Monday, 23 May 2016

Chapter 143: Mimbre - If I Could I Would

Photo: (click here)

It is tipping it down in more ways than one today. The rain caused a pile up of traffic, jams on every short cut imaginable, aggressive drivers without any give, I am grumpy and emotional because I ran out of time for breakfast, knackered after yet another interrupted night with my youngest, frustrated by a lack of space to write up several blog posts on the go (thinking of Kate Kavanagh of "The Circus Diaries" the other day saying to me "we need a bloggers anonymous helpline!"), overwhelmed by a backlog of admin, and fed up that yet another school demand means I'm missing my "safety valve" of an aerial silks class.

None of these things are big deals in themselves, it's what I've signed up to after all, but they mount up. There are days for us all when nothing goes right. When it takes a superhuman effort to rise about the relentless demands of everyday life and the pace of urban living. Maybe that's the attraction of circus training. Learning to do the impossible (when I can make class!) is like a two fingers up at the daily grind. So it was great to see last week If I Could I Would from female acrobatic company Mimbre, which follows a day in the life of a woman, whose special powers get her through all manner of ordinary obstacles in everyday situations with which we can all identify. I saw the show in rehearsal last Friday at The Hive in Hackney Wick. The irony that this was where I normally have an aerial silks class, my own bid to supersize my bird muscles and fly, was not lost on me! 

All three performers were dressed in muted grey, but there was a flash of red in our superhero's costume to suggest that there is more to her than meets the eye, and that became more and more visible as the show progressed. As she flipped onto the scene thanks to the innovative set design (no spoilers!) and navigated her way through the crush on the daily commute, and into work, we met a whole host of characters: a distracted old granny holding up the queue, gossipy co-workers sharing an exclusive in-joke, a Horrible Boss, who gives Colin Farrell a run for his money, and leering lads. They were all familiar types, instantly recognisable and hilarious thanks to the brilliant use of physical comedy and superbly choreographed acrobatics. While I loved the shapes made, whether using the body as a skipping rope or to build a dynamic three-high human tower, it was the acting as much as the circus tricks that impressed. Male or female, young or old, they nailed it, and there were some pretty quick changes to juggle as well. 

As the frustrations built up and up, our superhero took a running jump and started to fly. There was a darkly menacing moment that put her in jeopardy, but our protagonist fought back, turned the tables, and the scene shifted gear into a brilliant comedy that was one of the highlights of the piece. I read the ending as a heart-warming testimony to female resilience, emotional as much as physical, and to the efforts of all the super women out there supporting each other. It is a show that makes you wonder "if I could, I would..." but also leaves you with the challenge "well, why don't you then?!"

If I Could I Would is an outdoor show, currently on tour and will be the Greenwich and Dockland International Festival 25-26 June (click here).

Performers: Silvia Fratelli, Martha Harrison, Alcina Mendes
Director: Lina Johannson (click here)
Set Design: Michalis Kokkoliadis (click here)
Costume Design: Bettina John

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Chapter 142: "Me, Mother" by MES

Photo: David Levene (click here for more images from show)

"What three things must a mother do?"
"What's scarier? Walking a tight-rope or motherhood?" That was the question asked recently in the show Me, Mother at The Roundhouse, as part of Circus Fest, in an evening that was part installation, part performance. As a Mum of three and as an amateur aerialist, I was interested in seeing the show, but a wee bit ambivalent as well. I had come to circus if not to escape motherhood, at least to take a break from hearing about it once in a while. Parental responsibilities and anxieties are huge, it's bloody scary, and circus is a safety valve for me, releasing some of the pressure by carving out a space to remember who I am, beyond a function. To bring both circus and motherhood into the same space, how would that work?

The installation was in a circular space where several screens displayed audio visual testimonials with dozens of voices all speaking at once. I picked out the voice of my static trapeze teacher Layla Rosa. A mum herself, she curated Mama's Kitchen (click here)  at Jacksons Lane's Postcards Festival last year where Rosie, in her third trimester, performed a very moving aerial hoop sequence. Voices spoke of fears and surprises, how their reaction to physical risk changed with parenthood. Cards hung on strings like a beaded curtain of reflections. I was invited to fill one out and add to the collection. The question asked what three things must a mother do? Love, smile and sing was my knee-jerk response, and note to self.

We were then led down the umbilical cord of a passageway into the womb of a dark and intimate theatre space. Matilda, the director and sometime aerialist, introduced the show and explained the concept, how this project had come about thanks to the vision, ironically, of two men, John Ellingsworth and Duncan Wall, neither of whom had kids themselves.  Since then, the show had been developed in conjunction with circus mums, and the performance that followed spun their stories, partly improvised and woven with music. 

Matilda introduced the artists involved: eight were mothers, six had given birth, two were pregnant, five were circus performers... and of course all ten were born of mothers themselves. I was fascinated by the story of the Song. How in one culture, the pregnant mother would retreat into nature and create a song to be sung to the child in her womb. In turn she would teach it to family and friends so that when born the baby would be welcomed by their own unique song, that would then accompany them throughout their life. Songs were a significant part of the evening in the recounting of birthing stories and early days - from Twinkle Twinkle, to the bare necessities of the Jungle Bookmaking me think of Metta Theatre's Jungle Book (click here), to a German farming folk anthem - and underscored by the responsive violin music composed and played by Elizabeth.

I always enjoy hearing about what attracted people to circus in the first place, and it struck a chord hearing how Matilda had been drawn to circus because she felt scared. I get that attraction, the buzz of facing your fear and going beyond it. The story Tina told about going back to training in the early days and her frustration one day finding herself literally tied up in knots at Circus Space had us all laughing. I could empathise with the sheer "tsunami of anger" that then swept over her, unleashing the superhuman energy required to untangle herself. I loved watching Linn on the slackwire, visibly pregnant, both embracing and playing with the extra imbalance of her bump. Hearing from Grania on straps about why she may or may not have children with her wife was delivered with humour that made a sense of longing all the more poignant. Together, the camaraderie and confiding between the women created a nurturing, warm, safe space in which to release a whole mixture of emotions - love, loss, yearning, mourning, acceptance - and in the shadows I found myself surreptitiously using the scarf round my neck to dab my eyes.

Building up phenomenal strength through true grit and taking physical risks, these performers had to surrender control when it came to maternity. Coming to circus post having kids, I had never known what it was like to be that physically strong, or have that discipline in the first place. Even now I can barely do a chin-up. But I'm working on it. Inspired by Charlotte's admission that she was the only one in her year at circus school to hit a brick wall when it came to chin-ups initially, yet persevered (and how!), I am now half-way through a month-long challenge with the aerial dance group at Freedom2Fly, where F2F co-founder and new Mum Jessica Ramirez' upbeat posts, recording progress on her own daily challenge, are further motivation. I left the show with a new enthusiasm for my own status as a mother, and the permission to take pride in it as well.

Photo: In rehearsal @CatherineBoot on Twitter

Me, Mother by MES (click here)
Performers: Charlotte Mooney, Grania Pickard, Linn Broden, Tina Foch
Director: Matilda Leyser
Music and violin: Elizabeth Westcott
Assistant Director: Catherine Boot
Story Co-ordinator: Tina Dekens
Creative Directors: John Ellingsworth and Duncan Wall

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Chapter 141: Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane - Ssshhh!

"Lu, I've had this crazy idea, it's a bit out there, you may not be up for it..." said Ade Berry, Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane, one day. "How would you like to curate an evening of circus cabaret for our Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane?"

Postcards Festival is in its sixth year at Jacksons Lane theatre in Highgate, bringing together, over a fortnight, short experimental pieces of circus and cabaret. It is playful, quirky, entertaining and, quite frankly, just my cuppa tea.  

Each evening has a unique stamp. The festival opens with a show that is literally “a bit out there”, as Plastic Boom defy gravity with intense juggling, set on a space station in Water on Mars. Talking of astronauts and thinking of Major Tom, I am also looking forward to tripping with Bowie in A Fantastic Voyage, while Chivaree Circus take you to the Underworld with their retelling of Persephone in Becoming Shades. There's an all female cabaret Flappers, compered by tongue-in-cheek duo Sh!t Theatre, and Jacksons Lane's new Associate Artists Alula Cyr will have you in a spin, with a special guest or two to boot.  The multi-talented Australian Jess Love, who I last saw as a hula-hooping virtuoso in La SoirĂ©e, blasts onto stage with her darkly beautiful one woman-show And the Little One Said. Get your food fix with surreal George Egg: Anarchist Cook, and the extraordinary hand balancer Natalie Reckert in Selfie With Eggs. Finally the festival is guaranteed to end in Chaos with the hilarious Lords of Strut. 

Meanwhile I am ridiculously excited about the line-up of stellar artists for the evening I'm curating, hosted by Cirque du Soleil's lead clown Sean Kempton, who bring together old school circus and sideshow skills with a contemporary cabaret twist. So join us for a wicked evening where everyone has a secret to share and who knows what will be revealed... Ssshhh! Tell no-one. At least not until you’ve got hold of a ticket...

Postcards Festival is on at Jacksons Lane 12-23 July. 

For more information and to book your tickets: (click here)