Sunday, 11 June 2017

Chapter 193: Amici Dance Theatre Company: Tightrope

Photo: Sheila Burnett

"Save our circus," the bucket read. Ringling Bros. had taken its final bow, barely a few days before, and I was now with my daughters at the Lyric Hammersmith to see the Circus Amici struggle for survival in Tightrope. 

The show was about a fictional circus getting on in years and the bucket was actually collecting donations in lieu of a fixed payment for the programme. That's the deal with the Amici philosophy: give what you can.  

The Amici Dance Company was founded in 1980 by Wolfang Stange and is renowned for incorporating performers of all abilities in one body of visionary work: to date producing more than 20 company shows, holding numerous workshops that cross-share abilities, knowledge and experience, and giving rise to the off-shoot Blink Dance Theatre Company (see post - click here). Working in partnership with Turtle Key Arts Amici brought back both it's 30th and 35th anniversary shows Tightrope and 35 Amici Drive (see post - click here) for one week in rep, both shows telling the story of a community under threat, reaching out to every body.

"Ladies and Gentlemen 
Boys and Girls
Welcome to Circus Amici...
We abandon no-one!"

Photo: Sheila Burnett 
Declared Ringmaster Rosie Leake deliberately, carefully and with authority in her scarlet top hat and tails, as a parade of showgirls and acrobats, strongmen and clowns paraded round.  The stage was set for some proper old school Big Top colourful entertainment. I was disappointed though, because right in front of the girls and I was sitting Francis Majekodunmi (from 35 Amici Drive and Blink's Four Corners) and a friend. How could they leave Francis out? Abandoned! Was he not in the show? I surreptitiously skimmed the programme to find his name. Billed as "Alternative Ringmaster" I thought maybe it was a job-share with Rosie, alternating performances. I had registered that he and his companion (Gurpreet Donsanjh) were dressed identically, somewhat theatrically in trench-coat and top hat, but assumed they had dressed ahead of time for the evening performance. It was only when the Amazing Nicholas came on with his assistant (circus artist Olivia from Joli Vyann) that all was revealed. Francis and Gurpreet were plucked from the audience for a trick involving handing over a watch to the blind, rather forgetful, magician, only for it to be placed in a velvet bag and then smashed to pieces and... that was it. It was broken. There was no come back. "Rubbish!" they heckled. "Call this a circus?!" I was reminded for a moment of similar catcalls by Gandini Juggling in Smashed! (see post - click here). Of course, the audience were on the side of Circus Amici, willing them to carry on, and quickly booed the pantomime villains. We booed again when this couple of likely lads made fun of the circus strongmen carrying a ton of foam weights, and when the voice of Wendy the soprano failed to shatter the glass held aloft by her assistant Catherine, who quickly, and hilariously, silenced  their insults with a peremptory hand gesture and stern admonishment that had us all cheering. We also laughed at the klutz clowns with their bumbling broom routine and a pie in the face for good measure, and at the highland fling of invisible blades by a regular "jock the knife" in her tam o' shanter, never entirely sure whether her aim really was to hit the target or if her clumsiness was a cover for murderous designs on her poor victims. 

Photo: Sheila Burnett 
There were touchingly lyrical moments as well, thanks to the beauty in choreography and set. So I watched David Grindley move across the stage on his knees, each step one of physical determination and courage. Behind him a group of dancers twirled white umbrellas that meshed to form a screen on which was projected an figure of a funambulist (Gandini's Chris Patfield) deftly crossing a wire, as though an image of David's limitless spirit. When David was attached to a wire and soared high into the air, it was a triumphant moment of liberation. I felt uplifted too watching the snake charmer's routine as ropes were twisted and ascended, and the aerial ballet, as tender as it was exhilarating, between Alex from Ockham's Razor, and Suzy Birchwood. In 35 Amici Drive a couple of years agao I had seen Suzy in an acrobalance trio with Joli Vyann's Jan and Olivia, when, despite not being able to bear her own weight on her legs, she had a flexibility and fluidity of movement I could only dream of. This time round, Suzy moved out of her wheelchair and up into the air with an ease, confidence and trust in Alex, executing all manner of inversions and catches, that belied the fact that barely a couple of days before she had never been on a trapeze. 

At the end, David took centre stage again, Glass-shattering Wendy hit just the right note and the company synchronised the release of dozens of red balloons into the air in a visual spectacular. I liked the fact that musician and composer Nao Masuda came down from the minstrel's gallery and joined the company as her wonderful music, with Jenny Adejayan on cello, and singers Wendy and Danny Standing, was an integral part of the performance. I was also touched when performers scooped up younger members of the audience, including my girls, to join them on stage for a final dance. The girls were delighted - they had been admiring earlier Stephanie Gallagher, a girl whose grace on stage gave their own dreams wings. Seeing them among the company, my youngest carried up the steps by a familiar clown (I later twigged it was because Colm Gallagher reminds me of Jean Reno!), I was struck again by the thought that we are all one family and "that society is a collaboration of many different people; some wonderful, some odd, some strong, some weak—all necessary. That wonder is on the prowl, like a circus caravan, coming to a town near us, waiting to break into our world." (Joseph Breslin on Ringling Bros. The Last Days of The Greatest Show On Earth - click here). Kids get that instinctively. The joy about Amici's Tightrope is that it reminds the adults too.

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