Sunday, 7 February 2016

Chapter130: Svalbard: All Genius All Idiot

Photo: Ben Smith and Santi Ruiz
Kuba Jee Jelen at Jatka78 
All Genius All Idiot. Never has a show been better named. Crazy, anarchic and all over the place with high octane energy. Arriving just in time and taking one of the last seats at the very front, I felt I was at the brunt of a rollercoaster, along for the ride.

Svalbard are a young international company comprising four performers (Ben Smith, Santi Ruiz, John Simon Wiborn, Tom Brand) who met training at the DOCH, Stockholm's university of dance and circus. They’ve been together a couple of years, and when I first saw their pitch for this show at the circus marketplace Canvas (click here) in Spring, I remember wondering where on earth I’d begin if I was ever to write about them. Maybe with the start. A guy on a tiny platform atop a Chinese pole wearing a huge pair of antlers and a fur coat, playing a mandolin (not a ukelele or a banjo #amlearning). I liked the novelty, loved the music, and also the soundscape later playing with water, voice, and the squeal of a piglet lamp - surreal doesn’t quite cut it. 

It was like a piece of performance art crossed with a gig - there wasn’t a narrative, more a series of character presentations and interactions. The rutting stag, he of the antlers, was alpha dominant, letting rip under a fur coat his inner drag queen in diaphanous top, fishnets, and donning vertiginous perspex heels. The others conjured up a wolf pack, young, cute, sexy and wild, I could imagine them all spilling over into The Box afterwards and partying the night away, no holds barred, and could see how they would develop a cult following of guys and girls alike. It was like being back at uni in the grime, watching Garbage at the Corn Exchange.

One of my favourite points was the use of masks on the back of the heads, and clothes back to front to reverse the bodies, so beautifully done. The sequences on Chinese pole were mesmerising from the word go, opening with the use of a body as an elevator to give another a lift down. Later, a precarious striptease on the top of the pole released a cloud of shimmering gold confetti as the trousers whipped off to reveal a pair of pink speedos. Point? No clue, it was just pure joy. I loved the stunning, exhilarating turns on rope, experiencing the thrill of the drop and the grace of movement that translated into acrobatic dance and hand-to-hand elements, even if I still wince at the body-slamming and the abandon with which they surfed the stage, nutters. Registering a strapped ankle I reflected that it's savage what they put their bodies through, but Svalbard are clearly having fun and want to get the party started. By the end, I could hardly bear to watch as they climbed on each others shoulders, my stomach lurched, and then the one on the top reached out and tapped the neon Svalbard sign on, both pointless and brilliant at the same time. All Genius All Idiot. Indeed. 

Check out their website:

Update: Catch at Edinburgh Fringe 2017. Book tickets here:

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