Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Chapter 180: On Circus and Motherhood

"Questions Ladybird never answered: didn't Mum want to go to the circus too?"
Advice from Mum: "Stop at two darling." Why did you have six then, I wondered? "To get out of the coffee mornings!" She retorted. Being the youngest, I'm eternally grateful for those dreaded coffee mornings! In many ways, having children brought me to circus. Exhausted and frazzled after having my third (I had been warned!), an afternoon of fun with girlfriends learning circus skills at the National Circus (see Chapter 1 - click here) was a way to carve out a play space. When it morphed into learning circus skills on a regular basis I began to see a way to keep fit, and in starting a blog, a way to keep writing. Furthermore, with my doctoral research into Cuban theatre on hold while the kids are young, I thought training in circus skills would be an interesting way to learn about the language of performance from a non-academic angle. As someone who has never been a dancer or a gymnast, learning how the body moves and what it can do in this way has been a revelation.

One of the things I love about circus is that it has developed into a passion and language that I can share with my children. They love the family shows, whether in a Big Top, outdoors or in a theatre. Shows that time and again have provided many laughs and good times together, have also demonstrated how hard graft and talent make the impossible possible.

"All I want is a home-made card."
Mother's Day, 2017
My son, the eldest, loves to clown around, laughing out loud at the likes of Sean Kempton (see post on Stuff - click here) and Tweedy the Clown, who is coming to Jacksons Lane in Easter week. As a result he doesn't find it at all a drag to go into school on World Book Day dressed as the gruesome Miss Trunchball, from Roald Dahl's Matilda, and play it for laughs. He has also been known to pick up a diabolo at the odd festival, thanks to his very first class with Adam Cohen at Airborne Circus, and enjoys watching jugglers like Bibi and Bichu, and Gandini Juggling

My 8 year old daughter loves getting airborne, and we've spent many an hour at Flying Fantastic while she has a class and I hang out on a hoop. As well as reading harp music together, we now share an aerial lexicon that includes terms like "coffin", "bird's nest", and that circus strongwoman pose "The Amazon".

My youngest loves monkeying around and is in her element wearing a red nose (thanks to Comic Relief last week, in plentiful supply at home!), and watching Mummy getting splatted with whipped cream in the Pieface board game at her 5th birthday party last week. She announced only this morning on the school run that she wishes we could do circus everyday, because "it's funny and flyee". 

Helen and Freya
Photo: Michael Taylor
I like to think that this compensates for all the time and energy that my interest in circus has taken away from the family - the nights out when I review shows that aren't for them but give me headspace, the hours in the day I steal to write it all up. And just when I think that, even with all the support and encouragement from my husband, I'm dropping too many balls and that something has to give, I take strength and inspiration from thinking of all the circus Mums who have been there too, or are still finding their way with this whole juggling act. 

Take the picture on the right shared on Sunday by Helen Averley, who I met through Circus Central, with her then 11 week old daughter Freya, in honour of Mother's Day. The image captures the trust and bond between mother and child so eloquently. Then Helen told me the story behind it and I admire it further: "The photo is of a show I made in Belfast called Chagall's Wedding in 2000. I was a single parent and started making the show when Freya was 5 weeks old. In the next 6 months I made all the costumes for 40 people on stage and performed aerial. Freya was with me all the time! An added advantage of co-director Jennifer Jordan being a new mum was that when I was in the air Jen was able to nurse her!!!!" Freya is now17 and an accomplished aerialist in her own right, doing her three A-levels alongside a BTEC in circus arts at Circus Central. 

So here's to all these circus Mums and their legacies, performing, creating, building communities. Thinking here of teachers and artists: Anna Milosevic, my first teacher at Polefit London, Layla Rosa who taught me static trapeze at National Circus, and Jessica Ramirez at Freedom2Fly; Edel Boyle who runs Flying Fantastic with her husband, and fellow mums I see there Andrea, Dan and hoop buddy Cathy; trapeze artist and comedian Michaela O'Connor, who was in Ssshhh! (click here); Lina Johansson, Martha Harrison, Silvia Fratelli from Mimbre female acrobatic company; Mary Swan of Proteus Theatre; Mish Weaver of Stumble Dance CircusJane Rice-Bowen former CEO of National Circus with Kate White; Nell Gifford; performer Julia Busch, one of the first to connect with me on Twitter; Desiree Kongerod who is @anactabove in so many ways, clown, mother and grandmother Flloyd Kennedy (see previous post), all those involved in the production at The Roundhouse of Me, Mother (see below); and countless others met, or yet to meet, on this circus journey. Knowing you are out there doing your thing makes the world of difference. Thank you.

Here is a selection of previous posts relating to circus and motherhood:

Mama's Kitchen (click here): a night at Jacksons Lane Postcards Festival curated by Layla Rosa, that provided food for thought. 
Me, Mother (click here): the show by MES at The Roundhouse asking "What's scarier? A tightrope or motherhood?" exploring the impact of motherhood on the circus body through weaving together the testimonials of circus performers.
Circus Mum and Bedtime Stories (click here): watching an excerpt of Upswing Aerial's Bedtime Stories at circus marketplace CANVAS spoke to my own experience of motherhood.
Bedtime Stories (click here)I then went back with the kids to The Albany, Deptford to see the full show. 
Mother's Day and Gandini Juggling (click here): this circus journey took me on a memorable trip last year to the British Museum with my daughter to see Gandini Juggling perform to Philip Glass' Akhnaten

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