LucyLovesCircus

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Chapter 213: Lucy Leaves London



I left London last week, a decade of family life boxed into three storage containers, and I am now living out of a single suitcase. Thinking of James Thierrée* I half expect the suitcase to sprout legs and run off. No wifi, one bar of reception on the mobile, if we're lucky, and we are not sure of our date yet to set sail, but it is full steam ahead with preparations.

For many years, my husband and I have talked about sailing round the world and it is a love of boats that brought us together. We both rowed at university, the same position it turned out (Bow 3, The Powerhouse), we met years later at The Boat Race, and our honeymoon was spent sailing round the Caribbean, just the two of us. Since then life intervened and I have followed a crazy career path. Who could predict that, after working for five years as a chartered accountant and charities auditor at a Yanquee Imperialist Firm (Andersens - brought down by a few clowns at Enron), I would move a few doors down from their offices on The Strand to Kings College London to carry on with post-graduate research into the Marxist critical theory at play in contemporary Cuban theatre. The irony was not lost on me, nor on the still-suited partners (now part of Deloitte's) who I would bump into in the equidistant common ground of Caffè Nero, now clad in my jeans and trainers.  And, in a further twist, to go from academia to juggling three children and part-time work to fund this full-time circus passion has been a real learning curve.  

Still, nothing has quite prepared me for the rollercoaster of the past few months. A romantic dream to sail round the world with my family some time in the future is an altogether different proposition to "right, it's now or never" that has come to its climax over the past few weeks. I say nothing has prepared me, when actually there was something. Lunch with Sean Kempton one day after Shhh! circus cabaret, where he sat me down and talked through each one of my fears and reservations, playing devil's adddvocate in a way that only a clown can. A clown who has travelled the world and a fellow parent. It struck me then that being part of the circus ecosystem has been invaluable, and maybe the best preparation of all. There is the intuitive understanding of how travel broadens the mind and makes the whole world Kin, and thanks to social media I feel part of a wider international community, with friends there to welcome us virtually in any port in the world. Writing this blog I have developed a strong sense of self too: "word painter" is how Thom Monckton described me. I like that. And the past few years of aerial training has well-equipped me for the heave-ho of ropes and clambering up masts, both in terms of developing upper body strength and a head for heights. 

Still, it is a strange sensation to leave London, a city I love above all others, and which I know so intimately, appreciating it from so many different perspectives. In fact, it is love for London and the people in it that inspired the name of this blog. Knowing I would one day leave, for years I have been steeling myself, and set up a private Instagram account called LucyLovesLondon, a scrapbook of family moments and friendship that I could look back on and smile. So when I started this circus diary, LucyLovesCircus seemed a logical choice. Love for me is not a saccharine-sweet endorsement that LucyLovesEverything. Love is an act of resistance, a statement of intention to carve out a positive space in the world. Love gives the artist courage to step out in the sawdust arena and bare their soul. Love engages. Love dares. Love risks. Love is the endgame. And Circus is a Ring of Love. Infinite. Diverse. Inclusive. So this is not the end of the blog, nor of my circus adventures, but the pace will slow down now, probably to about 5 knots an hour. Bear with with me, and I'll be sure to keep you posted, as and when I can. After an afternoon running away off to the circus (see post), now yours, in nofit state to set sail, Lucy.





*When James Thierrée brought The Toad Knew to Sadlers Wells in May, he talked afterwards about how, as part of his parents' Cirque Imaginaire, he and his sister would be carried on stage by their father, each in a suitcase, then when plonked on the ground, they would pop out their legs through holes in the bottom and run away.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Chapter 212: Bassline Circus: FLIP

AndroidX in FLIP
All photos & videography courtesy of Bassline Circus

"Luce, are you coming up to Jacksons Lane to see Bassline Circus today?" I hadn't planned on it. Home alone packing up the house on a very tight deadline, the fact that it was Transmission season was not really on my radar. But it was Leonor from Two Tongue Theatre (see Boys Club - click here) asking, and I wanted to catch up and say goodbye. And I do love the whole concept of Transmission, a circus residency programme run by Jacksons Lane giving at least a week to up to six companies a year to experiment with and develop ideas with full technical support from the theatre. There is no pressure to deliver a finished project at the end, the companies are simply invited to share where they are at and a questions and answers session generally follows. It is always super interesting to see the play and potential. Going to Transmission with three kids in tow though. How would that work?! Well, we could always discreetly slip into the back row... 

"Mum, what are we going to see?" Well, kids, we are off to see a vectorised circus concert... I didn't reply. In fact, I wasn't quite sure myself what to expect. What the FLIP?! A blend of hiphop dance, circus and graphics, it sounded like festival fun, a bit trippy. Still, nothing quite prepared me. 

Back in the foyer at Jacksons Lane, meeting up with Leonor after Postcards Festival was a funny feeling. Boys Club had been part of Postcards as well. The big top of bunting in the foyer was still up, and my son was chuffed to recognise Simple Cypher lads Kieran & Chris on a poster after seeing them there last time for Cypher Stories (click here). But the chalk board now had the Autumn programme up. We went in. Encouraged by one of the ushers, my 5 year old marched straight to the front row. I do trust my kids to behave, I reflected, while confiscating any potential noise disrupters (like crisp packets!).

Director Bex Anson introduced FLIP. Today we would see excerpts with a couple of the dancers: the Krumper AndroidX, and Flexer Kaner Flex for this sharing. In future there will be a handbalancer and the vocals of singer songwriter and emcee Eva Lazarus (see www.evalazarus.com). FLIP is an interpretation of Mathieus Malzieu's story of "The Boy With a Cuckoo-Clock Heart", transplanting the story into a boy with a pace-maker - a neat complementarity there with the robotic elements of hiphop movement - who falls in love on-line and enters a world that questions perceptions of reality, exploring impossible worlds. What followed was an awesome blend of krumping (dance), tutting (hand movements) and flexing (contortion that gave the piece a circus stamp) against a backdrop onto which all sorts of graphics were projected and vectorised by Dav Bernard. The sharing was in two scenes. In the first "dimension" the graphics followed the movement of the dancers, who literally emanated energy. It was as though we could see the mind at play on the screen behind, a running narrative of the dancer's psyche. And I was not surprised afterwards to hear the dancers appreciated the organic dynamics of having what they intuitively realise and visualise when they move choreographed on the screen behind them. 




In the second the dancers stepped behind the screen and their shadows played into world of virtual reality, responding to a maze of scenarios that was completely mesmerising and pulled us as an audience onto a rollercoaster of an experience with them. It was clever, being drawn into the perspective of the protagonist, disorientated, searching, negotiating all manner of visual paradoxes, while for the kids it was like stepping into a computer game themselves. It will be interesting to see how these two parts, in essence fairly abstract still, will be propelled by the narrative going forward. 




Afterwards in the Q&A session with Adrian Berry, Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane, my 9yo whispered that the dance moves had reminded her of Jungle Book (Metta Theatre's production: click here), and I was glad to hear that Bassline Circus will be exploring relaxed viewings for families going forward, as my kids thought it was utterly brilliant. I would also like to see it again in full "concert" mode, interested to hear the plans to include live vocals and fully immerse the audience, getting them on their feet just like mine wanted to. The fusion of dance, circus and visual arts that I saw has already created a unique experience that synergised, as well as energised, the audience. Going forward it will be exciting to see how this experience expands: as it stands it was mind-bending and virtually life-affirming. 

Check out Bassline Circus www.basslinecircus.org on social media @BasslineCircus for news of further developments. Next stop in Autumn: Stratford Circus. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Chapter 211: Blind Date with Velvet Box Office

"Blind Date"
Photo: Connie Tsang from www.torontoist.com

You know those dreams where you are caught short wandering around naked in a public place? Writing a blog is a bit like that. I write a body of text and put myself out there, aware that in so doing I expose myself and will be judged, even if the blog is not meant to be about me, but circus and the amazing people in it that I have met on the way. The other thing about my blog is that people rarely comment on the actual writing, so it feels like I am free to dance as though no-one is watching, even if the hits tell a different tale.

Social media is another story. I am constantly amazed over the past three years how many wonderful people I've met by picking up friendly vibes and then meeting up in person. One such person is Tina from Velvet Box Office (VBO), who I met over on Twitter @velvetboxoffice drawn to the listings feed that reflects her passion for cabaret, circus, spoken word, family shows and is the go-to place for finding out the latest on what's on. I think we fell into conversation on-line after I had waxed lyrical about Puddles Pity the Clown in La Soirée and we then discovered we also shared a love for coffee and cake (always a clincher!). We chatted about meeting up, but as Tina lives in Brighton and we both have kids, it was real juggling act. Now that leaving the UK is on the horizon, with preparations underway to set sail in the Autumn, time is running out.


Packing up my life into cardboard boxes and love into bubblewrap, and looking after the kids while my husband was in France sailing back the catamaran from La Rochelle, overwhelmed by the to-do list, I reflected that I was perhaps in nofit state for making new friends, but life is not about perfect timings is it? And hanging around clowns has taught me that sometimes you can be the best entertainment when you show yourself warts and all, so Tina and I found a date, and she very kindly came over to ours with her son for lunch. 

It was funny actually, I had the kind of nerves you would imagine on a blind date, but the moment Tina walked through the door with her wonderful son, a gentle giant shooting up just like mine and just a year older, there was an instant familiarity, a natural progression from our internet banter that acted as a cue for the kids to hit it off too. Lost in conversation with Tina while the kids raced around, negotiating with nerf guns the obstacle course that is our house at the moment, I managed to overcook the sausages and undercook the chips, but the cream cakes that my five year old had chosen in the supermarket saved the day! 

We talked about what brought us here, where we'd like to go, and discovered we had much in common. Tina started her listings service because enjoyed watching comedy up at the Fringe but discovered there was no follow through about how to find out where their gigs would be when back down in London. Gigs would be word of mouth, possibly updated on a performer's website but often forgotten. Wouldn't it be a great idea to have it all in one place to spread the word? VBO is now a roaring success thanks to all Tina's hard work and passion. 

It's funny, because I've become known as a circus promoter, spreading the word, and like Tina, am a one-woman brand. So we swapped notes on what it was like juggling children and family life with these babies. Tina reckons she puts in about 30 hours a week. I would say I approach that factoring in writing blog posts, attending events and training, and the social media either side of that.  We shared and laughed about the challenges we face when our raison d'etre is misinterpreted - in Tina's case with cabaret venues assuming her "Box Office" is taking their ticket sales when in fact VBO simply provides a link direct to theirs. For me it's when "Lucy Loves Circus" is mistaken for anything other than the record of a circus journey, written in chapters, sharing a novel experience:

Mum of three starts training in circus, falls flat on her face, looks up, hooks up with a couple of clowns and gets a show together.  Comes back for an encore and then sails off into the sunset...

"You can't stop there!" said Tina. And while I was looking forward to a break, I had to admit she's right. I'm not quite ready to sever the umbilical cord quite yet. Off to circusnavigate the globe soon, this is a story still To be continued...

In the meantime, check out Velvet Box Office on Twitter and over Instagram too. I've been loving the updates - the little video snippets of Barely Methodical Troupe's Kin she shared with me the other day from up at The Fringe, and the soundbites from what she saw next. The phenomenal Head First Acrobat's Elixir, Recirquel's Paris de Nuit,  Tapeface... would all be top of my list too and I would love to see them with her. So if you are up in Edinburgh at the moment catch Tina around - she is loads of fun, great company, and have an eclair on me!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Chapter 210: Postcards Festival Finale... Shhh!


"Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung"  (PT Barnum)
Michaela O'Connor and Sean Kempton
All photos unless otherwise credited: Liam Croucher (www.liamcroucher.co.uk)


Every so often in life a night will come along that takes me completely by surprise, and that's what happened on the last night of the Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane watching genius clowning at play in a cabaret where every single act had all of us in the audience gasping at the sheer talent, audacity and risk. Humbug! I can hear people say. You curated the show. Of course you'd say that! Well yes. Barnum has been the soundtrack of my circus journey since the very beginning. I love both the honky-tonk musical and the character of the circus impresario who brought the colours of his life to a world fixed in black and white. As with Barnum, I sing out, because these guys are worth it. I am very grateful for the illuminating photography of National Circus graduate Liam Croucher (see www.liamcroucher.co.uk), that speak volumes about the artists involved where my words fail.


It was surreal taking my seat next to my husband, when only five minutes before I had been on my hands and knees outside the dressing rooms remaking the interval sign I had left in a shop in Tooting earlier. Taking in the stage ahead, and a swig of red wine, was like activating a reset button though, erasing all memory of tech, and preparation. I was simply an audience member, out for the night with a few mates, my mind a blank page, ready to be impressed. 

ROUND ONE

Darkness. The music cranked up - Do you wanna funk? - and the spotlight fell on Sean Kempton and Michaela O'Connor centre stage in white shirts, gold lamé leggings, and a slash of red. Sitting there, shoulder shrugging. A couple of clowns who clearly adore each other, who read each other so easily, rhythms totally in synch. A nod to each other, a signal, "let's do this..."
Photo: Giusi Tomasello


Their infectious energy had us laughing, whooping and on our feet within moments, turning round to connect with those around us. Sean had choreographed the evening to a cracking soundtrack of upbeat 80s anthems - who could resist?! Lights out again. From flashdance to flash torches illuminating parts of performers who would be on that evening.

Jessica and Jair Ramirez were the first act. Jair came on with a broom and carrying a mannequin over his shoulder which came to live and led into a deeply romantic acrobalance routine.  Of course the concept brought back memories of Mannequin the film, and the video to the Starship classic, but here the music was an altogether different soundtrack. It was slow, lyrical and poignant. The poise and precision, undercut by the tension in the positions, brought the story to life as much as the mannequin.

The mantle of the broom was picked up by Michael Standen, gazing after Jair, holding it tight. Hands materialized seductively around his body, and then shoved him off as Soulnia took the stage to "Give me a reason to love". A Portishead temptress with hoops set on fire in all sorts of articulations, she swallowed a ring only to rethread it through her neck onto a chain. Go figure!

Michael returned with his own hoop, through which he did all manner of contortions. Set to the xylophone music bubbling out Chopin in C, it was both a hilarious and kooky act in contrast to the studied depth and brooding beauty of Sophie Page Hall and Will Davis' aerial tango set to Piazolla's Libertango. 

Argentine melodies continued as audience members were roped onto being on stage, teased on with a tango dance then literally tied into position as one of four corners of a square. I appreciated the irony of one of the "posts" being the shibari savant Hanna who has brought the esoteric art of Japanese rope bondage to tightwire on  stage at Jacksons Lane in her solo show Wire-Do. No one had a clue where this was all leading until Sean came on with a mic: "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Jacksons Lane, London, England, nearly Europe... brought to you by the promoter Lucy Loves Circus, fighting for the featherweight lightweight belt, Beeettttttyyyyyy Beeeedddddlllllaaammmmm!!!" Down the stairs, making her entrance in a burlesque of boxing, came Betty Bedlam in a red satin robe with her name emblazoned in gold on the back. It was a class act, the very essence of "burlare", from where burlesque derives, which is to poke fun, and she did that by teasing out the audience. A burlesque act needs to have a hook, and as a boxer as well as performer, Betty Bedlam certainly had one, knocking out squats and press-ups with gusto, and delivering up fierce sass on her own terms, she was a bonafide circus strongwoman with real punch.


ROUND 2

The second act opened in overdrive with Sean and Michaela clowning around with the audience again. Nobody was safe, as I found out as Michaela got me up on stage. There was one guy in shades and air guitar (my very first tennis racket!), another on the lights board, and centre stage was Ruby working it with a hairbrush and letting rip. One of those rare moments of collective hypnotism. Can you feel it?! 




As Rhia O'Reilly@rdpixie tweeted about Jair Ramirez after the cabaret "it's hard to beat aerial done right" and Jair's high-octane act on aerial straps powered home. Tension built as he gracefully wound up and up into the straps only to jerk into a sudden drop, suspended by just one foot. 

Michael Standen came back, but, as Ade Berry observed later, this was "Michael as we've never seen him before" in a blonde Cleopatra-cut wig, nude leotard and shorts, he performed extraordinary feats of gymnastics and handstands on canes in a Sia tribute act, as his svelte frame took on the impersonal robotics and androgynous hue of the child model in the Chandelier video, poles apart from Jessica's fully fledged female mannequin. This was cabaret with an agender.

I loved the mesmerising act as Soulnia cast a spell this time with mind-reading tricks. One of the volunteers she selected looked familiar - I am pretty certain she was on stage last year at Shhh! but, lacking Soulnia's powers of mentalism, am none the wise to who she was!

Sam Goodburn, whose solo show you can catch at the Edinburgh Fringe at the moment (click here for post on Dumbstruck ) zoomed around on his unicycle in Top Gear, and to that style of anthem, whipping off clothes, putting them back on, and making the audience crack up. Things went wrong, but were recovered in such a way you could never quite be certain whether by design or by accident - as if to prove that point the smiley face on the back of his boxers would flip down to a sad face emoji in an instant. Ha! The video below says it all:



The clowning around reached new heights of crazy as Sean desperately tried to impress Betty Bedlam with his own impersonation of her boxing burlesque routine. This was Sean as you've never seen him before, stripping down to a pair of gold lamé shorts and nipple tassels only to find himself face to chest with The Mountain, Betty's boyfriend, who had been pulled from the audience at the last minute and towered above him, while Jair, back with his broom, swept away the detritus of the previous act! 

For the grand finale it had to be Beyoncé. One of the things I love about cabaret is the way it celebrates life through subversion, and here Michaela O'Connor mixed her original triples trapeze act from Vegas (click here for video) with Single Ladies Will Davis and Sophie Page Hall. To be honest, with a track like that they could have got away with simply standing on the trapeze and throwing in a few diva gestures, but with two aerialists who had been involved in a Guinness World Record Breaking Challenge and one Circus Maximus Winner, they brought the house down. 



Watching the show felt as though the past three years of writing and circus love had been condensed into one single evening and shared. It was great to have friends there, including those I've trained with, my buddy Jo, met on a Circumference blind-date (see post on Shelter Me - click here) and to meet writer Leslie Tate, whose book "Heaven's Rage" (click here) premieres as a short film in Autumn, directed by Mark Crane, also there that night with his wife, artist Sheelagh Frew Crane (see her portrait of a female clown on Instagram). I knew maybe two dozen people there tops that night, and I wonder who the rest were, but not knowing was actually part of the magic. 

Thanks to Adrian Berry and all Jacksons Lane, and to this cast of circus heroes who gave it their all and rocked it: Sean and Michaela, Jess, Jair, Sonia, Michael, Sophie, Will, Betty Bedlam and Sam it has been so much fun off and on the stage with you (even when I least expected it!), ENCORE!!!





Thanks for the feedback!

Rhia O'Reilly @rdpixie Jul 30
@Lucylovescircus awesome show last night! You curated an eclectic bunch of talented wonders!

A Girl & Her Passport @agirlpassport Jul 30
This was amazing last night! I highly recommend.

Luciano Rila  @DrTrapezio Jul 30
@Lucylovescircus Thanks for putting together such a fantastic show 🎪🤸‍♀️


Leslie Tate  @LSTateAuthor Aug 11  
@Lucylovescircus A fantastic show. Thank you, Lucy! 🍎🍒🥦☀️

We've just checked out the Autumn programme now. If that's the quality, Jacksons Lane is the new Sadlers Wells for us!

Jacksons Lane @jacksons_lane Jul 31
Great times at glorious Shhh! Cabaret on Saturday, which closed our 3-week extravaganza of circus, cabaret & lots of fun #Postcards2017

*Ade Berry @Ade_Berry 1 h*
Replying to @Lucylovescircus @jacksons_lane
Another fantastic show, same time, same place next year! And Chris Martin is the next David Bowie. But don't quote me on that... Shhh! 
*Allegedly.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Chapter 209: Behind the scenes... Shhh!

Photo: Liam Croucher

“Girls, I’ve had this crazy idea, you may not be up for it…”

Three years ago, I had a crazy idea. I wanted a go on a flying trapeze, and I persuaded a few friends (a dirty dozen, in fact) to come along for the ride  at the National Circus on one of their experience afternoons. Then I fell for circus big (top) time and started training in aerial and equilibristic skills, keeping this circus diary blog as a record. One day a photographer introduced me to Jacksons Lane. where one of her models was performing in a circus cabaret. I wrote about it, of course. Adrian Berry, the Artistic Director, was very supportive of my writing, and invited me to see some works in progress that summer, and so began a love affair with a circus space where I have seen so many amazing performances since that have broadened or changed my perspective. 


“Luce, I’ve had this crazy idea, you may not be up for it…”

Last year, Adrian invited me to put on a circus cabaret at Jacksons Lane. To say I was gobsmacked was an understatement, and yet there was a certain feeling of the wheel coming full circle. Years ago, when researching a PhD in Cuban theatre, the Royal Court employed me as interpreter for playwrights over for a season of Cuba Real. I found myself in rehearsals with a director Josie Rourke, now Artistic Director at the Donmar, who had been in the year below me at college. I looked at Josie at work in creation and thought:  Jeez, that looks fun, shame I missed my chance at university to get involved. I experienced a sharp pang of regret at taking the wrong road, a sense of being too old to turn back now (I was 26 at the time!).  I carried on with my academic research, until an observation by playwright, Gerardo Fulleda, in a downtown bar in Havana, challenged me and touched a raw nerve: “Querida, darling, por Dios, what an earth are you doing translating and writing about other people’s work? Go make your own!”  Life then got in the way with three young children to juggle, and I was wondering if I would ever have a chance to explore that creative side. It is therefore really something to have this opportunity to curate an evening that reflects my own passion and interest.

“Sean, I’ve had this crazy idea, you may not be up for it…”

I had only met Sean Kempton once before, at Canvas, a circus marketplace for programmers and performers nearly a year before. I didn't know then, when Sean MC'd the day's events at Jacksons Lane or when his wife, Michaela O'Connor presented her triples trapeze show Hattie at The Albany, that they were clowns as such, I just knew that they really made me laugh and that there was something special about them. They are the type of people that make the room light up the moment they walk in. I had been gutted to miss their show Dirty Mimes at Postcards Festival that year, and, having stayed in touch, when Ade asked me to curate the show I knew that I wanted these guys at the heads of the table in what was the circus cabaret equivalent of a fantasy dinner party.

Sean and I met up when he was back for a couple of days in London between Cirque de Soleil tours abroad, and we spent a good three hours walking up and down the Southbank talking non-stop. He didn't want to be the type of MC that just introduces acts, which was fine by me because I wanted him as a performer, not as a compere. Thinking of a traditional Big Top where clowns are the transitions between acts, I wanted Sean, and Michaela, to do the equivalent in a contemporary setting through their own inimitable brand of physical comedy, mime, and skill in engaging the audience.  They did, and with a great team on board, the cabaret was a sell-out success as a result. 

Photo: Liam Croucher
I learned so much that year about the process of putting a show together, and all the hard work involved in making the show a hit. As far as I was concerned, it was my responsibility to the artists who agreed to be involved to ensure there was a full house. I experienced first hand how hard it is to get anyone to review a new show, how wonderful it is when a voice speaks up in support and how much an acknowledgement means.  For that reason I am so grateful we have had, for the second year running, a talented photographer (this year National Circus graduate Liam Croucher) to take a photo-record that captures the performance and speaks volumes. 

Guys, we have this crazy cabaret, are you up for it...?

The name Shhh! was my own cheeky nod to the feminist erotic emporium Sh!, round the corner from the National Circus, where a man may only enter if accompanied by a woman. It was also a nod to "Shhh! I have a secret to tell", and the "hush" of an audience, either silenced in wonder or by a stern uSHer! I wanted an upbeat, kooky, humorous, playfully risqué show, and to work with people on the same wavelength who got that.

This selection of this year's cast reflected that concept and happened again (!) organically; I'm still pinching myself that all the acts said yes and were able to come on board. After Betty Bedlam put me through my paces in the Boxing B*tch night (see post - click here), I wanted to see her on stage premiering her new boxing burlesque routine. We met up at the British Film Institute cafe for coffee with Sean, and there was an instant recognition of a fellow clown that made it obvious there would be loads of mileage out of knock-out banter between them on stage. Sean then showed us a video of Michael Standen doing a wicked handbalance routine. I loved it immediately - it had that kooky, risqué play about it that ticked all my boxes - but I completely missed the point of reference. We were working out the order of acts at the time, and I was writing them down  "Chandelier? Who? What? How do you spell the artist? S-E-E-R?" They both fell about laughing. "Luce, its Sia, spelled S-I-A, I'm doing my best here to drag you into the 21st century..." he teased. Thanks Sean! 

 Soulnia, Jair Ramirez, Will Davis
Sophie Page Hall, Sam Goodburn, Michaela O'Connor
Betty Bedlam, Sean Kempton, Michael Standen
Having seen Jair Ramirez in his solo show Sugarman (see post - click here) at The Place, which also came to Postcards Festival, and in a cabaret on the Southbank last summer, I wanted to see Jair let rip on aerial straps. I also wanted to see him in partnership with his wife, Jessica Ramirez, who was a professional dancer originally, as well as being an accomplished aerialist now and movement choreographer. The addition of Jessica could only be confirmed at the eleventh hour (see post - click here), but she was part of the whole concept from the start. Soulnia I know through Freedom2FlyDA (see post - click here) as well. I know she is a superb dancer and a smooth operator, and just wanted to see a lady magician perform on stage. Sean then sent me a video of a a routine that interested him (click here for video), not knowing the artist, and I recognised Sam Goodburn who I had beheld unicycle across a tightwire once at a NoFit State open house and seen first-hand the awesome skill had led to him winning the audience award at Circus Maximus the same year that Jair had won the judge's award. Finally, I was dying to see more of Michaela on trapeze, especially a show-stopping triples. Her Beyonce act looked awesome, and this time round her fellow Single Ladies were Sophie Page Hall and Will Davis, who have been partners for a couple of years now duetting on aerial rope.

Jessica Ramirez
That the show came together the way it did is testimony to the talent of all involved under the direction of Sean and Michaela, and the dynamic between them all, on and off stage. Aside from a coffee at the BFI, phone-calls and emails going backwards and forward, there was one afternoon of creation the day before with Jair, Lily (aka Betty Bedlam), Sean and Michaela, and tech rehearsal on the day itself, running through sound and lighting cues. 

This time round Shhh! was on the last night of Postcards Festival, which had been expanded to three weeks this year. No pressure! But then with Sean and Michaela at the helm again, and a cracking line-up, it was guaranteed to be a top night...

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Chapter 208: On keeping calm... Shhhh!

Photo credit: Cathy Eastburn

What a week back in London. Postcards Festival in full throttle at Jacksons Lane and getting ready for Shhh! on Saturday night with three kids on summer holidays and a house in chaos being redecorated for the new tenants arriving in August. We are leaving you see. By the end of August we will be of no fixed abode, on a 40 foot catamaran, preparing to set sail round the world in September. Never a dull moment here! 

With the pressure on, I discovered two essential safety valves this week: laughter and gong baths. Take Wednesday night, on the phone to a friend were going through arrangements to meet up with her husband and son for Cypher Stories at Jacksons Lane, but my son kept butting in. I hung up and got very cross with him, but while in full stream realised that my phone has inadvertently dialled Shhh! host and Cirque de Soleil clown Sean Kempton. I tentatively put the phone to my ear. Hello, Sean...? Oh god. Well, maybe he hasn't heard the whole exchange... Hello Lucy. Please don't put me on the naughty step... and we all fell about laughing. Moral of that story? Every parent should have a clown on speed dial.

As for gong baths, that probably sounds a bit funny too; the very the word "gong" has an onomatopoeic comedy ring to it. A couple of years ago I met Cathy Eastburn when our daughters we going to aerial classes at Flying Fantastic. When in conversation it emerged we both enjoyed aerial too, Edel who runs the school allowed us to rig up a hoop and for Cathy and I to have practice time while the girls soared. Actually, I'd done trapeze but never hoop before and Cathy was my first instructor. As well as being a circus spirit, Cathy is an accomplished musician, and has been playing the gamelan (Indonesian bronze percussion orchestra) for over 20 years, often to be found at the Southbank Centre. For the past two years she has been running gong baths, which means, for the uninitiated like me, meditative classes where the body deeply relaxes by absorbing the resonances and vibrations that emanate from the gong and singing bowls. I had never been before as normally classes are on a Sunday evening, which with three young children is not fair on my husband, who already does more than his fair share of babysitting for circus-related activities. But Cathy has also just started up a Thursday morning class in Balham where I live (for now!), and this week was the final class before breaking up for the summer holidays. With so much on, I really didn't have time, but then, I reflected, that was precisely why I needed to make time for some headspace. 

I had never been to anything like it before, but I had loved the use of the Himalayan singing bowl that opened The Alchemic Order's brilliant immersive production of Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray (see post - click here) and I was intrigued to hear more. Lying down on a yoga mat, head on a pillow, snug in a rug, I totally surrendered to the music of the spheres for the next hour. As the gong reverberated the sacred nature of cathedral bells suddenly made more sense that it ever had before. I was transported. With my eyes closed my mind wandered, not with thoughts as such, but with a sense of timelessness and being connected to all peoples of all ages. A Javanese bamboo flute conjured up birdsong to me, a percussive instrument that followed seemed to speak of flapping wings and movement in infinity loops. It was the most restorative of hours well spent. 

I was struck by Cathy's observation afterwards that it was no coincidence that she has been drawn both to aerial hoop and gong because of their shape, and that while a "big O" has many connotations, for her there is something about it representing the greater whole. Like Cathy, for that reason I feel the of the hoop over other aerial disciplines like silks and trapeze. It also explains my elemental attraction to (watching!) Cyr wheel, that echo of Leonardo's Vitruvian man, and woman. Maybe that is why that night I dreamed of covering myself in animal faeces and morphing into a powerful wolf-woman. Less extraordinary once you know I have been dipping in and out of Clara Pinkola Estes' book "Women Who Run With Wolves" that draws heavily on vivid archetypal myths and fairytales, and was the inspiration behind Alula's (Cyr) show Hyena, at Underbelly (see post - click here). I emerged from the whole experience feeling deeply grounded and in tune with the essential in life, and all the calmer for it. So here's to the restorative and regenerative power of gong baths, laughter, and to the circus spirt everywhere. 

For more information on Cathy's gong baths in Clapham and Balham, starting up again in September, check out the Facebook page: 

Photo credit: Gamelan group Siswa Sukra www.siswasukra.com
All the best to the group for your trip to Indonesia this summer!