabaret I put on at Jacksons Lane in June (Chapter 153 - click here). 

So maybe I'll get there next year, eh?! There's even talk of a mother and daughter double act?! We'll get by, with a little help from our friends...

Many congrats to Young Flyers Maya & Jo, Fimi, Xenia and Dugan, and to the adults Wee & Miley, Eleanor & Jenni, Vicky & Gera, Dan & Victoria, Efi, Laura & Brittany, Clare & Naomi, Charlotte & Erika, Sarah & Katy, superstars all - thank you for a terrific night. 

In true circus spirit, the proceeds of the evening went to a charity called Safe Passage, who provides education for the children and their families living in the garbage dumps of Guatemala City, as Edel knows first hand, having worked out there 15 years ago, and has run the UK arm for them ever since. For more information click here:

If you are thinking of giving aerial classes a go, Flying Fantastic ( run classes in Battersea, Wimbledon, and Union St, their new flagship premises that has to be seen to be believed, and has the best loo sign ever! Flying Fantastic currently have a newbie offer on for packs of classes and run daytime, as well as evening, classes, open 7 days a week. There is so much on offer including classes in flexibility, pilates, aerial yoga, as well as static trapeze, rope, silks, straps, chains and aerial pole. Keep an eye out for workshops for the more experienced as well, such as the dance trapeze morning with aerialist Serenity Smith Forchion on Sunday, 8 January, whose CV includes Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros and numerous awards. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Chapter 165: Running away to the afternoon with NoFit State

"Lucy, if I offered you the sun and the moon, you'd ask for the stars as well..."
- Mum

Some people never grow up. I still take a childlike delight in a world filled with infinite possibilities. There have been a fair few knocks along the way, don't mistake enthusiasm for naivety. But each time I feel a bit jaded, the universe gives me a gentle nudge, as if to say, don't give up dreaming. Not just yet. 

A few years ago I watched NoFit State's Bianco and imagined running away to the circus. As Lyn Gardner once wrote after watching the show: "If you don't want to run away and join the circus afterwards, you probably need to check you have a pulse." I started learning circus skills. Tentatively at first. I enrolled in a polefit class, well that news spread like wildfire at the school gates... In my vest top and hot-pants, NoFit State emblazoned in pink across the bum, it took me several weeks to manage a few steps of a climb - I really was in no fit state! - several more for an invert and then a month or two after that, finally, off came the fake tan. Growing in confidence, I then signed up to an experience day at the National Circus with a dozen girlfriends which segued into evening recreational classes, and a foray into fire-eating. I started writing a blog to chart the (mis)adventures of a slummy mummy like myself, only to find it was much more interesting to write about other people. But the more shows I saw and wrote about, the less time I had to train myself, and by summer this year my training was dwindling away.

Hearing the NoFit State circus was back in town rekindled that spark, motivating me to pick up classes (see below*) again and fight for that ever-shrinking physical space. How wonderful then to be invited along to an afternoon's workshop with NoFit State, thanks to the blog that really they had kickstarted. It felt like the (cyr) wheel had come full circle! I went on Tuesday with about a dozen other bloggers and vloggers, including those from on-line publications like The Londonist, Theatre Bubble and This Is Cabaret. Some had seen the show, I'm sure, but none of those to whom I chatted had seen it on Southbank and this was their first time in the Big Top. As we walked into the tent, noting the tightwires set up and François rehearsing on them made me wonder if I couldn't just skip the practice and sit and watch. Seeing the footwork unobstructed was a real treat and the jumps, and trophy backflip, as ever filled me with awe. My own tightwire is in storage. It's a small one, but I have a fantasy that one day I will have space to bring it to London and practice regularly, go back to evening classes at National Circus and learn some tricks. Maybe not backflips, but a pirouette or two would be fun. My tightwire boots ( are made with the soles of ballet shoes after all. 

Split into groups we rotated round three activities: hula-hooping with Blaze Tarsha, juggling with Lee Tinnion, and counter-weight aerial (taking turns to scale the scaffolding tower and bungee around in a harness) with Joa Aussibal and Topher Dagg.

Hulahooping was fun. Straightforward hooping round the waist was literally child's play for me, ever since we took the kids to Camp Bestival a couple of years back, but the tricks were something else! Hooping round the knees, ankles, wrist and neck, I wondered if there was any part of the body Blaze *couldn't* hulahoop from, only for her to bend over and show us how to spin a hoop off her bottom (François' party trick - keep your eyes peeled in the show!), and most intriguingly round her hair bun. I loved the fact that David in our group, who thought he would be at sixes and sevens, was the first to get the trick flicking the hoop up and over from the ankle bone, and I was over the moon to get there eventually too.

Counter-balancing rocked. Flying around on a bungee in a harness was bliss, my own Peter Pan moment in the panto season - life really is better upside down! -  but it was climbing up the scaffolding towers and sliding down that was a revelation. You really do feel the weight of the other person, how sensitive the movements are, how vigilant you need to be at all times and the faith required. It's interesting that both Topher and Joa have backgrounds in rock-climbing and mountaineering. In both of them I found a familiar deep calm and rooted steadiness that comes with an appreciation for the natural world. You would instinctively trust them with your life. I also envied them. I mean, it was so much bloody fun and they get to do this all day long?! 

Finally, the juggling. Brightly coloured metallic balls, rays of sunshine and a dollop of a red nose. We worked through a few exercises, my favourite three ball trick was called "tennis", where Lee used an overthrow from side to side to bat a ball back and forward, it was just so gratifying to watch. Lee made a variety of combinations look so easy, I'm not surprised he has a degree in maths; he's a natural puzzler.

The time flew by, thank you Blaze, Lee, Joa and Topher. I soaked up the vibe, the buzz of concentrated activity, and I loved looking around at the performers warming up alongside workshop participants having a ball. The tent really was like one big love bubble, and that energy shone out. I left wishing everyone could have a piece of this, and you can, it's up to you. Go see NoFit State's show Bianco and see where it leads. Let me know how you get on, I'd love to hear about it. Oh, and have a go on the flying chair ride outside. Floating out afterwards I clean forgot. Again. Ah well, I'll just have to go back...

*Interested in running away to the circus? Below are the circus spaces in London where I've had so much fun hanging out over the past couple of years. You can google more, search them out, and roll up, roll up:

- Polefit London: Stockwell YMCA and Merton run by Anna Milosevic, also does aerial hoop, barre fit, flexibility and stretching classes.
- Flying Fantastic: run by Edel and Chris Wigan, has classes in Wimbledon (where my daughter learns aerial), Battersea and a jazzy new premises in Union Street.
- Freedom2Fly: Hackney Wick, with Jessica & Jair Ramirez, who also run intensive professional courses with in Sydenham.
- Airborne Circus: run by Adam Cohen in East Finchley
- National Centre for Circus Arts: Old Street. Check out their Experience Day, evening recreational classes and lunchtime conditioning slots.
- Aircraft Circus in Woolwich - I've never been, but heard great things. 

This weekend both Polefit London and Flying Fantastic have their student showcase on Sunday, 11 December, and My Aerial Home has a circus panto on Saturday, 10 December, which will give you a great idea of what you are in for. 

And if NoFit State's "Here Be Dragons" leaves you with an urge to breathe fire, the place to train, damn hot on safety, is with Sarah Harman at The Fire School in East Ham.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Chapter 164: NoFit State's BIANCO

Augusts Dakteris
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

"I met my old lover on the street last night..."  Paul Simon, Still Crazy

Here's a funny thing: I was on my way into the National Centre for Circus Arts on Monday morning and I ran into my first proper (or improper!) boyfriend. Turns out he lives round the corner. Ah, it was so lovely to see him, a real surprise, but there were none of the butterflies from once upon a long ago. We simply chatted and moved on. So the next day, off to the Southbank, I wondered if that might not be the case for Bianco too. My first love in circus, would I feel differently having played the field now for a couple of years? Would Bianco still excite me in the same way...?

Enni Lymi
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
I had already checked in on NoFit State a couple of weeks ago when meeting up with Delia Ceruti (see post The Circus is Coming - click here), but, now the Winter Festival was all set up, and lit up by night, it was a different sight. Walking down from the National Theatre, I loved the view of the roller-disco "Bump" grinding away in the foreground, then, behind the giant spaceship of a circus tent, the swinging fairground ride, seats akimbo, in flagrante. I took it all in, waiting for my old university friend Jane, who had seen NoFit State up at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, and had had that same visceral urge to join in. The air was thick mulled wine, spiced with fun and laced with anticipation. 

Meeting up with an old friend on the eve of their birthday, as it was Jane's, carried its own energy and excitement. These feelings intensified as we stepped over the threshold into the Big Top and entered into a twilight zone where anything was possible. No matter how relentless or humdrum a day, here was a circus space where you could recharge, regenerate and reconnect. The live band was superb, delivering a cracking concert that would stand alone in its own right, and was responsive to the performers' acts, resonating with the sheer joy at being alive. This was the show's third incarnation and the music has been completely rewritten by David Murray since I last saw it. I can't tell you how precisely, only that this time round amidst the electric ska, latin beats and soulful blues I registered the presence of more Eastern esoteric notes that underscored darker moments stirring. "Here be dragons" the tagline warned. 

Bianco is a promenade show, and the audience was shifted from one space to another by roadies with a white flower in their hat and leather kilts, while performers often weaved through us in studied anarchy, drawing us into the space. This time round, more familiar now with the trajectory of contemporary circus in the UK, I heard Mad Max echoes of 80s circus company Archaos (particularly because I had been chatting recently to their events manager Dave, now director of the Cockpit - see previous post): a bell rang from somewhere behind moments before a tricycle randomly pushed its way through the crowds and a Babelonian chaos of voices ahead and above shouted out to each other, each performer speaking in their native language. The significance of the words themselves were unimportant, sacrilege to a wordsmith like me who enjoys a good narrative, yet I appreciated it was the texture of emotion conveyed in the utterance, rather than the text itself, that mattered. Whether I understood what they were saying or not, it felt as though I was eavesdropping into their world, peeking in on the familiarity and fun they were having with each other, and they knew it. There was an intensely voyeuristic pleasure to that.  A top or a skirt was discarded and we were invited to feast our eyes on ripped torsos, impossible strength and divine grace. Who wouldn't want to admire or possess that in some way?

Felipe Nardiello and Jess O'Connor
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

I enjoyed again the thrill of the twists and turns at breakneck speed from Lyndall Merry and Jess O'Connor on the swinging trapeze that opened the show. The urgent, frenetic energy of five rope aerialists lifted up by their feet to "devil music" (as Jane called it) made me think of characters from an Edgar Allen Poe tale contagious with St Vitus' dance. Now, learning silks, I found I could decode a little more of their language as they performed inverted straddles, hiplocks and drops, which was a pleasure in itself. Enni Lymi's static trapeze act was new, and the light play in the flamboyant folds of her dress caught me by surprise, while I found her sinuous moves utterly captivating. I was hypnotised by the beauty of knots in the cat's cradle created by Jani Földi on a triple cloudswing, which I'd never seen before, and his rousing discourse in Hungarian. I later found out that the very moving text was written for Jani by a friend. I wished I could have understood the beauty of what he was saying at the time, but what I like about Firenza Guidi's direction is that she took the fragment of a friendship in this way, the energy of a memory, and then got the artist to channel it. That was part of the raw, creative process Delia Ceruti had talked to me about (again see post The Circus is Coming), and I found her iconic act, rising up in immaculate white, touched by a desire of blood-red rose petals, a study in strength and vulnerability. The contrast in her "bianco" with the black-suited Joachim Aussibal as they dueted over three ropes was beautifully poignant. Jane, meanwhile had a soft spot for Danilo de Campos Pacheco on silks, or, in her own words, "the image of the most fuckable Jesus in history writhing around on a silk sheet 8 meters in the air, whilst overhead a dozen pilgrims knelt with or breathed flaming raised torches, is a truly memorable image I hope I will see again on my death bed." 

Watching the aerial acts, what I love about NoFit State was the way they exposed the mechanics of a circus show. The riggers on the scaffolding took centre stage along with the performers. Besides a clatter of distracting voices, no attempt was made to hide the pulleys and human counter-balances, that raised and dropped the aerial performers as required. Rather they featured like a shadow puppet ballet. It was like finding out the secret to conjurer's trick, only instead of divesting it of any aura of magic, it simply enhanced the show.

Ella Rose
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
The juggling act was new to me. While the romantic in me pined after the poetic flow of Portuguese and juggling balls from when Hugo Oliveira waxed lyrical last time round, my inner clown warmed instantly to Cecilia Zucchetti's joie de vivre and chic-to-cheek retro style. Effecting a tipsy Lucille Ball with insouciant throwaway drops of her clubs, she nailed the comedy. Speaking of booze, having contortionist Ella Rose handing out drinks is a sure-fire way to get any party started (created by the cast as a tableau vivant behind her) and she rewrote the book on how to get into a pair of heels.

Having caught a little of François Bouvier rehearsing a fortnight ago, executing an astonishing back flip on the tight-wire, I already knew that his act would be worth the ticket alone. But beyond the tricks it was the effortless way he moved, a challenge to any mere mortal even on the ground, that really held me spellbound. For most of the show I found myself at the back, on the margins, where I'm happiest as a writer. As so much of the action is airborne that was fine, except when it prevented me admiring the footwork of François on the lower of the two wires on which he was working, or catch little more than tantalising glimpses of Felipe Nardiello on the Cyr wheel. But still, as well as the jewels of action taking centre stage, there were nuggets of gold to be had there observing from the fringes: the care and concentration as ropes were wrapped and winches pulled; the rapt expressions of other audience members, the ushers and bartenders caught in the dreamscape too. I soaked it all in. Quite by chance, for the last act, Jane and I found ourselves catapulted to the front. In the line of fire of the thundering Tarzen on straps, Augusts Dakteris, I held my breath as he took a running leap towards us and then, at the last second, spirited up into the air. It was powerful and exciting to watch, while the romantic narrative that drew the female rigger into the frame made for a picture perfect finale. Down came the snow. A blanket of joy. Jane and I stuck out our tongues to catch the snowflakes. Not the smartest move when it's actually foam, but there you go. We lost track of time afterwards, missed the last train home and couldn't stop laughing. One of those nights.  Even now, a few days on, we are still soaring, just happy to be alive. Ah Bianco, you worked your magic again: ephemeral, vibrant, darkly beautiful and as romantic as ever.... 

Still crazy after all these years.

Thank you.

NoFit State's Bianco is running at Southbank Centre, part of the Winter Festival supported by NatWest. For more information and link to the trailer visit (click here)

Augusts Dakteris; Blaze Tarsha; Cecilia Zuccheti; Danilo de Campos Pacheco; Delia Ceruti; Edd Casey; Ella Rose; Enni Lymi; Felipe Nardiello; François Bouvier; Jani Földi, Jess O'Connor, Joachim Aussibal; Junior Barbosa; Lee Tinnion; Lyndall Merry; Topher Dagg.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Chapter 163: Circus In The Pound

Alfa Marks's act Angel
Photo Credit: Chino Álvarez
"Lucy to Scratch at Cockpit, Xav to Babysit." This was an entry in the shared home calendar that needed a little explaining... The Cockpit is a theatre up in Marylebone. I was there only a couple of weeks ago to see Two Tongue Theatre in Boys Club (see post - click here). For some time now The Cockpit has been hosting a scratch night - an evening when artists come together to share work in progress and receive feedback - called Theatre In the Pound. This is a reference both to the bargain entrance fee and the fact that the space can be either a conventional auditorium or play in the round. This time The Cockpit had decided to host a circus edition, fruit of a three-way discussion between Artistic Director Dave Wybrow, The Cockpit's Victoria Umanksy, and circus producer and lead programmer, Flora Herberich, reflecting a growing recognition that contemporary circus is so much more than a bag of tricks. 

Q&A with Dave Wybrow, José Triguero & Chris Patfield
The stage was set. Six white balls on the floor and a huge pile of autumn leaves:
"This is a historic occasion. We haven't seen jugglers at the Cockpit Theatre for 17 years!", announced (warned?!) Dave, ringmaster par excellence, both in apparel and presence. No pressure then! Jugglers have been personae non grata in that space, not because they ballsed up all those years ago when Dave arrived on the scene, but because circus skills were perceived to be superficial, clever in terms of skill, but simply visual entertainment, lacking in content or conceptual depth. Since then, juggling, and contemporary circus as a whole, has been on its own trajectory - see Thomas Wilson's epic account of the evolution of the experimental Gandini company in Juggling Trajectories - click here.

It was fitting then that the evening should open with a double act from José Triguero and Chris Patfield, who I've seen both in Gandini productions, and independently. The autumnal feel created by the russet fallen leaves, was complemented by the depressed nature of Einstürzende Neubaten's  "The Garden" (click here and you can listen while you read). José, camouflaged under the leaves, emerged to unzip Chris out of a cocoon-like all-in-one. Their symmetry in movement and clothing (identical black suits with black tops underneath) signalled a play on identity. As they stood side by side, Chris juggling balls and José handfuls of leaves, the sweep of the objects set to the pendulum beat underscoring the music, was utterly mesmerising. The odd escaping leaves fluttering down like rain tied into the lyrics as well. What they did so beautifully was to communicate the urge to hibernate, while being dragged out of yourself, Chris reluctant, José teasing him out. There was clowning around and more serious moments, and the flow of balls intertwined the performers in a precise choreography of patterns that was simply beautiful.

Fresh from winning a Malcolm Hardee award at the Edinburgh Fringe for her show The Molotov Cocktail Party, next up was Becky Fury, and she was pissed off, an antagonistic whirlwind, a Fury in the classic sense, a goddess of vengeance. In her black and white striped leggings she had the aura of a clown: one who looks to provoke, and uses comedy to subvert expectations. Her was a spoken-word comedy, rather than physical mime. Becky Fury's appreciation of the power language can wield and its poetry, (together with her surname!) made me think of Kate Tempest, and Peta Lily (see post on Chastity Belt - click here). Alternating anger with "being quite nice really", and watching Becky Fury in full throttle made me laugh and reminded me of Trump's recent whimper that theatre should be a "safe space". As if. Challenging the audience, needling us to get a rise, Becky took on the meaning of life and was up for some banter.

Closing the first half of the evening was aerialist Alfa Marks on a short rope, set to Massive Attack, Angel was an act that was not so much a work in progress as ready to fly. Alfa was lithe, graceful, sinuous and I wasn't surprised afterwards to learn that she was a dancer by training, bringing that skill-set clearly into evidence in the choreography. It is clear that rope is Alfa's medium, working with the versatility of the kit, the give (as opposed to, say, a fixed pole), melding into it, as one. It was interesting to see that the rope ended a few feet above the stage, rather than with a length coiled on the floor. What that did was enable Alfa to play more with the tail, to use it to spin, and play with coming down at one point and use the floor space but keeping that within the space of an aerial narrative.  Click here to see a video of the act from a gala in Spain (cover picture above). It is beyond stunning. 

Alana Jones in Dizzy O'Dare's Rise

The second half of the evening opened with Dizzy O'Dare's Alana Jones on tightwire and Mike Imerson, sharing their project Rise which had one of the most absurdly beautiful entrances I've ever seen in a circus act. To set the scene: Mike, in a red t-shirt, was on electric guitar, playing a echoing melody that recorded and looped, allowing him to overlay more chords. Alana emerged from the wings, her hair sectioned into ponytails, each end tied to a turquoise helium balloon so that it snaked upwards, think Medusa meets Pippi Longstocking. There was huge potential for clowning as she toyed with this image, but there was also a tender romance at play. An acrobalance duet, Alana carrying Mike on her shoulders at one point, resulted in a striking image as Mike took a pair of scissors and snipped off the balloons, one at a time. A gentle severing. As the balloons floated away, so did the lightness, replaced by tension. Crossing a tightwire is such a precarious skill, sensitive to the tiniest of adjustments, and so the perfect medium to explore the whole notion of balance and trust in the relationship between the two characters, who happen to be partners in real life. As Alana deftly moved across the tightwire towards Mike, who moved up onto a platform at one end, her crossing became a serenade, reaching out to him. Would he join her out on the wire? Was it too much of a risk? There was both laughter and poignancy in the piece.  Find out more at (click here).

Claire Lenahan is a brilliant comedian cum magician, with a stage presence and likeability factor that engaged the audience immediately. Her recent performance at a cabaret at The Hive in Hackney Wick was a real hit, and Dave at The Cockpit waxed lyrical about her previous incarnation as Cassandra Mary Canary, the ballsy ex-con with a new magic show and attitude to match the mass of peroxide curls. This time, though, Claire was more herself. That is to say, still in a costume, but without the disguise of a wig. With her cropped blond hair, American accent, gamine silhouette in a slim black and white checkered trousers, showman's tails and a top hat that popped out, there was a flash of Ellen Degeneres meets the Artful Dodger meets Barnum selling my kind of humbug. She moved among the audience confidently, with tossaway one-liners, choosing the perfect stooge for an assistant to hold the hooped curtain while she performed an escapology trick. The magic was as much in the way she engaged with the random audience member, conjuring up a hilarious chemistry between them, as the way in which she slipped off the handcuffs. A class act. 

Claire has a number of nights where you can catch her coming up:
Mon 28 Nov:  headlining at the variety night at The Royal George  8-10pm see

Jonathan Bendtsen "Daddy Cool" was a diabolo demon, also a cyr wheeler which would be interesting to see, and was pure, unadulterated fun. In a sharp pink suit with a pink sequinned tie, he had that cute, smooth, crooner vibe going, to match the retro-style of "Santa's Got a Hot Rod" and, thinking back to Asher Treleavan on diabolo, I could totally see him take centre stage in La Soirée. Jonathan performed some awesome tricks, up to three diabolos on one string in impressive combinations, and removing his jacket without interrupting his flow. Apparently the shirt also comes off to in "Santa's Stocking" Christmas Cabaret directed by Empress Stah, in a tin can of a Big Top in Elephant and Castle. It's on 24 Nov - 22 Dec: see - click here. The mind boggles.

Mim Wheeler on Aerial Chains
Last up was Mim Wheeler on aerial chains, performing to the awesome track "Sail" by Awolnation. Mim entered with a furtive, restless energy in a hoodie, aerosol in hand, like some urban fox. A neat trick actually, as the spray was a sticky roisin for extra grip on her hands, but the audience read it as a graffiti can. All aerial disciplines require roisin to counteract sweat, but I know from pole days how much more unforgiving metal is in terms of the slip, which makes this act all the more hardcore. There's also no give in the metal either, as there is with silks and rope. Despite all that, Mim somehow made ascending the chains look effortless. The noise of the chain links clashing was impressive, and as Mim reached the top and played with the carabineer for one awful moment I thought maybe she was going to release the chains and let them clatter dramatically to the floor, leaving her to just hang up there from the rigging point. That would have been suicidal, of course, but with Mim, you just had a sense that there were no limits, which is what made it so exciting to watch her in action. What she was doing while up there was actually putting extra links in the carbineer to turn the chain into a loop and work more shapes. It was strong, it was fierce, it was exhilarating. 

The audience was large, but only a small percentage were circus regulars and it was interesting to hear different voices. The acts were of a very high calibre, and the Q&A session after each act, facilitated with great insight by Dave and Victoria, provided feedback that was positive, supportive and relevant. There will be more of these evenings going forward. Keep an eye out on the Circus in the Pound Facebook Page for further developments, and search out and follow the artists themselves. 

Circus in the £pound at The Cockpit
22 November 2016

Performers in order of appearance:
(with Twitter handles where available):

Chris Patfield & José Triguero @jose_triguero82
Becky Fury @beckyfury
Alfa Marks

Alana Jones & Mike Imerson @Dizzy O'Dare
Claire Lenahan @Lemonhandz
Jonathan Bendtsen 
Mim Wheeler

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Chapter 162: The Circus is Coming... NoFit State's BIANCO

NoFit State's Delia Ceruti
Photo: @Sigrid Spinnox via

The weather is a petulant lover at the moment, blowing hot and cold. But no matter how bitter it gets, inside NoFit State's Big Top it is toasty as the performers are warming up for the opening of Bianco, part of Southbank Centre's Winter Festival supported by NatWest. NoFit State is a Cardiff-based company, set up 30 years ago by a group of uni friends, and is now home to a stellar cast drawn from all over the world. The company is at the forefront of the contemporary circus movement, and Bianco blends together live music, text, dance and circus skills to create a thrilling experience, "circus like no other". 

I saw Bianco several years ago at The Roundhouse, a ground-breaking promenade show, spectacularly poetic, in which the audience was very much immersed in the action, set to the music of a cracking live band, as we were discreetly ushered around the space.  Being on our feet the whole time I felt somehow more engaged, while proximity to the performers, close enough to see the blisters and bruises from all their hard graft, really brought home that these are ordinary people who perform extraordinary feats. Watching them then, how I longed to have a go myself and within a year had signed up to classes at the National Centre for Circus Arts and started writing this blog shortly thereafter… NoFit State has a lot to answer for! 

Since then the production has been on tour to great acclaim in its "silver spaceship", a tardis of a tent, and has now landed on the Southbank. Inside, the four giant kingpins holding up the canvas stand like colossal trunks of legs, reminding me that the show originally took its cue from José Saramago’s novel “The Elephant’s Journey”, not in terms of a linear plot, but in the sense of wonder and adventure conjured up. I went there to meet performer Delia Ceruti, wanting to hear about her own circus odyssey and how it fits into the show.  

Delia is from Bergamo, just outside Milan, and while she had studied ballet for fifteen years, it was actually a business degree that brought her to London. Through her sideline in photography, Delia came into contact with aerial circus when a dancer friend invited her to take some professional pictures, and so began a love affair that swept her off her feet and up into the air. Her circus training began in 2011 at Greentop Community Circus and her meteoric rise has led to performances up to 200m in the air. My stomach heaved at the thought. Delia has taken part in an Olympic torch relay, worked in hoop, doubles trapeze, has a particular interest in clowning (you need a good sense of humour when you are one half of a camel on stilts), toured Cuba with Canadian company Cirque Fantastic and joined NoFit State early in 2015 where she now performs aerial routines on the corde lisse, a smooth rope. As we chatted about her love of rope, it struck me that Delia is someone who unlocks the secrets of her art through endless play, continually exploring possibilities and infinite combinations - she has been known to scuba-dive in flippers on rope. In Bianco, director Firenza Guidi channels this boundless passion into an act of extreme beauty (pictured above), drawing out the emotional content by working with Delia to develop movement not to the sound of music, but instead to the beat of her own heart. With a number of new performers bringing their unique skills and experiences to their acts, and with a whole new musical score by David Murray since I saw the show last, I cannot wait to see how Bianco has developed over the past few years. Like Saramago's elephant, the show has travelled widely and its epic journey is finally coming to an end. Whatever you do, don't miss it. Who knows where it will lead...

Bianco is running from 23 November 2016 - 22 January 2017. 

Monday, 14 November 2016

Chapter 161: From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

Photo: Ben Hopper

Time - He's waiting in the wings
He speaks of senseless things

His script is you and me, Boy

Time, David Bowie

If you are a regular reader to this blog, or a circus geek, you will know Adrian Berry as the Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane, a theatre with an eclectic programme that sponsors contemporary circus and encourages experimentation. Ade also tours regularly as bassist with his band Alberteen, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, my favourite report back from the Edinburgh Fringe this year comparing each circus performance there to an album and a band (click here). And, like any music nerd with impeccable taste, Ade is a huge Bowie fan. Earlier this summer Jacksons Lane took the audience on a Fantastic Voyage of circus acts celebrating Bowie's music, and now Ade takes us on an altogether different and harrowing odyssey in his play From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads. A one-man show, it features Alex Walton giving a poignant and mesmerising performance as a vulnerable teenager called Martin, who receives a present on his 18th birthday that sets him on a quest for reconciliation to a past that will decide his future. 

Photo: Ben Hopper
I saw the play at Waterloo East Theatre, an intimate space, packed to the rafters. Martin entered to Sinatra's "I did it my way"... if the audience were expecting a night simply regurgitating Bowie's top tracks, they were in for a shock. The play was not so much a tribute evening, but an engaged response and exploration of the power Bowie's music had to transform the cultural landscape of so many. Take Martin, a bulimic, socially anxious teenager, product of the Larkin school of parenting (quoting "They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad..."). Living with the empty shell of his alcoholic Mum in a terraced house in the back end of nowhere in the Midlands (as flat as the Norfolk Broads), "a place where people live and die and nothing in between", Martin found an escape through Bowie's music when he discovered a chest of memorabilia left by a father long-since gone. And then on his milestone birthday, a letter from his Dad, written ahead of time, provided him with a map that would take him on a physical journey down to London, retracing his Dad's footsteps and imagining the world through his eyes as he visits landmarks from David Bowie's life.

From what I knew of the play ahead of time, I had gone prepared for a dark, depressing evening, tissues at the ready. It was a powerfully sad play, there were tears, but it was the sheer beauty of the production that also moved me. I loved the co-existence of the surreal and the spartan in the set design. The text was rich and lyrical, propelling the action forward under Ade's direction so there was never a pause or a lag. Alex Walton gave a riveting performance as Martin, with a raw energy that conveyed Martin's fresh-faced excitement when he bartered vinyls for a bus fare to London, in a wonderful exchange, his sheer joy at finding himself in Bowie's old bedroom or his bewilderment and pain after a karaoke turn doing Starman in the roughest dive in Croydon... Throughout, Bowie was there, a tangible presence, waiting in the wings, an iconic costume on either side of the stage suspended behind some gauze, visible as though through a glass darkly, the ghost of his voice evoked in voiceovers by the comedian Rob Newman. It felt as though if you concentrated hard enough, he might actually materialise.  I tried, you know. I stayed long after the rapturous applause had died down and the punters left, just contemplating the set, soaking up the atmosphere and the music still playing. The play made an impact, you see, just like Bowie's music, and in that sense it really captured his spirit. As I stepped outside, I felt my universe had shifted. And the stars look very different today. 

Photo: Ben Hopper

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is currently on tour (see
The play will be at Jacksons Lane for two performances on 4 December (see

Update: After sell-out performances and rave reviews, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads returns to Jacksons Lane on 27 February 2017.
Click here to book tickets:

2 August 2017 update: From Ibiza... is showing at The Pleasance at the Edinburgh Fringe until 28 August. Book here: