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