LucyLovesCircus

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Chapter 121: My #Bestnine Circus Skills of 2015



Instagram is my playground, a scrapbook of images of life through a circus lens, #nofilter required. If you are a fellow Instagram user, you will undoubtedly have seen a variety of #bestnine photos on a number of accounts recently, and it got me thinking about what I have learned this year. So, from the top, anti-clockwise:

TIGHTWIRE
I have been learning tightwire at the National Centre for Circus Arts (www.nationalcircus.org.uk) as a beginner, part of their Level 1 Equilibristics course, which I've done a couple of times now. It comprises 4 classes on tightwire, 4 on unicycle, and then a couple on rolla-bolla (the plank balanced on a ball) and globe-walking (a hard, giant ball). I have fallen head over heels for tightwire. Literally, on more than one occasion. 

See posts:
Tightwire and Wrong Turns (click here)
An August Summer, and where tightwire takes you... (click here)
Tightwire practice and Lessons Learned from the Edinburgh Fringe (click here)
Hold On - stunning performance at Greenwich & Docklands International Festival by my tightwire teacher at National Circus, Stefano Di Renzo (click here)


POLEFIT
My love affair with all things pole is solely down to one person, Anna Milosevic, founder of Polefit London. Classes run out of Stockwell YMCA, which is a great height for floor to ceiling poles, and the more intimate studio in Merton that has up to half a dozen stand alone poles. A professionally trained ballerina, Anna has grace, patience, a great sense of humour, and fabulous taste in music to get you pumped up. Anna now runs aerial hoop classes as well, ballet stretching classes and aerial yoga  - see www.polefitlondon.com (click here).

See posts:
Pole, and Boudoir Photography (click here)
Back in Pole Position (click here)
Pole in the Park (click here)
Pole (the show) at Edinburgh Fringe 


UNICYCLING
Part of the Equilibristics course at National Circus. I ended up buying a neon pink unicycle, my very own Doris bike, very cheaply on Amazon. Soon discovered why, as a design flaw meant that one pedal kept falling off at random moments, and I would go flying, much to the kids amusement. Still, my enthusiasm, in principle, is kept going by a number of unicycle enthusiasts on Instagram, including someone all the way over in Patagonia. 

STATIC TRAPEZE
In Level 1 aerial skills at National Circus you have four classes each in static trapeze, flying trapeze and on rope. I assumed rope would be a transferable skill from pole, but despite some similar moves it never really clicked (see post on learning the ropes - click here). Trapeze on the other hand was a dream come true. The only space available for flying trapeze originally was on a Saturday, so by default I caught level 2 classes in static trapeze instead. Thanks to my wonderful teacher Layla Rosa, I have fallen in love with the discipline. There is plenty of scope for working on shapes and movement, and choreographing it to music, so it appeals to my performance-orientated nature, and I love the informal end of term group performance - see our latest (click here)

AERIAL HOOP or LYRA
While my daughter was learning trapeze at Flying Fantastic in Battersea I was allowed to practice on hoop with another mother, a fellow aerialist, though way more advanced than me, as well as a couple of classes with Anna at Polefit. I thought it would be quite straightforward transferring moves learned on trapeze, but again, not so simple. Flying Fantastic (see www.flyingfantastic.co.uk) has now started up adults and children's classes in Wimbledon, which my daughter is joining with some school friends in the New Year. 

See posts:
The Circus Mum (click here)
The benefits of learning circus skills for kids (click here)

FIRE-EATING
Muppet that I am, it had never occurred to me that by the end of a two hour workshop with Sarah at The Fire School we would actually be swallowing fire, and while it is a skill that had never been on my bucket list before, I am completely converted. It's a very zen discipline, like tightwire, requiring absolute concentration in the moment. I am ashamed to confess publicly that my exotic fire-sticks are looking decidedly virginal, and am looking forward to going back in the New Year to reignite the passion. Next step: to have a go in an aerial harness. Worth noting that The Fire School has just extended its deal "bring a friend for half-price" until the end of January. 

See post:
Playing With Fire (click here

HANDSTANDS 
I first started learning handstands against a pole, thanks to Anna. Unsupported handstands are still very much a work in progress for me, but I find a deep relaxation and satisfaction in inverts and will carry on working on them, along with headstands, in yoga with my fantastic teacher Callum in the New Year - see www.yogawithcallum.com. In static trapeze classes Layla reiterates how important it is to keep yoga practice going alongside circus skills.

JUGGLING
I learned to juggle three balls when I had to keep warm overnight in a bus station in Madrid, and haven't progressed beyond that. Balls, apples, bath-bombs - as long as it's small and round I'll give it a go, another form of relaxation for me. The goal for the new year will be to learn to jazz it up a bit, thanks to Circus Geek Jon Udry, after seeing him punch gravity in the face (click here).

CLOWNING
In Autumn, I went to an improv workshop for parents at my son's school, run by Hoopla! that confirmed to me circus really is a state of mind (click here). It gave me the confidence to sign up in November to a course with clowning maestro Ira Seidenstein, which was a real eye-opener and a unique lesson in the language of physical performance. I even incorporated a few of the exercises into yoga practice, including my favourite, playing with Laurel and Hardy banter. Click here for my post on Clowning Around. 

Clowning and improv are part of an essential toolkit for any performer, while it taught me, a blogger, how to own my space and retain my centre, rather than constantly going out to others. As a result, it benefitted my storytelling, use of social media and ease in the world at large. Well, ok, maybe it's a work in progress!

2015 has been an extraordinary year in terms of challenges, frustrations and rewards. I haven't done nearly as much day-to-day consistent training in circus skills as I would like, but on the flip-side the time spent on writing has reaped dividends. My readership over the past year has tripled, and I am enjoying getting the word out about the terrific projects going on and #circuseverywhere. 

But that's another story...



Monday, 28 December 2015

Chapter 120: On Gypsy, Burlesque and The Art of Blogging

"Some people sit on their butts, got the dream, yeah, but not the guts"
Gypsy

A clown remarked recently on the intellectualised eroticism of my writing, which made me laugh. Well, you either got it, or you ain't, right?! And he got it. Burlesque is the raison d'être of this blog, after all. From the Italian "burla", the laugh, here is a space to make fun of life when it all gets too serious, a space to play around, tease out the words, and have some fun in the process. But as any cabaret performer worth their salt will tell you, there's a lot of hard graft behind a façade of frivolity, as I was reminded last night watching Gypsy, the Stephen Sondheim "Shakespeare of Musicals" streamed direct from the Savoy Theatre to BBC4. Gypsy is available on BBC iPlayer (click here) until 26th January. 


The story charts the evolution of the overlooked, mousey Louise into the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee, a burlesque star who could take quarter of an hour to simply strip a glove. The driving force behind her is the indomitable Mama Rose. I cannot do justice to a show that will go down in theatrical history as a thundering tower-house of a production. Imelda Staunton as the award-winning Mama Rose was magnificent, terrifying, fierce, mischievous, hilarious and unrelentingly heartbreaking, Laura Pulver worked pure alchemy in her transformation into Gypsy, and Peter Davison (Kevin Whately in the in the video) was everything I imagined as the touchingly long-suffering Herbie. Eight shows a week, imagine! I heard on the grapevine at the theatre that each week Imelda Staunton had her larynx pulled out in order to cope with the demand on her voice. That's guts for you. 

The show brought home a few important points about blogging for me. Self-evident truths maybe, but worth reiterating, especially when quoting from Gypsy:

1) "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" to succeed, as the worn-out old strippers in the burlesque house lecture Louise. Or as theatre critic Lyn Gardner memorably advised a group of bloggers at a workshop in Winchester: "Find Your Niche". 

2) "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing slowly... very slowly". Write your heart out, but take your time editing, proof-reading, and strip away.

3) Whatever you do, whether it be stripping or blogging, remember it is the way you do it that counts: "Do it with an air, and never admit you're scared."

4) Finally, if you are scared of revealing too much, and looking ridiculous, remember: "Nobody laughs at me! Because I laugh first!"

And that, there, is the heart of the burlesque guide to blogging. Go on, knock yourself out! 


Thursday, 24 December 2015

Chapter 119: Zippos Circus Christmas Spectacular




It's Christmas Eve and the family are all fast asleep. Good. I have one more story to tell, and it's my Christmas Cracker. 

This time last year 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore was on at the newly refurbished Sam Wannamaker theatre at the Globe. Superbly cast and sexy as hell, I'd heard so much about it but it was sold out, except for a front row matinee ticket the last afternoon the children were at school. I took the tube to London Bridge and walked along Southbank, past Southwark Cathedral, the Golden Hind, grabbing a mulled cider from a Christmas stall and feeling time wind backwards. By the time I got to the Globe, I was quite merry and open to the delights ahead. The theatre was candlelit, and my breath caught. Next to me there was a gentleman on his own. An American professor, a visiting academic to Worcester College, Oxford, and very engaging. Talk turned, as it does with me, to circus. His face lit up. When he had been a student himself at Oxford, his tutor had been Zippo's father-in-law. "Many people may say their son-in-law is a clown, but his really is!" 


Zippos is a catchy, and very familiar name. You only need to say it and it conjures up a smile. It is an old-school big top circus that has been going since the 80s, and that encounter at the Globe made the connection all the more personal. So this year, I made plans with a dear friend, the one who recommended Slava's SnowShow, to go with our children. 

Getting there was quite an adventure. We took the tube to Green Park (note, Knightsbridge is closer) and struggled forward while a tornado spun us back (or so it felt!), like the wind blaster in Slava's finale. Still, it was the first time for us all at Winter Wonderland, and as we crossed into Circus Town, we really were over the rainbow. Arriving at the last minute avoided any queues to get in and we took our seats with barrels of popcorn. The place was packed, and there was a hum of excitement. 

The warm up was from Mr Lorenz, in spats straight out of a vintage silent comedy, orchestrating applauses the crowd's applause like an Italian conductor meets the Marx brothers. Winnie the Ringmaster was as I'd always imagined, gratifyingly traditional in his red tail-coat, smart white gloves and top hat, a true show man. Pip the Clown, his foil, made me think of the Michael Crawford brand of joker - (in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em rather than Barnum!) - a hapless, clumsy innocent, and a real delight. 

The first act were the Tropicana club: Cubans doing acrobatics on the Russian barre, with a touch of salsa - a flipping brilliant way to get the party started. 

Next was Miss Jenny from Australia on the Spanish web, beautiful grace in motion. An interlude of clowning with Pip followed, segueing into a masterly piece of juggling from Mr Lorenz. 

Romance was in the air next with a beautiful sequence on silks from Duo Stefaneli from Bulgaria - the girls in our group enchanted, my son terrified they were about to kiss (he's at that age). Having just seen Star Wars they were in fits of laughter at the Star Wars sequence next where Pip's light-sabre turns out to be a ... and loved the laser light show that followed streaming shapes onto the ceiling. 

The final act was the Wheel of Death, something I could hardly bear to watch. Watching these Moroccan acrobats spin round like hamsters in a wheel at first looked like fun, but when they started standing on the outside, with just their balance to hold them my heart shifted gear. By the time they threw juggling, skipping over a rope and a blindfold into the equation, we were all on the edge of our seats - as my son said, "epic!"



Afterwards it was a joy to meet meet Stefan and Neli while buying a helium Olaf balloon for our littlest, and then as we were leaving Winnie the Ringmaster. They are as gracious, warmly welcoming and old-school lovely in person as they are charismatic on stage. The show wasn't long - under an hour, which was perfect for families with young ones like ours, and for the grown ups, left wanting more, there is is the siren call of the more adult, contemporary circus show Cirque Beserk that is also running in the round at the Winter Wonderland before it goes off on tours in theatres round the country. 

So, there we are. It is Christmas Eve and time to get cracking, much to do. My husband gets home from hospital this afternoon having had successful surgery on his leg (see previous chapters!), and I am hugely grateful to the world of circus for keeping our spirits lifted in the meantime. Whatever your plans are for the festive period, wishing you peace and joy for a very Merry Christmas and love from us all. 

Note: Zippos Circus shows are on until 3 January at Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park - see: www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com (click here)
More footage, including videos, on Instagram @Lucylovescircus and @zipposcircus

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Chapter 118: Slava's SnowShow

Photo: www.theupcoming.co.uk (click here)


Slava's SnowShow is a beautiful show that celebrates the poetics of clowning, and is the creation of Russian artist Slava Polunin, developed over several decades. It had come onto my radar thanks to a friend, not linked to the circus world in any way, but very much a circus spirit, open to wonder, who shares my love of quirky humour and the art of silent comedy.

I had tickets last January and had to give them away at the last minute, but seeing it with the children and their cousins on Saturday couldn't have been better timed. We were in sore need of distraction and some festive cheer, while we waited on news of my husband in A&E with a broken leg (see previous post). In addition, I had heard so much about the show in November in the workshop, with Ira Seidenstein (see post on Clowning Around - click here), who had worked with Slava and his wife in the show. It was a workshop that had deepened my appreciation of the art of physical performance and I fired off a message to the London group we have since created, who would understand my excitement.

As we walked into the auditorium there was therefore a frisson of anticipation. I had heard some anecdotes, nothing prepared me for the surprises in store, and for that I'm grateful. While there are some wondrous special effects, the real magic is in the comedy generated by the the movement and expressions of the performers. It is an exquisite lesson in the art of clowning and the type of show, with a unique energy, you could return to again and again, like the family behind us on their third outing. 

The children were spell-bound from the word go. The opening scene, focussing on a gently despondent clown's abortive attempts to hang himself, was both poignant and darkly comical. It will be one of the reasons the show is given a recommended age of 8+, but my youngest, nearly 4, was not in the least perturbed, and simply laughed at the spectacle of a funny man playing with a rope, while older children fell about at the introduction of a second clown, the foil. I was lost in the moment with them, while also finding echoes of Beckett's fools Pozzo and Lucky, and wondering at the absurdity of life.

But, even during the quieter of moments, the mind never wandered - this is a show that engages on a visceral level, an experience that touches you, quite literally, in all senses. We were sprayed with water, showered with paper snow, and challenged at every turn to use our imagination to make sense of the narrative. It has a superb musical score that is timed beautifully with the action, leaving your feet tapping through the interval as the clowns spin their web of enchantment out over the audience, and your heart roused at the grand finale, which is quite literally a blast. At the end we ran down to the front, tipping snow on Slava's friends, reaching up to punch one of the giant balls crowd-surfing overhead, and chasing after the ghosts of fluttering ticker tape as though to catch it carried the same good luck as a falling leaf. Our delight carried on into the foyer, where there was a whole carpet of snow begging to be played with. Then, just as we were leaving, the phone rang. My husband was out of hospital and on his way home as well. Perfect timing. Bring on the clowns. 

Slava's SnowShow is on until 3 January at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. Click here

For a fascinating interview with Slava Polunin see  "A Monologue with a Clown":  www.scribd.com (click here)



Monday, 21 December 2015

Chapter 117: Clowning on Ice



Christmas is hotting up. I know this because we arrived at the Tower of London rink on Saturday to find the sun blazing and a pool of water several inches deep covering the ice. Still, we had my husband's family over from Geneva and not to be deterred, the Swiss Family Robinson ventured out on ice. 

Very much a beginner, I have been skating several times over the past couple of weeks in an effort to keep up with a family that has grown up on ice. And also, because I love it. Working with balance, momentum, pushing myself beyond my comfort boundaries, embracing my fear of falling - skating has a lot in common with learning circus skills, and is just as much fun. I can now get round the rink on my own, but I love to hold hands. Whether with my husband, best friend or an ice guide, it creates a connection, trust and intimacy that makes the world go round. 

I laughed as I watched my husband and his sister spray each other with skid stops, just as we do in skiing, made my son laugh as I tried to race him, and smiled at some spectacular falls skimming the pond from fellow skaters, no harm done. By the end our feet were all sodden, but we were happy. Sinatra came on over the speakers. My husband, chuffed to pieces at my improvement since our date skate, barely a week ago, caught my hand and soon we were flying around in time to the music, picture postcard perfect. He leaned in to kiss me squarely on the lips, but that was a move too far. As I lost my balance, he dived to try and catch me, but too late, and we ended up a couple of clowns in a tangled puddle. It was a beautiful piece of slapstick that had onlookers in fits of laughter. Only there was an audible crack and a cry. My husband's leg, broken, we knew in a heartbeat. Soon there was a Beefeater helping him into a wheelchair, and he was carted off to A&E. You really couldn't make it up, could you?

Meanwhile his sister and I took the children to Yo Sushi on the Southbank, an annual tradition, "though it's not the same without Papa". In sore need of distraction afterwards, and some Christmas cheer, we passed  a poster for Slava's Snow Show at the Festival Hall, a couple of doors away. Funnily enough I had been checking out availability online in the morning, much to my in-laws delight, but unsurprisingly we couldn't find seats for so many. Maybe turning up in person at the box office, half an hour before curtain up, they would have returns, or maybe one less would tip the balance. As luck would have it, there were seven seats in the front stalls, where I heard you should sit if possible, kids were half-price, and fate seemed to be giving us another break. Clowning, that had been our downfall, would now be our refuge. But that is another story, to follow...

In the meantime, please don't let this cautionary tale put you off. Christmas for us now has untold disappointments, but digging deep we are also discovering hidden gems and things to laugh about. My husband hasn't ruled out skating in future, just the hand-holding part, while I maintain, it was really the kiss that really toppled me... And if you want to see some truly vertiginous acrobatics on ice check out the phenomenal Le Patin Libre who are presenting their latest show "Vertical" at Somerset House 12-16th January: www.somersethouse.org.uk/performance/vertical-le-patin-libre (click here).


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Chapter 116: It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...



'Tis the season for Bublé, bubbles and baubles, preferably braided in beards. And the last class of the term at the National Centre for Circus Arts in Hoxton, which means only one thing for those of us on static trapeze: our group performance.

I nearly didn't go. I haven't made a single class this term, and then a friend alerted me to a tempting alternative on the same night: a screening of "Grazing the Sky", a documentary following circus acrobats from around the world. The film would be followed by a Q&A session with the Mexican director, and one of the performers afterwards. Speaking Spanish, chatting to random strangers, I'd have been in my element, so of course I opted for the scarier option and turned up to class.


Aerial gaiters by www.isabellamars.com
Christmas Stags
Walking in through the doors, seeing familiar, friendly faces, teasing warm ups in the lofty Turbine Hall - it hit home how much I have missed this circus space, and how good it was to be back. I didn't intend to join in the group performance, per se, just to touch base with friends from the term before. Still, I pulled on my aerial gaiters. Their snug fit seemed all the tighter now I've taken up running over the past month, and there was a warning tenderness across the front of my right foot, but with their dark silver tongues, grips of suede and stars on the side, they demand to be worn. 

I joined in the rehearsals for the group choreography, thanks to the gently persuasive encouragement of our teacher Layla, and was surprised to find myself learning a couple of new moves into the bargain: the "lamp-post", balancing on one foot on the bar while leaning back into the rope, and the "Julie", a graceful recline in the air. It was fun, and joining in the routine was a wonderful reconnection. What I enjoyed most of all, though, was watching a couple of superb solos in our group, poles apart in style, one touchingly poignant, the other achingly hilarious.  Seeing how much classmates have expanded their repertoire of moves since last term was inspiring, and watching them have fun with that was a joy. As with the improvisations I have watched in recent workshops (see "Clowning Around" - click here), it was an incredible privilege to be seeing performances that existed just for that moment, for them, for us. Decamping to Cirque afterwards had to be done, and as the medicinal brandy and ginger coursed through my veins, so too did the desire to get stronger and make more shapes. Intoxicating stuff. Cheers!



Monday, 7 December 2015

Chapter 115: Gandini Juggling presents "meta"

Photo: The Guardian www.latestnews.org (click here)



The other day I sat in a cafe, hidden away on the edge of a wood, and wrote six sides of A4 to a friend. The retired gentlemen next to me, 70 if they were a day, were entranced. Who writes letters anymore? They decided it must be a steamy, impassioned love letter. That took them back. It took me back too. I remember the first letter to make me blush, from a friend who'd moved town, describing at length her first snog. Getting to first base, what a milestone!, and the memories came flooding back the other evening as Gandini Juggling brought the terminology again into play in their latest show meta


meta had been commissioned by Jacksons Lane in honour of their 40th anniversary, and boy, did they have a lot to celebrate. This theatre up in Highgate has an incredibly diverse multi-arts programme, and is at the forefront of the contemporary circus scene. Under the artistic direction of Adrian Berry, Jacksons Lane has given space to companies, both in the UK and abroad, to develop works in progress that are exciting, thought-provoking and inspiring to watch. Who better to deliver that message than Gandini Juggling, in their element constructing and deconstructing patterns of expectations. 

meta was a vibrant and joyous celebration of the messiness and beauty of the human condition, our love, our brokenness, and finding humour in confusion. Taking its cue from 4x4 (see post on Ephemeral Architectures - click here), with Chris Patfield picking up where Owen Reynolds left off, (a)musing on ways to begin a show, there was a dialogue set in motion between juggling and ballet that captured the grace of both disciplines, while pushing boundaries in all directions. Furniture was broken up and smashed with explosive menace, while Lynn Scott's definition of "bases" and the stages in sexual relations was delivered with a halting, upset vulnerability in which I read a sense of loss and nostalgia for an age of innocence. This was offset by surreal moments, the appearance of a shamanic figure at one point, a goat's mask at another, which had all the tomfoolery of a morris dance, with an edge of The Wicker Man. 

The reference to baseball was taken up again in a reworking of the classic Abbott and Costello sketch "Who's on first?" (click here). The funny thing is, that reference completely passed me by the first time round, when I saw that extract in rehearsal. I just didn't get it. The humour, I mean. I was drawn to the patterns of repetition, but going round in circles made me think more of Beckett than slapstick. This time round I had been at the clowning workshop (see previous chapter), spending time in the pub afterwards chatting away, and recalling the likes of Lucille Ball and Abbott and Costello, who were very much part of my television landscape growing up. Now, I felt a giant, cartoon lightbulb flick on over my head. Doh! Of course! With that sense of illumination I enjoyed the co-ordination of repartee and ripostes of movement even more. What had struck me before as fascinating, now slapped me in the face with its genius. And they were very funny, the dancers and the jugglers alike. I enjoyed watching the dancers engaging in the choreography of juggling, and loved the joyful, spectacular sequence set to Bach's Brandenberg Concerto #2, the fluidity of a diagonal line of jugglers circulating clubs, and the breath-taking moments when dancers slipped through the interstices in the patterns. 




Nudity was, as promised, on offer. A tongue in cheek response to the presumption that sex sells, and there is plenty of it around in the circus world. As one female juggler was laid out on a table, while another stood over her, in clinical fashion, holding a conical flask full of dark liquid, I have to admit my heart sank. The table now appeared like a slab in a morgue. What were we in for now?! Pig's blood? Bestiality?? Necrophilia??? Then treacle was poured... very slowly... there was something about its gloopy consistency that was rather hypnotising to watch, as it slowly changed shape over the contours of her body. It reminded me of the installation of oil flooding a floor of a room in the Saatchi gallery, a play on light, colour and perspective. Point made, I thought it was a slick way to end the show, Gandini Juggling rocking it once again as Agent Provocateur.



Note: for link to video report by London Live on Gandini Juggling at Jacksons Lane click here (www.londonlive.co.uk)

Monday, 23 November 2015

Chapter 114: Clowning Around

"Sometimes you just gotta clown around"
Photo: from Twitter @Dylan DreyerNBC in  Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

"So, how's the affair going?!" growls a voice as I creep in well past midnight, flushed. Or flushed out. My pulse is racing, my mind's a whir and my body is wired, in no mood for sleep. You see, I've been clowning around. In Kings Cross, of all places. Where else?!

Our rendez-vous was The Poor School on Pentonville Road. How deliciously Dickensian and ripe for the taking that sounded. The smog of disinfectant in the passageway, a building of bare boards and stroppy directors dragging actors through rehearsals, did not disappoint. I was there for three evenings at a workshop run by Ira Seidenstein, clown par excellence, who has performed with Cirque de Soleil and Slava's Snow Show, and is mentor to a wide range of artists. Why was I there? As we sat down in a circle I was first to be asked. I stammered something about having a disastrous time at the last clowning workshop I went to (See Chapter 42: The School of Hard Knocks) and being a sucker for punishment. That's partially accurate. Then there is my love of old school slapstick. But the bottom line is that I'm a storyteller, with a voice locked in a body, a body I am trying to unlock through circus, studying the mechanics of performance and exploring every avenue.

Photo: www.iraseid.com
When a friend had alerted me to the workshop via a Facebook event, the first thing I noticed was that Ira had kind eyes. I would be in safe hands, and that was important for me because in any form of improv you are laying yourself on the line. It's scary stuff - who knows what will come out?! In terms of the group dynamic of participants, there were a couple of familiar faces from the world of circus, and in the main, actors, the majority professional, and a couple of true amateurs, all brought together by co-ordinator, illusionist Christopher Howell. 

We eased into the practice with twists, stretches and a choreography that held all the grace and dynamism of a yoga flow. I enjoyed that, and, in my comfort zone, I could feel the energy switch on. Then, when warmed up, we had to take responsibility for our own movements and add our own voice, a voice that would incorporate the shape and motion of our body. I felt more self-conscious at that point, but as we were all practicing at the same time there was a certain cloak of anonymity and a freedom to play. What interested me was the focus on letting the narrative come out of the body. Make a shape, move it, add a voice and see where it takes you. Essentially a creative exercise.

We then performed exercises in front of each other, as audience. Here were pros in their element, and I sat there enchanted at the magic created, feeling so privileged to witness a performance that would never be repeated again. Until it was my turn to take centre stage. I am grateful, at least, that my look of abject horror provided good value entertainment. Standing up there, whether miming robbing a bank or gleefully cackling with the knowledge of a whispered secret, it was all so poorly executed that Ira didn't even need to give my performance a post-mortem - it was death by MissTake. 

But then came the exercise where you got to don a red nose. That's where the magic's at, right? Wrong! According to Ira, a red nose does not a clown make, no special powers it endows, and that announcement came right before my turn, snatching the carpet from underneath me. Nothing to hide behind. Still, there was a sense of tapping into a ritual as I stood with my back to the audience, gingerly stretching the elastic over my head. And then I turned round. I moved towards the audience, drank in every single face in turn and ..."Lucy, take it off. Now." MissTake Two. I sat back down. I had frozen, my knees were locked and there was no movement to my body. Ira gave me one more turn with the nose and it felt I was beginning to get somewhere this time. For an instant there was a glimmer, then it slipped away again.  I didn't quite get it. But I will.

Photo: www.iraseid.com

I learned, you see, that it is not enough to have a body that moves well, you have to know how to use it. Thanks to Ira, I now have an awareness of the power of my hands, and knees!, that I didn't have before. I learned that thinking too much about your audience means you forget yourself, your purpose and your act. Did I learn the secret to clowning? Well, I learned techniques drawn from Ira's unique methodology that encompasses Shakespeare, Pirandello, Slapstick and Stanislavski, to name a few, that make me think I can take on the world now, with a little more practice. Check out www.iraseid.com (click here) and Ira's YouTube channel (click here). I also learned each of us have our own unique fingerprints, creativity and chemistry in performance which can't be taught, but can be developed. 

There is much work to be done still, not to mention play, and so the affair continues, Lucy Loves Circus after all... cheers!




"I am a real ham. I love an audience. I work better with an audience. I am dead, in fact, without one"

Lucille Ball



Monday, 16 November 2015

Chapter 113: Bedtime Stories


Over half-term I took the kids to see Upswing's Bedtime Stories at The Albany in Deptford. Bedtime Stories is the creation of Vicki Amedume, one of the inspirational role models in circus as celebrated in the Women in Circus evening in Bristol (see post on Women in Circus - click here), who in this show has created a cosy, intimate space for children and their carers to curl up and have time out together. I had been waiting to see the full show ever since seeing a moving short extract  at Canvas back in April (mentioned in the post Circus Mum - click here). We made it the nick of time, following a rather nail-biting drive up from my parents in Hampshire, having left them at the last possible moment. Still, within moments of joining friends there, directed to the duvets thanks to the welcome attention of the bunny ushers, all tension slipped away. 

Bedtime Stories is the story of a young girl whose mother is so distracted by work and chores, that her daughter invents an imaginary friend for company - summoning up one, two...Three! Together she and Three play tricks and make up stories, while we see her mother on the phone, always just missing calls from her own mother, and drowning in paperwork that literally snows down. Eventually there is a reconciliation. The mother is drawn back into her daughter's present, and (the need for) Three disappears. The story is beautifully told. Hazel Lam as the daughter conveys vivacity and mischief as she reaches for her dreams through stunning aerial silks sequences on bedsheets that become a bridge to the stars, and has a playful synergy with Nathan Johnston as Three, who is an expressive clown with a grace in movement that endows their friendship with a touching delicacy. 

Once again, the portrayal of the mother by Lewis Barfoot of the stressed-out Mum was so spot on it made me a bit teary, but this time, at least, I had my youngest snuggled on my lap and her elder sister nestling into me. Actually, maybe that made the tears roll even more. Sometimes all we want in life is someone else to recognise that we are doing our best and have some space to take stock of what we have. That was the gift to me. At three years old, I'm not sure what my little one took away other than raucous laughter at the clowning, and open-mouthed enchantment at the illustrations that come to life. For her sister it was the message that children have a greater imagination than their parents, and that adults don't quite understand how real that is. For her, for instance, it was hilarious that the mother didn't realise it wasn't the girl chucking pillows out of the bed, but Three. And when Three disappears, that is a real moment of loss. So last night, when she was distressed at the dark night ahead and the monsters her imagination might conjure up, I reminded her of Three, and introduced her to my own childhood friend Joseph, in his amazing techni-coloured dreamcoat (I had a thing for rainbows), who would help me check for octopuses at the end of the bed. I held her then, and we both drifted off, exhausted, Bedtime Stories working magic on us both, once again.

Note: for further information, videos and the latest news, including plans for 2016 tour reaching out to disadvantaged families, visit Upswing's site: www.upswing.org.uk/shows-2/indoor-shows/bedtime-stories (click here)

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Chater 112: Catalonia - Barcelona's Hidden Gems

It was meant to be my one night off in Barcelona. No school concerts or circus happenings on the cards, just a quiet night in. I spent the whole day relaxing with a good friend, who happened to be over from London and has also lived in Barcelona for a number of years. Swanning around in the hotel's rooftop pool, gazing out across the skyline and daydreaming, we gently floated back to when we were living in Catalonia first time round, and by six o'clock we were pretty horizontal. Then came an invite to a party in a hidden Hoxton, and I really was twenty again. There was a gallery opening down the road from the Arts House cinema on carrer Floridablanca. Plants everywhere, vases like clown faces, produce served from the local "huerta" collective, donuts (coconut with a dulce de leche centre, imagine!) and bins of beer bottles, topped with a house DJ on the first floor. So much fun.



As the party wound down we headed in the general direction of a prohibition-style cocktail bar "La Boadas", which a circus performer in the UK had recommended. But, in the company of a young Chilean designer, ended up in Gypsy Lou, drinking pisco with ginger ale, soaking up the live band and the circus-themed studenty art work for sale on the walls. I felt very much at home there, and found myself merrily chatting away to a gorgeous Swedish surfer on the next door table with an exciting new app in the pipeline. We were reminiscing about hanging out in the beach town of Cullera. It was the one thing we had in common. But his memories were from yesterday, while mine of Jorge and his crew were yesteryear, some twenty years BC (Before Circus), and I suddenly realised it was way past the bedtime of this old clown. 

Mohamed Bandie
But, bowing out, Barcelona wouldn't let me go without one last curtain call. On the last morning, I woke up to go and listen to my son's school choir sing at a Mass in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia. My Sunday Best comprised an outfit last worn at the Edinburgh Fringe. A cream lace dress teamed with my brown velvet circus ringmaster's jacket, with brass buttons. Maybe that's what gave me the confidence to volunteer to read the bidding prayers, in Spanish, at the service, much to the surprise of the rest of the congregation. Afterwards, relaxing over some farewell tapas with some of the other parents, in a square just off the Ramblas, I noticed a guy with a Cyr wheel strolling along. It turns out Mohammed, who has been learning Cyr wheel for four years, was looking for space to perform. A random art fair, stalls everywhere, had made it impossible that day, but there is a wonderful video of his that takes you on a ramble through Barcelona. I watch it now, and am transported once again. Life is like a circus, with performers of all variety round every corner, ready to surprise and delight you when you least expect it.





Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Chapter 111: Catalonia - Circus Cabaret at Cronopis


Florinda on Cyr Wheel
On the outskirts of Barcelona, a good 40 minutes on a local train, Mataró is Catalonia's Croydon, home to an alternative circus space, Cronopis, where a collective of circus artists work together to develop and promote the circus arts. For over a year now the circus space has been relocated to a warehouse about a ten minute walk from the station and it's not an easy place to find. Not in the dark, anyway. Luckily the fates were kind - a good friend, who has been on many a circus adventure with me, happened to be out in Barcelona and came along for the ride. This made the search a very relaxed one - a problem shared, is a problem halved after all. 

Even accounting for Spanish time and late starts, we still missed first an act or tow by the time we got there, including Gaston Villamil on Chinese pole, which I'd have liked to see, but being in full swing, the atmosphere was terrific. The warehouse itself reminded me of The Fire School building, a hub of creative energy, tailor's dummies competing for space with trapeze bars. While La Central Del Circ had very much an international feel, where a variety of nationalities are brought together using Spanish as the common denominator, here at Cronopis there was very much a sense of Catalan identity. It took me back to the last time I was in Barcelona, at the start of trip to Cuba with the Catalan Communist Party. Maybe the leftie politics inherent in circus account for the doppelgänger sensation, but these guys were still in their twenties, while time has marched on for me. 


Compañia Fills de Fusta
The evening was organised by Ariadna Juncosa in aid of the Noelia Foundation, which supports children who have congenital muscular distrophy, and had been several months in the planning. There was a personal connection there through a friend, and that's what I love about a circus community that uses its skills in solidarity with others. So much hard work, planning and thought had gone into the evening, and it was all wrapped up in a particularly lyrical fashion.  Ari, whose main discipline is tightwire, introduced acts with Catalan poems, while acts were choreographed to the music from a superb live band. The first act I saw was an accomplished Cyr wheel routine in vintage dress that was a contrast to the modern vibe I'm used to from Alula Cyr girls. There was a certain other-worldly oneirism to her motion. Next up were Thomas and Vicente, Compañia Fills de Fusta, with a puppet on a string routine where a fabulous "Negra" cabaret singer, accompanied by an accordion player, was singing a cheeky song, about various loves, Pepe, Tito and the like. Was she Celia Cruz, or some great Argentina tango diva? To me, the marionette conjured up Candita Batista,  "la vedette negra de Cuba", who I met in Camaguey when well into her 80s, full of stories about her time in Paris, crossing paths with Jospehine Baker and the like. What a star. The actions of the puppet were brilliant, the sultry turns, the winks, the vivacity all captured, and I was enchanted. 

A love triangle via a lively acro routine combined with steel-tipped shoes had my toes tapping next, and made me think of Juggling on Tap that I had seen pitching at Jacksons Lane for as part of the Canvas marketplace. Then came a duet between a brilliant female pianist and a trapeze artist. The male artist used the trapeze in a way I've not seen used before, like a tightwire. He bounded onto it from the ground with an ease and deftness of balance that had me transfixed from the word go, playing with shapes, and on occasion using the piano as his playground as well.


Uri on trapeze
I found my thoughts turn to Alula Cyr again and the combination of circus skills and singing in Lil Rice, as a female acrobat belted out a powerful rendition of Portishead's "Give Me A Reason To Love You"*. As she sang, her body of a temptress, a nude dress, was peeled away by her partner to reveal a sky blue leotard, and then like a lark she skimmed through the air, executing an exquisite Korean cradle, to return to base every so often and carry on the song. Finally we returned to La Negrita, who once again endowed the ambience with old school cabaret. 

There wasn't a programme, and we had to run by the end to catch the last train back to Barcelona, so I was unable to catch the names of the artists, but that in some ways reinforces the spirit and solidarity of the whole collective. As we left, we were invited to take a rolled up poem for a basket, and I saved mine until I got back home to the UK. 








"Excuse me for asking pears from you, I didn't know you were an elm." The poem reads. Now, in the middle of the most extraordinary improv and clown workshop led by maestro Ira Seidenstein, mentally reciting those lines cuts me some slack, and makes me smile each time I feel out of my depth. Who knows what sort of fruit it will bear?!

For more information, and professional photos from the circus cabaret evening, check out: "Cronopis Espai de Circ" on Facebook. The website is: www.cronopis.org (click here)
Check out Ariadna Juncosa's website at: www.cialemoutonoir.wix.com (click here)




Amanda & Jorge from Vol de-Ment on Korean cradle




Sunday, 1 November 2015

Chapter 110: Catalonia - La Central Del Circ




Barcelona. Where to begin? I went there last week, following my son's school chamber choir from cathedral to cathedral, celestial voices ringing out in heavenly locations. As this was a school trip, parents were welcome to the concerts but very much encouraged to keep their distance at all other times, so I was essentially a free agent  - all the more so given the rest of the family was back in London.

On the plane on the way over I found myself listening to Gregory Porter's album "Liquid Spirit" and daydreaming. It took me back to the summer term of static trapeze at the National Circus, where I had nailed the needle - effectively a handstand in the ropes - while his music played in the background. Now I wonder if that was really me, for between family commitments and sick bugs I haven't made a single class so far this term, and I miss it. Badly. And in the wake of the previous post, Porter's song "Grandma's Hands" takes on a whole new resonance. Time at the moment feels like it is slipping away, and this then, was going to be a week to slow right down and take stock.



Barcelona, never a drag
Barcelona, though, had other ideas. To be fair, I did manage to write one post (See "He Ain't Heavy" click here). Sitting with a cappucino on the rooftop of my hotel, spires and tiled azure domes close to hand, Montjuic and the sea further out in the distance, I thought the sky really was the limit. Then I took a deep breath and descended in the hurly-burly of the Ramblas. Tourists and tat competing for space with my beloved living statues. I did have one mission this holiday. At the bottom of the main Rambla there is a sign pointing to a Waxwork Museum down a dead end alley. It looks as tacky as hell. Follow it, and round the corner to the right is a café, El Bosc de los Fades (Fairies' Wood). A bliss of kitsch - plastic trees with faces like Ents, low tables and chairs, a little fountain with a mermaid, and in the space next door the stage is set with a Victoriana celebration of the Illusionist and his levitating assistant. Circus everywhere. I ordered a carajillo de ponche - an espresso with a shot of fruit liqueur - for old time's sake, and savoured the memories. The bar now has a shop next to it. Lots of Scandi design goods; camera lens coffee cups, tin mechanical circus objects, and eco-themed story books for kids. I gravitated to a necklace that looked rather like an elegant henna tattoo when held against the skin. My circus talisman, I thought. Walking back up La Rambla, a stubbled Marilyn Monroe, in her trademark white dress, busty and gusty, blew kisses from the balcony of the Erotica Museum.


That evening I opened an email from a friend who had sent me a link to La Central Del Circ, Barcelona's circus space. That was the gentle nudge I needed to check it out. Set in a desert of asphalt bordered by the sea, there is an oasis of spectacular architecture, my favourite being the Museu Blau, pictured. Just beyond is an urban playground, and a couple of circus tents, originally home to the Central. Inside the current building, the vibe was similar to the National Circus and I was welcome to wander round. I made my way down to the training space and found myself chatting to some Argentine acrobats who told me about a circus cabaret happening the following evening at Cronopis, an alternative circus space.



As I was turning to leave, Miriam, who had greeted me on the front desk, invited me to look in at some female tightwire artists, training together at the moment. I thought of Dizzy O'Dare back in the UK, who I had last seen at Canvas, and what are the odds, Paula Quintas (left) was one of them! Giving me the warmest welcome, Paula told the others all about my blog, how I explain to people who don't do circus what it's like learning from scratch, and how that leads to a greater appreciation of the work that professionals do. I was beyond touched to be vouched for like that. Paula, with Irene de Paz and Mariona Moya (right) weren't working on a show together as far as I could gather, just exploring shapes, swapping techniques and dancing along the wire to eclectic Spanish and Latin tunes. It was a gift to watch in such an intimate space, with just Miriam and Irene from the office, for company. Afterwards, in such a daydream, I missed my lift to Tarragona and got pick-pocketed to boot. Luckily a taxi driver gave me a lift to a train station, and a ticket in another purse, meant I made it to the church on time. And the concert.


Listening to the school chamber orchestra raise the roof with Piazzolla's "Fuga y misterio" in Tarragona Cathedral, my mind flitted back to the tightrope tango earlier, and attempts back home on a slackline the week before. Life is a delicate balancing act, I reflected, a series of constant, tiny adjustments, and those moments when it comes into tune make all the hard graft worthwhile. 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Chapter 109: Grandma's Hands - Maddie McGowan at VOLT: Women In Circus


“Grandma’s hands used to ache sometimes, and swell”

Gregory Porter, "Grandma's Hands" from the album Liquid Spirit



Photo: Paul Blakemore - Ausform
The platinum band caught half-way. “Your fingers are slim, but your knuckles are enlarged,” he declared, "It’s the early onset of arthritis.” In that instant, the jeweller resizing my wedding ring delivered both a sentence and a memory. I looked down and saw the ghost of my grandmother’s hands. Even with the onset of rheumatism, hers were more elegant, of course. Mine are small, creased with lines and marked with sunspots, the tips blistered by harp-strings, the palms calloused from trapeze. My hands tell a story of who I am, where I’m from and what I love. There’s a connection there. So it resonated to see Maddie McGowan’s sharing of her work in progress Grandma’s Hands at VOLT: Women In Circus in Bristol. Grandma’s Hands is one of those pieces that is tender, funny, and sparks of all sorts of personal recollections engaging with Maddie's exploration of the legacy of both her grandmothers through the use of aerial rope, physical movement and text. This clearly locates her performance in a theatrical context, working with the direction of Flick Ferdinando (see Women In Circus - click here). I had seen Maddie in action once before, as part of a work in progress from Mish Weaver exploring environmental damage for "Transmission" at Jacksons Lane last year. It contained a video of Maddie, telling through words and actions on aerial rope, how her house, on a cliff suffering erosion, was slipping away. We all need solid foundations, and that is where grandparents step in. We have them for such a short time, relatively speaking, yet knowing them somehow fixes us in the world. They are living histories, and herstories; a bridge to the past, a DNA signpost to the future, and a formative presence.  



Photo: Paul Blakemore - Ausform
As an aerialist, Maddie is entirely dependent on her hands to hold her up in life, and they carry incredible strength, reminding her of the "big, strong potato-peeling hands" of her paternal grandmother, Mary Teresa McGowan. We see the ease with which Maddie climbs up the rope, twisting, turning and catching her way down, with only the sound of her breath bearing testimony to how much work is actually required. As Maddie brings us into the world of her incredibly warm and wonderful, Seamus Heaney-reciting, sherry-swigging, straight-talking Irish Catholic grandmother, Maddie physical inhabits her space, slipping her arms into the sleeves of a dress, that has artfully risen from a suitcase and is suspended in the air on an invisible puppet string. Her hands feel for the potato peeler and as she talks, inhabiting her grandmother's space, she peels away her story as well as the potatoes. We meet Maddie's maternal grandmother as well, Ursula Margaret Coventry, who started life as a debutante coming out, but had no truck with that whole whirl and ended up more socialist than socialite. 

As well as her own stories, Maddie also weaves in the verbatim testimony of other grandmothers, and we see photos of them, in their prime, in the lid of the suitcase. Through the arm-chair, the record player (that Maddie sets to work) and other props, sounds of nostalgia and ghosts from the past are conjured up into the present. I never knew one of my grandmothers, but she very much came to life in my mother's anecdotes, and Maddie's gift as a storyteller reminds me of that. As Maddie explores intergenerational relationships we see in her the legacy of two remarkable women. It is so tempting to say, as I have done about my own grandmothers, that "they don't make them like that anymore". But then you see Maddie in action and you realise, actually, they do. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Chapter 108: He Ain't Heavy - Grania Pickard at VOLT: Women In Circus


He Ain't Heavy - Grania Pickard - Photo: Peter Blakemore and Ausform

Autism in the family, that must be a burden to carry. He Ain't Heavy comes the response of Grania Pickard, using a combination of trapeze and puppetry to portray life with her autistic younger brother Sean. It was the first in a double-bill of performances of works in progress at VOLT: Women In Circus (see previous post) that locate circus in a theatrical context, as discussed by panellist Flick Ferdinando earlier in the evening. I was interested to learn as well that Grania has been working with Lyn Routledge, who had just received a mention in the nominations as an inspirational role model in the world of circus. 

Grania's project that caught my attention a couple of months ago. I don't know anyone who has been officially diagnosed with autism, but I have met many people over the years who function on some part of the spectrum, and have lived in a community of adults with severe learning difficulties. Even so, I was unprepared for this incredibly poignant and intimate portrayal of sibling love through puppetry and an aerial swing.

Sean is a life-sized puppet, an inspiration of a creation, made by Jo Munton for Vagabondi puppets (www.vagabondipuppets.com - click here). He is fashioned but not painted, very much a blank canvas; he is Grania's younger brother, but also everyman with special needs. The absence of a range of facial expressions underscores this notion that autism is a condition where it is difficult to express emotions through subtle social cues, but Sean has his own unique way of communicating. His body is expertly manipulated by Nathan Keates, in the guise of his carer "they're all called Linda", but Grania also uses the audience to bring Sean to life and get behind his language. You have to see Grania in action: she is a highly skilled circus performer, storyteller and connector, lighting up the entire stage. Grania takes us through how Seany signals things that are important to him: the tv is "the presser" ('cos that's what you do with the remote), "the pa-a-r-k", "the swiiing", Grania is "Yaya" - we repeat the intonations as well as Sean's unique lexicon, we adopt his speech, and when you do that, you enter his thought patterns too. Suddenly it becomes apparent that life is so simple for Sean, his needs are direct and his love is unconditional. 

A couple of seats next to me have been left clear. I assume it is because they are in the line of action for the trapeze opposite and it's a safety measure, but it turns out they also serve as the park bench where Sean sits while his sister does all sorts of tricks on the swing to get his attention. It reminds me of being a parent in the early days, all the faces you pull, the cooing and all manner of peep-bo games just to catch a gaze, and that glow of unconditional love as the baby or toddler responds. Children, I hear, lose that innocence at some point, but those with severe learning difficulties never do, and it is a wonder. Georgie, a member of the audience on the other side of the empty space, is invited to look after Sean ("don't let him go off to sleep!") and does so as though she were made for that role. I loved that implicit trust in the audience to join in the narrative, an investment that reaps dividends. As Sean watches the steady repetition of the swing, the swoop of joy that almost skims him as he cranes his neck to see, you could spend hours there beside him in amiable companionship, hypnotised by the rhythm as well. And when Grania takes Sean up with her on the swing, cradling him in her lap, there is a protective tenderness and care that goes beyond words, and you wonder for a minute who is carrying who. 

A television set is brought into play and we see home movies of Grania and Sean, so very familiar. The technology gets stuck, frames freeze, that itself working as a meta-narrative and deftly handled by Grania, who weaves it into the story where communications can be jarred, and the comedy that can arise from such situations. "If you want to know how to treat a child with autisim, look to their sibling" so the saying goes. He Ain't Heavy is a case in point. Grania's work in development is already a full-bodied, eloquent meditation on life with autism that raises awareness, builds bridges with a mainstream audience, and connects us to the beauty of accepting life as it is and loving unreservedly.


Check out Grania Pickard's own blog charting the genesis of "He Ain't Heavy" at www.graniapickard.wordpress.com (click here).

All support welcome to develop this project further. See the video below:

Friday, 16 October 2015

Chapter 107: Women In Circus and Nominations





"As women we are complex. I am a creatrix. I am a woman, a writer, a poet, a mother, a friend and daughter. I am the sum of many things, but I am more than circus tricks."

The Good Girl Confessional, blog by Charlotte Lea
@GoodGirlTalk (Twitter)


How I would love to lay claim to being a bag of circus tricks at the moment, but this term I have yet to tumble on trapeze, thread my needle through a hoop or wrap my legs round a pole, such is the life of a Mum in the new school year, trying to find her feet. So yesterday, after yet another school coffee morning, heading to Lakeland Plastics in my knitted cardi and feeling decidedly mumsy, I found myself in the Ann Summers shop next door instead. I hadn't set foot inside one for over a decade, and feeling both grey, and blue, was gratified by the riot of colour that greeted me, the teases of teal and screaming fuschia satin sets interspersed with 50 shades of latex, vibrating lipsticks and naughty knickers. The last time I had seen any sex toys on display was at Ai Wei Wei's exhibition at the Royal Academy, where a set of jade handcuffs were a both a reference to his 81 days of solitary confinement and a cheeky nod to the jade anal pearl sticks in the cabinet next door. Sex, censorship and the unspeakable, it seems, are all intimately intertwined in the arresting development of the voice.

But is there a difference between the male and the female artistic voice? Bumping into Flora Herberich on the train up to Bristol we chatted about the difference in narratives, men very often making a commercial success out of taking on the big topics of life, the universe and everything, while women more easily located in a caring, domestic sphere. Does it matter? Well, for me, no, because I am the author of "Lucy Loves Circus", after all, a blog that to some may appear a sirupy, chirrupy cheerleader of all things circus. Which it is, on a good day. But I have off-days too, where my confidence crumbles. So it was this week I found myself, on Monday, pulling over by the side of the road, overwhelmed with exhaustion and a sense of utter pointlessness, "Is anyone out there listening?" I cried out. "Because right now, I could really use a hand." The universe had fun with that one. The waves subsided, and I was on way again, because that's what you do. Later, cutting through the Common on the way to the supermarket, I bumped into a very chatty guy balancing on a line strung between a couple of trees, time literally suspended in the sunshine.  So it was that I found an unlikely helping hand in Peter, giving me my first ever impromptu class in slacklining and restoring my inner equilibrium.

Still, I had another wobble on my way to Bristol at the thought of my husband having to cover the childcare, again. Was it strictly necessary that I go to the VOLTWomen In Circus event? Another circus writer, Kate Kavanagh, would be up there after all, whose critical reviews are highly valued by the circus community, as testified in supporting The Circus Diaries at www.patreon.com/thecircusdiaries. Then I realised I was falling into the classic, dare I say phallocentric, trap of assuming there need only be a single authoritative voice, when what circus needs right now is, as Lyn Gardner once said, "a critical mass" - a multiplicity of voices covering as many angles as possible. All my life I have championed writing from the margins, whether as a feminist discourse in literature, or in post-grad research on Latin American theatre, and it was time now to own my position as newcomer on the fringes, and not be embarrassed by my belief that I too have a right to speak up.


The stage is set for the panel discussion
The VOLT scratch night is a biannual collaboration between the independent circus producing company Ausform and Bristol's circus school Circomedia, creating a space for circus artists to present works in progress and get feedback. This evening was a little different as it was drawn into the space of the Biennial Bristol Circus City Festival, with a view to examining the role of women in contemporary circus. Before the performances, which I shall explore in the following posts, there was a panel discussion hosted by Lina Frank of Ausform, in conversation with Umut Gunduz, director of the series of shorts "Circus Girls" (see post - click here), and director and performer Flick Ferdinando.

Umut described the organic evolution in the selection of Circus Girls, looking to encompass a broad range of circus skills and how inspiring he found their determination and commitment to their art form. He was struck by how vastly different each performer was on stage to in reality, describing in awe "these gentle, sensitive souls that exploded into colour", and how he sought to represent all of that in three minutes, of which one minute is entirely focussed on the performance itself.

Flick Ferdinando was asked to speak on her role in contemporary circus in the UK, and talked about her route into circus through training in classical theatre and dance. Instrumental in developing the theatre course module at Circus Space (as it was then, now the National Centre for Circus Arts), Flick talked about how she locates circus in a theatrical context, branching away from corporate fixtures that simply require a series of spectacular tricks, to construct shows that engage in a narrative. 

There are so many women making circus in the UK: the touchstone in the discussion being the acrobatic theatre of all-female Mimbre, weaving together individual physiques of women to create a strong, positively-gendered body of work, and the social storytelling of Vicki Amedume's aerial-focussed company Upswing, moving on to mention of tightwire trio Dizzy O'Dare and recent National Circus graduates, TwelveFeetTall and the Alula Cyr (wheel) girls. With all that however, there was a need identified for women to be more forthright into stepping up to shout out about their own work. I guess it was with this in mind that Ausform and Circomedia had been encouraging people in the world of circus and beyond to write in and nominate inspirational women in circus. And nominations are still open - click here to add your voice.

It was fantastic to hear that over 70 women had been nominated, and to give a feel for the range Lina selected a few, reading out the nominations and leaving the audience to guess who they were. 

Co-founder of Circomedia in Bristol, Helen Crocker was an easy guess for this crowd, as was Upswing's Vicki Amedume, Ali Williams and Lyn Routledge of NoFit State Circus. Less obvious initially was Ilona Jäntti until you realised "the clue was in the tree" (see post on "Circus Al Fresco"). Most surprising of all for the audience, including yours truly belting out the wrong name from the front row, was the shout-out for the work of Lucy Loves Circus. I was utterly stunned, and then came a huge rush of gratitude at the welcome extended to the newbie and outsider into this community of remarkable women. I don't know who wrote my nomination, and, as much as I am dying to know and thank you in person for that vote of confidence, it is rather wonderful to believe it could be any number of people. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how karma works: when you are at rock bottom, just keep plugging away, because someone is listening and you never know what is round the corner...