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.

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