Monday, 7 March 2016

Chapter 133: Mother's Day, Gandini Juggling and Circus Everywhere

Well, it was Mother's Day yesterday and I started the morning fighting back the tears. I've been feeling rotten recently. Thrown by a lurgy of shakes and shivers, the fever broke last week while watching in bed Complicite's Simon McBurney in "The Encounter" (click here), streamed live from the Barbican. It was such a surreally vivid experience I wondered if I hadn't inadvertently taken half a ton of peyote and was on some sort of Carlos Castenada transformative journey. I'm not ill now, just worn out by it all and have dropped a number of balls in the process. A card to my own mother, in her 80s, being one of them. Lucky you're one of six, isn't it? She pointed out to me, with typical Scots pragmatism. My son was first out of bed in our house, surprising me with a beautiful handmade card featuring a Big Top, and a rainbow of juggling balls, the highest one golden, a nod to the children's book "The Clown of God". This (originally French) folktale, rewritten and stunningly illustrated by Tomie de Paolo, tells the story of a juggler in medieval Italy who's ultimate gift to the Christ child is his final performance, and thinking of it always sets me off. Meanwhile my own clown was off out the door at 8.30am for the second full day of rehearsals in his school play, understandably reluctant, as all he wanted was to be at home with us.

You are my sunshine
Later that morning, my youngest curled up in my arms and sang a song from nursery - a rif of "You are my sunshine" where I become the best Mum in the world, and her sister seconded that. I welled up as my heart broke again with love for these children, for my mother, for the mother-in-law I never knew, for all those who have loved and lost or, worse, never known... and then notes of Spanish guitar music and a bolognese cooking wafted up from downstairs, thanks to my husband, and I came to, dried my cheeks and joined the party. Clearing the kitchen table for lunch a package fell down. My youngest was on it in an instant and opening it up - her 4th birthday is coming up on Wednesday, everything is a potential present! - and it turned out to be a red nose. I'd bought it as a fall-back if we ran short at the clowning workshop a couple of weeks before (post to follow!), but in the clutter hadn't noticed it arrive. Put it on Mummy! So there we were, after a deliciously comforting lunch, sitting on the rug, clowning around, and having fun. A while later, our energy spent and all ready for a nap, I log on quickly to Facebook to answer a couple of messages, and register an event at the British Museum that gets my heart pumping and mind buzzing again. 

It is Gandini Juggling. I have been reading recently about their participation in the current ENO production of Philip Glass opera Akhnaten*, and there are some wonderfully atmospheric photos circulating on their timeline and Twitter feed. I have been desperately trying to find an evening to see the opera, but this is the fortnight of school plays, spring concerts and other commitments, so I'm resigned to the fact that until JK Rowling magics up a genuine Hourglass TimeTurner, it is not possible to be in two places at once. This half hour performance was a matinee at the civilised time of 4pm though, and we could just about make it, if we got our skates on. It was not an excerpt from the opera itself but Millions of Years**, an ENO-led community project combining professionals and volunteers, that uses the music in an interpretative response to the themes of the opera: the passage of time, the legacies of what has been left and what we leave behind. What an appropriate reflection on Mother's Day, I thought, when we are meant to be celebrating the double-helices connecting generations.

We made it with five minutes to spare and found the place was packed. The great thing about having kids in tow though, is that you can weave your way through the crowd and sit on the floor at the front. The cardboard heads of an assortment of majestic Egyptian animals delighted my 7 year old daughter as she identified each in turn. Then came on the jugglers - I hadn't expected so many! In a piece, beautifully choreographed by juggler José Triguero, that underscored Egpytian ritual, the juggling counts draw out the beat of the music in a way that made me think back to McBurney's "The Encounter", where the Mayoruna tribe have their own rites to rewind time. I loved the lighting as well, accentuating the presence of the Sun God Ra, from the dawn of days. 

The choir were wonderful, in modern greys, sands and Nile blues, providing the People, the social commentary, carrying reverence through their voice to their hands. A trumpeter sounded from the balcony. Heavenly. As for Anthony Roth Costanzo (pictured), the countertenor who plays the title role in Akhnaten, his voice has such a sweet delicacy and power that I was moved beyond words, and he has all the centred grace and true authority of Pharaoh. As the choir crescendoed, an expanding nest of yellow balloons, each with a tiny light inside, was raised up and then released, spilling out over the crowd. My daughter, delighting in the juggling of blue plastic bags in the background, then excitedly recognised Bibi and Bichu take centre stage - last seen at Giffords Circus in summer - and whispered "So Mum, they are part of Gandini too? I knew they were the best!" Joined by more familiar faces, including the original Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä-Hokkala, time in this age of plastic whirred by to the spin of the red clubs, while infinity was invoked with the refrain "Thou shalt exist for millions of millions of years". It was a stunning spectacle, and what a setting in the British Museum. We left on a high, floating with all the joy of a yellow balloon, and as we walked back to the tube I clocked a restaurant called "Malabar Junction". Malabares means juggling in Spanish, and it did indeed feel like we had witnessed a crossroads where music, juggling and time itself came together in a heartbeat. I chuckled at the unexpected wonder of the day, and took a picture for posterity. 

*Akhnaten is running at the ENO until 18 March. Tickets are rapidly disappearing into the quicksands of time, for more information click here -

**For further information on the performance of Millions of Years at The British Museum click here - The information includes the extract below:
This performance is the culmination of a large-scale community project developed by English National Opera in collaboration with Improbable Theatre, Gandini, Brixton Youth Theatre, Raw Material, Streetwise Opera, The Sorrell Foundation, London Metropolitain University, University College London’s Petrie Museum and the British Museum.


  1. Hello!

    I'm with Circus Camp in Atlanta, GA. I am putting together an email to send out to our campers and parents, and would like to use that image of you and your child playing with the red clown nose. Would that be ok?


    1. Hi Greg,
      Yes, sure - though maybe a bit late now! Apologies for delayed reply - not much wifi access sailing round the world with family for past year!
      Best wishes, Lucy


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