LucyLovesCircus

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Chapter 61: Stateless

David Russell (Author)

Photo: from The Holocaust: From Human Being to Human Bridge

Dressed in an old knitted tank-top, shirt-sleeves, and brown trousers this morning, my son looked every bit the WW2 evacuee he was meant to be, and was off on a school trip to RAF Hendon. So striking, in fact, I felt transported for a moment as I watched him slip through the school gates. What must it be like to say goodbye to your children and not know when you will see them again? It is a question that has particular resonance for me since Sunday, hearing Claudette who had to do exactly that, one of the refugees featuring in Joli Vyann's "Stateless" at Jacksons Lane. 

"Stateless" blends together hand-to-hand acrobatics and dance to explore the subject of refugees and immigration. Drawing on the technique of verbatim theatre, physical movement is precisely choreographed to a soundtrack that is a mixture of music by Florence Caillon and the voices of the refugees themselves. What the company do is embody the voice, product of a technique where in rehearsals they would be thrown a word or several words and they would then (co)respond with movement. The piece focuses on the transit stage of the refugees journey, rather than the moment of departure from the old country, or what happened on arrival in the new, when they are quite literally stateless. Not in terms of describing each journey, but rather weaving together elements to convey the process - sadness, frustration,  longing, a desire to be held, a desire to remain, a desire to escape. There is also tenderness, humour and warmth. In discussion afterwards the cast examined how they had worked on contact dance moves to blend into a transition the essential pause for preparation required in any risky circus feat, a dynamic I had not thought about before. One of the dancers had a background in parkour, and there was a certain ambience locating the piece in an urban environment - the cement suggested by the set and even the red brick walls of Jacksons Lane itself.

I loved the muted tones of the set, the series of grey blocks, steps and shapes that could be used in any number of combinations to create obstacles and provide support to the performers, also clad in greys with slashes of reds and burgundy providing a rich contrast. The central supporting hexagon at one point became a truck into which the refugees are crammed. Backlit there are an assortment of limbs shoving, pushing, cramped and claustrophobic. Cyr wheels were dismantled and reconnected to form spiral tunnels, and became part of the narrative structure. Ultimately, as the set turns into a bridge, two halves of a Cyr wheel become handrails.  The fluid transitions as the shape of the set changes are satisfying to watch as though watching a tetris puzzle piece together. By the end, the bridge appeared to me to represent not only the bridge they had to burn on departure, and the one forged with new communities on arrival, but also a bridge of communication with the audience. 

At the end we heard both from the cast and from one of the refugees, Temor, originally from Iraq. In the piece we had heard Temor describe the positive outlook he had gained from the hardest lessons, on realising an inner strength he hitherto hadn't known existed. To hear this from someone who, barely 20, had to walk away from his family and spend six months travelling from Iraq through Syria, Turkey, Dubai and eventually land in the UK was truly humbling. Similarly hearing the voice of Claudette, who spent six months searching for the children she had to leave behind, from Vesna and from Jade. While the point of the performance was to transmit imprints of their experiences, I would have been interested to learn more, say in the programme, about their whole story up to the present. It was great to hear later that Temor is taking an acting course with a view to finding his own form of expression, for instance.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a personal story takes us beyond statistics that can often dehumanise and distance a situation. This week we have been commemorating the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the Holocaust Memorial where people were reduced to numbers and ashes. I have never been to Auschwitz, but as a student watching Alain Resnais' 1955 documentary "Night and Fog" about the history of the Final Solution, alternating between black and white footage and colour to bridge past and present, marked my world view forever. I believe that the act of bearing witness in this way to atrocities in a different time or place and bringing them into our current reality is the only possible response and resistance to brutal inhumanity, and the challenge to ensure #neveragain.

Letting the voices not just speak for themselves but be transformed into movement is a powerful tool. We are not simply spectators, but called to listen with every fibre of our being and engage with these testimonies. To listen and bear witness. That should be everyone's resolution for this year. To listen more, to engage more, to learn from history… and her story.  To build bridges.



Photo: Ockham's Razor's Charlotte Mooney; cast: James Williams, Ana Dias, Olivia Quayle, Jan Patzke, and Temor












Saturday, 24 January 2015

Chapter 60: SCRATCH THAT!


Failure is the mechanism of learning. 
- Geoffrey Ballard




Several books have popped onto my radar this week that have radically altered my approach both to learning circus skills, and to the education of my own children. 

I had it all planned out this week - the blog post, that is - even made a start. And then I spent the morning at Battersea Arts Centre, as one of their local supporters, listening to their revolutionary plans for the coming year, creativity spun out of flexible mindsets, and then I thought, scratch that, let's start again.

The whole concept of Scratch Nights originated in Battersea Arts Centre over a decade ago and they have been running there ever since. Tom Morris, then Artistic Director and David Jubb, current Artistic Director invited a group to sit in on  a work in development, inviting feedback, generating a dialogue between participant and audience. It was a space where artists could turn up with an idea, play around with it, take risks with their material, work with what they've got and use audience feedback to help them develop it further. The end product might not look anything like the original thought.

It's a bit like this blog, really. It started out as a joke, intended to be a sort of Slummy Mummy clowning around at circus school to amuse my friends, but now, thanks to putting it out there in the public sphere and, crucially, getting feedback, it has become more a vehicle to explain and communicate a passion for circus and explore the attraction, as well as examining fears and frustrations. 

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Photo:Tooting's Oracle on the way home from Circus Space

And failure. After all, I'm not coming at circus with the energy, experience and time of a twenty-something ex-gymnast or ballet dancer moving in a new direction, or a jobbing actor extending their skills set, or a young professional gym bunny looking for a hip alternative. I'm a pretty worn-out mother of three in her late 30s, who is looking for physical strength and a mental space to counter-balance the demands of family life with three young children. Part of the battle is my own internalised self-enforced narrative. I am very quick to take the role of the class dunce and self-flagellate before anyone else can, because it was ever thus. At school I was the very last to be picked for a team. "Sport" for me is a word that is charged with humiliation and resignation.

What I have gradually learned at Circus Space, is to view this "failure" more objectively and as a result I'm making progress. It's not inherent lack of ability per se, but the lack of practice hours holding me back. This growing realisation has made me more resolved this term to hold my Wednesday evenings as sacred for training and keep the momentum going. As a result, on the second level in aerial I can now climb a rope and beat up onto a trapeze, or hook a knee on the bar and pivot round a whole 360 degrees in a one-legged skinner. These are breakthroughs for me, and I finally no longer feel like I am an interloper in my class. Team spirit is a great help. The welcome, encouragement and faith of class-mates and teachers really does move mountains. And an awareness of a couple books recently, both primarily about sports-related performance, has brought this home. My husband has been reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" and Matthew Syed's "Bounce". Both books expose the myth of talent and focus on the power of practice.  Common sense really, but it is as if the final scales have dropped from my eyes. If it is hours that count then the progress will inevitably happen. Maybe not at the same rate as my counterparts, but there is still hope.

The space to fail, pick yourself up and carry on is central to the creative process in contemporary circus as well.  At Circus Space the Scratch Night is a chance for any performers to share a piece of work that can range from being the conceptual hub of a piece that has been months in development, or a spontaneous idea coming from throwing round ideas the night before. Feedback is immediate, and can also be relayed anonymously on paper. At the Battersea based Flying Fantastic, their first ever (click here for post), it was more of an end-of-term performance by the students to introduce family and friends to what aerial skills is all about. At Jacksons Lane, in North London, over summer, for the second year running, artists shared their progress  from a week's residency with the public, followed by a question and answer session, under the umbrella title "Transmission". These events are important as they give space to creativity, but most importantly to my mind, they give space to make mistakes and for constructive feedback. It is a case of sharing experiences, gauging reactions and generating a dynamic conversation that nurtures a creative spirit open to change.

One of the videos shown at Battersea Arts Centre that morning featured creator Jim Whiting, who delights in (re)creating atmospheres and spontaneous response through the element of surprise in the invention of mechanical everyday objects that move in unexpected fashions. His creative energy comes from the dynamic his installations creates with his audience.  "I don't like the word artist" he declared, "it's limiting". I agree, in a similar fashion to "sporty" it connotes a rather sublime state of grace, rather than an active process of hard work, trial and error. Scratch that mindset, spark off others, and watch the possibilities unfold, taking you in the most unexpected and exciting directions.


Jim Whiting's creations in Herbie Hancock's video Rockit:



Note: Check out Jacksons Lane which is hosting "Hangwire" on Saturday 7th February: 

Hangwire is the new name for Jacksons Lane’s short-residency programme for emerging circus artists and short-form pieces. Following its launch last year asTransmit, we are once again delighted to offer a one week residency for up to 10 artists and companies with a public showing of work developed on the final evening. Expect everything from acrobalance to silks and straps in this exciting night of brand new contemporary circus – all for just £5!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Chapter 59: Gandini Juggling's 4x4: Ephemeral Architectures

"Juggling is sometimes called the art of controlling patterns, controlling patterns in time and space."
Ronald Graham (Mathmetician)




One of the best birthday presents I ever had as a child was a spirograph, the geometric drawing toy that enabled you to design intricate patterns using interlocking plastic cogs. My friends and I used to spend hours on end with it, using pens of different colours, to create colourful works of art. I was reminded of this on Tuesday night, watching Gandini Juggling spin patterns of mathematical beauty with an assortment of hoops, clubs and coloured balls in their thought-provoking 4x4: Ephemeral Architectures at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House, part of the London International Mime Festival. 4x4 refers to the collaboration between four jugglers and four ballet dancers set to live classical music in such a way as to build transient bridges between these worlds. Lines are indicated by bodies, shapes created through a manipulation of objects, and ephemeral architectures are glimpsed for a moment before moving on - the very definition of poetry in motion.

I had been looking forward to this evening for months. Captivated by the sheer skill of Gandini Juggling in their superb family show at circus-themed Camp Bestival in summer (click here for post) the move from festival tent to the stage of the Royal Opera House signalled a whole different ball game. The two spaces for me represent the two different directions of circus, the spectacle of grand entertainment and razzmatazz that is most at home in a Big Top, and the more reflective, contemporary circus. And while Gandini Juggling can operate in either camp for sure, its raison d'être is the latter. 


The evening began with the silhouettes of the performers emerging through a haze, jugglers circulating glowing orbs in the air like some celestial dance of the spheres, while the dancers weaving their own complimentary patterns in harmony with the complex musical score tailor-made for the occasion by Nimrod Borenstien. For the next hour I was transported.  The costumes were dark - a mass of serious blacks and muted greys, but nevertheless it was an evening rich in humour and patterns of colour.

Rhythm was set by the beat of the music, the pulse of the balls, and a sequence of utterances by the performers - jugglers sequencing the balls "green white yellow yellow…" with the odd flash of cheek from a ballerina to finish it off. I hadn't expected speech in a mime festival!  But the importance of a word or phrase was as much in the reiteration of a pattern as the meaning. "There is a system; a way of deciphering. There is a code; a way of reading; there is a puzzle, a way of unlocking the labyrinth" we are told. Now I'm not about to launch into a discourse on the semiotics of ballet and juggling, but there is a case to be made, I believe, for looking at a movement as the signifier unlocking the signified (the concept) in a study of this piece.

Photo: www.theguardian.com
The dexterity of the jugglers building structures and framing spaces was breath-taking. The dancers threaded and pirouetted their way through airborne hoops, balls and clubs with a deftness and grace that was sublime. Often their lines would be partially obscured by the objects being thrown so that it was hard to tell where a limb ended and a club began. What also struck me in this fusion of ballet and juggling was that as well as a reciprocal seeping of influence between disciplines - dancers throwing balls, jugglers fleet of foot - each performer maintained an identifiable character and created a unique dynamic with their counterpart from the other discipline. There were moments that touched on a sexual chemistry, the very title of the musical score was Suspended Opus 69 after all, and you have to wonder if that isn't a nod to the mutual gratification found in the coming together of the two art forms. There was the charged tracing of a ballet dancer's finger down a back a juggler's back that would jerk in reciprocity, interlocking bodies in notes of a studied tango, a female juggler being effectively blindfolded by other hands as she keeps her balls in the air, the challenge to a male juggler by two flirtatious, pouting ballerinas to juggle more and more balls, while whispering distractions in his ears. My favourite part was the mesmerising rotation of clubs on the floor,  each one spinning in turn round the kneeling juggler, as a dancer arched back-to-back, the curve and the connection suspending time itself...

There are a number of ways I was going to end this post:
1) The Grand Finale: I was going to draw comparisons between the show and the depth of colour and richness of a Rembrandt masterpiece, only a rotten 48 hour vomiting bug put paid to my visit to the National Gallery this week ...
2) Or maybe I could throw up a pithy quote, by someone like Borges on the nature of labyrinths and puzzles, too laboured?!
3) Or with a photo of me balancing a peacock feather on one finger this week at Circus Space, my audition piece for Gandini Juggling… (!!!)
4) So maybe best to leave it with this blogger pondering ways to end a blog post, in the spirit of Owen Reynolds who ended the show by talking about a how a juggler ends a show. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.







4x4: EPHEMERAL ARCHITECTURES



JUGGLERS
Kim Huynh, Sakari Männistö, Owen Reynolds and Kati Ylä-Hokkala

DANCERS
Joe Bishop, Erin O'Toole, Kate Byrne and Kieran Stoneley

MUSICIANS
Charlotte Maclet, Gaëlle-Anne Michel, Elitsa Bogdanova, Arthur Boutiller, Siret Lust

Director: Sean Gandini
Choreography: Ludovic Ondiviela
Music: Nimrod Borenstein






Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Chapter 58: Survival of the Voice


"Speech is civilisation itself. The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact. It is silence which isolates." 

Thomas Mann




The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
www.bbc.co.uk/news

Last week I found myself in the hallowed Middle Temple Inn at a charity champagne reception and celebrity reading of a play. How the other half live, eh? But I had heard about the event via that most public and democratic of tools - Twitter. It had popped up in a tweet by Stephen Fry, advertising an evening with him and Mark Rylance "and friends". These, it turned out, were the super-stellar Dominic West, Ben Miles, Ben Miller and John Sessions. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven chatting to them afterwards. The play by Bruce McKay was billed as a dark comedy about the life of Bartolomé de las Casas, priest and social reformer speaking up for the rights of the American indigenous populations at the time of the Conquistadores. A witness to the atrocities of man's inhumanity to man - a first edition of his treatise is housed in the rare books library of Middle Temple Inn - in a twist of time it is interesting to note that both Bartolomé and Bruce share a birthday on 11th November, lest we forget. The evening was in aid of Survival, a charity that seeks to defend and give a voice to tribal peoples all over the world who are fighting abuse and eviction. You can find out more and support by going to their website www.survivalinternational.org.

It was surreal timing. Only the night before I had come out of class at Circus Space to the news of the massacre in Paris. The first notification I received was an Instagram image on a friend's account. A picture of the Eiffel Tower with the words "Je Suis Charlie" emblazoned across it. As she is a boudoir photographer, at first I assumed it was an oblique reference to some sexy new perfume (remember the days of "Lulu? Oui! C'est moi!"), then I got on the tube, picked up a discarded copy of the Metro, and the news bubble burst. There are times when words fail. And when cartoons speak volumes.

Streets ahead - a wall in Camden - artist: Tom Blackford

"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
- Voltaire 


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Chapter 57: Proteus Theatre's Circus "Rapunzel"



"Ouch! Mum! Stop! You just have no idea what it feels like to be me!" declared my daughter, as I attempted to unravel the birds' nest in her hair that had materialised overnight. Loving the irony (knot!) we were getting ready to drive down to Rogate in Hampshire to see Proteus Theatre's touring production of Rapunzel, where trapeze, juggling, clowning, one crazy puppet and a tale of resisting parental expectations are all Tangled up in a skein of silk. What a great way to kickstart the New Year! Proteus Theatre is an award-winning company that had come onto my radar after having a ball at "The Party" at Jackson's Lane in the October half-term (click here).  My affection for the company grew when I found they were based in Basingstoke and, being a Hampshire lass myself, I was even more committed to see one of their shows outside of London.  Regional theatre is what I grew up with - from village halls to Chichester Festival Theatre and the like. By the time I moved to London at 22, I was thick with theatre experiences, of which only two had been in the capital, both on school trips. 

So when I heard that their circus Rapunzel was on tour over Christmas, I decided that whatever it takes, we would make the trip down there.  And a trip to Rogate dove-tailed nicely into Sunday lunch with my parents down the road and a chance to catch up with local friends at the play. A bit of a home-coming really. It was an added bonus to find another familiar face there - my daughter was chuffed to recognise Kaveh Rahnama from "The Party", and I was delighted as he'd been the acrobalance instructor on my very first experience afternoon with girlfriends at Circus Space (click here for link), and got the party started there too.

Circus has been part of the Proteus landscape for years under the artistic direction of Mary Swan, collaborating with aerial choreographer Lorraine Moynehan, but this was the first time it had been brought centre stage. Coincidentally it was Lorraine who had given my first ever lesson on static trapeze at Circus Space, so you could say she got me off the ground, and trust me on this, that was no mean feat, she's awesome!  It also turned out Jodie Hoffmann, playing Rapunzel, was the friend of one of the students I'd met at the Flying Fantastic Scratch Night last term (click here). This production then was turning not so much into a trip down memory lane as a pitstop at a memory intersection.  We walked into the hall to find the production in the round, seats circling a large ring, speckled like sawdust, with a golden construction at the centre from which hung a trapeze, suggesting playground, tower and gilded cage all at once, brainchild of designer Sam Pine.

The story is set in a circus that has seen better days. The cracking Ringmaster (Paul Huntley-Thomas) and his motley crew cobble together a show.  There is the hilarious psychic charlady Mags (Megan Brooks), who comes to life (but never quite in time for the show) when possessed by the sublime Russian spirit of Madame Gypsy Rosie Poopkovia, who bit the dust half-way through an aerial act and is herself haunted by unfinished business; the strongman Mr Impossible (Kaveh Rahnama), burdened with the weight of an impossibly successful family preceding him and an unspeakable love;  and star attraction Rapunzel on trapeze, as tiny and feisty as a sparrow, as graceful as a swan, and when she sat on the swing there were echoes too, for me, of a mermaid in a sideshow, enhanced by her flowing blue locks, this is circus, after all. 

The community of Circus Rapunzel
Photo: www.basingstokegazette.co.uk

Impossible George (Kaveh Rahnama)
Photo: www.basingstokegazette.co.uk
Their life as a community is a precarious balancing act. With barely enough money to survive, performing on an increasingly empty stomach is taking its toll on the performers (regional funding, hello!), while the responsibility of keeping this family of misfits afloat is stressing out the Ringmaster, and disaster is brewing in the tea-leaves that old Mags is reading. Then comes the salvation, so it appears at first, in the arrival of Prince Charming, new act Leo the Lion-Tamer (Luke Francis), minus the lion, but with a flea circus in tow. Afraid of heights, Leo's heart nonetheless soars at the sight of Rapunzel and they  fall in love. Rapunzel, it emerges, dreams of running away from the circus to a cottage by the seaside, with roses growing up the wall. The prospective loss of his adopted daughter pushes the Ringmaster over the edge and he becomes a real villain, casting a spell to grow her hair and imprison her once and for all in the tower. I couldn't help but feel for the Ringmaster a little - I mean, isn't it a constant labour of love, after all, not to turn into a tyrant when those we love challenge us and betray our expectations?! Luckily the hair has a mind of its own, and is on hand to save the day. Quite literally in the form of the most fabulous hand puppet that had the audience in stitches, finding its voice through psychic Mags - a star is worn!  Ultimately the story was of a journey where each of the characters met their fears and discovered hidden strengths, whether from cutting loose, letting go, picking up the mantle or daring to scale new heights. My kind of circus message!



The atmospheric music by Paul Wild, Martin Swan and Jane Caley was perfectly pitched (see trailer at the end), and the cast were experts at sensing the audience dynamics, employing amusing impromptu asides and a wide variety of circus skills to draw the audience in - juggling with balls and hoops, acrobatics, tumbling into comedy falls, and beautiful turns on trapeze in such a confined space that I think you could safely squeeze contortion into the bargain. In return the audience delivered up peels of laughter and squeals of delight. At half-time ice-creams were handed out to the children (does life get any better for a kid?!), and a red silk wound round the frame to disguise a surprise for the second half. Curiosity aroused, the temptation to sneak a peek was just too much for some! Meanwhile, curious myself, I openly listened in on conversations and chatted to everyone I could. The general gist was that while the audience was not quite expecting this level of circus in the show going by past experience (note: this is an audience that keeps coming back!), they were enjoying it very much. Afterwards the cast stayed behind for a barrage of Questions and Answers with the audience. Are the Ringmaster's fabulous whiskers real? (Yep!) Who made Impossible George's Cape? (Sam Pine) What does Hair have for breakfast? (Moving swiftly on) How do different  venues change the dynamics? (Short answer: they adapt to the challenges) How did you get that good at juggling? (Practice) and so on. Then they had to dismantle the set, pack up and take it all home to Basingstoke. The last part a thankless task. But I hope the team take comfort from the joy they brought on a bleak January afternoon, and the impact they've made. "Amazing, magical, wonderful, exciting, scary and funny" was my six year old daughter's verdict, for instance, before asking for lessons in backflips. And all the children afterwards, mine included, were looking at the circus equipment longingly - the cast made it look so much fun! The good news is if you are down in Hampshire there are a fair few opportunities to learn circus skills. Proteus' own Creation Space runs classes in Basingstoke while Top Banana Circus is starting kids'  classes in Portsmouth Guildhall see news link here. So, I think it's fair to say circus is hair to stay, and it's growing … and that now and again it's good to get back to your roots.

Rapunzel is on tour until Sunday, 18 January, 2015 - click here for details 


Hair with Mags (Megan Brooks)
Photo: www.basingstokegazette.co.uk






Saturday, 3 January 2015

Chapter 56: Happy New Year! Here's to the balancing acts ahead...

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving"
- Albert Einstein.




"You know, Lucy, life is just too damn short!" exclaimed my 92 year old father on Christmas Day. He enjoys rude health and wasn't being maudlin, but rather spoke in thrall to one of the best lunches we've ever had. Thanks to Jamie Oliver, our goose was well and truly cooked - and shredded! - with a scattering of pomegranate seeds over the gravy to tart up the bird. Here's the thing though, life does go quickly. At break-neck speed even. As Dad used to explain to a temperamental teenager, life is like a roller-coaster; there's no point taking the highs, or the lows, too seriously, as you can bet your bottom dollar a reversal of fortune is waiting just around the corner. And we can choose to ignore, or embrace, the inner clock that's ticking, sprung with a mortal coil. That awareness, for me, is the momentum that propels me out of bed every morning. Well, it's not rocket science, is it Einstein?!

But, just for a moment, I would like to pause and take stock of this blog, 56 posts on, that's been going for six or seven months, because it is early January after all. A time for reflection, when we take stock of our mettle and forge new resolutions.


Looking back over 2014

The Story So Far

My circus year began in February actually, with our first ever family outing to see the Cirque de Soleil's sublimely beautiful Quidam at the Royal Albert Hall for a birthday treat. Then in March,  I encouraged a dozen girlfriends to come along to a circus experience afternoon at the National Centre for Circus Arts, aka Circus Space, in Hoxton. It was just meant to be a bit of fun, with some cocktails and all that jazz, at the Nightjar round the corner afterwards. But, on the back of that, myself and my good friend Anne found ourselves signing up for classes the following term - Anne in acrobalance (which included handstands and tumbling) and me in beginners'  aerial (rope, flying and static trapeze). So excited, but aware that not everyone in my own little world would share that interest, I looked for a space to vent my new found passion, and thought a blog charting the (mis)adventures of a mother of three at circus school would be a good place to begin. Only I quickly found that there are only so many ways to describe the thrill of climbing up and down a rope without tying yourself in knots, while there was an inexhaustible supply of circus happening all around. I began to see #circuseverywhere and here was the space to talk about it.

As I found my voice, coincidences started happening. A chance conversation with photographer who had a friend in a show at Jacksons Lane (see website: www.jacksonslane.org.uk), kick-started my love affair with a theatre that supports and showcases the cutting edge of contemporary circus, and is, crucially for me, accessible on the Northern Line. Then there was the ice guide who doubles as a children's story-teller and wants to bring circus in on the act. The stranger on South Bank tuning in to the word "circus" whose father trained as a catcher in a Big Top and introduced me to the wealth of circus imagery on Pinterest. The visitor over from the US sitting next to me at The Globe who enthused about Zippo's Circus, being an old friend of Zippo's father-in-law - "some may say their son-in-law is a real clown, his actually is". And the number of friends who tell me "Oh circus, well of course, you know Nell Gifford of Giffords Circus, magical …" Everyone has their story to tell. And I'm loving listening to them.

And then there's Twitter. A great way to connect. I have to confess that launching this blog from a Twitter platform in May has been as terrifying as stepping off a trapeze platform. And like trapeze, once I'd done it a good few times I wondered what the fuss was all about. Twitter has been absolutely integral to establishing this connection with circus lovers, circus performers, musicians, writers, poets, dreamers and pragmatists. People can connect if they want to and disappear if it's not their bag, so I never feel like I'm imposing. It's heaven really, and my world has exploded exponentially with a fair few adventures along the way:


Circus Highlights of 2014

Click on the names in bold to go direct to the corresponding post


Midnight's Circus
Discovering Gandini Juggling performing at this year's circus-themed Camp Bestival made the whole family smile, as did The Party at Jacksons Lane, while the musical Barnumagain! was a familiar friend.  The fiery Midnight's Circus by Aircraft Circus sparked my husband's interest and brought him over to the dark side, thanks guys, while The Great Spavaldos was an astonishing, virtual, but oh so real, circus experience.

And then there were three shows that I went to in a group of friends that got the party started after: the cocktales served up by Boylexe slipped down a treat, Crashmat Collective's dinner where the waiters were performers was a feast for all the senses,  and the cabaret La Soirée is still on until 11th January, so I won't say anything more beyond "Go See!" if you can. 

Meanwhile Finnish aerialist Ilona Jantti was like a wood sprite glimpsed in the glade in Highgate, and the family's gift to me of a pendant whose design is rooted in Finnish folklore is both coincidence and a talisman for the New Year, an ever-present reminder that life really can be a walk in the park when you take time out to reflect.


Looking ahead to 2015

What would you like to achieve this year?


Photo: www.mylondonpassion.com
If you are looking for a keep fit regime to kick-start the year, I cannot recommend circus skills highly enough. I have started 2015 stronger, fitter and quite simply in the best shape I've ever been in my life.  I'm making slow but steady progress, yet however far ahead my younger classmates may fly - and, let's be honest here, I am a good decade older than the (not so) average student - I've never felt anything less than their encouragement, trust and support. It really is a unique space. 

So when we were sitting round the kitchen table with friends on New Year's Day and the question arose:  what one thing would you like to achieve in the coming year that you are not doing already? 

My answer is this: I would like to perform a rehearsed routine by the end of the year.  In front of an audience.  Without apologising. 

With that in mind, I'll be back at Circus Space next week. This term, I'm sticking with Level 2 Static Trapeze, and taking on Level 1 Equilibristics, which comprises lessons on tight wire, unicycle, globe walking and rolla bolla (the plank over the cylinder).  I'd also like to drop in on local Flying Fantastic with a friend, after their fabulous Scratch Night (click here), but lessons book up quickly and we've already missed the boat for January. You can't win them all!



Circus coming up in January 2015

click on name in bold for link to more information

So tomorrow we are watching Proteus' Theatre's Rapunzel on tour, conveniently down the road from my parents, and on the penultimate night of the school holidays we are back in London watching  Russian clowns in Slava's Snowshow.  At the end of the month NoFit State's "Noodles", also on tour, is coming to Jacksons' Lane in London via Worthing. 

The London International Mime Festival (LIMF) is kicking off this month 8-31 January see www.mimelondon.comand the world of ballet and juggling meet (but don't collide!) in Gandini's 4x4 Ephemeral Architecture next week (13-15 January). I am also very much looking forward to reading Thomas J Wilson's book on Gandini Juggling when it comes out this year, a real labour of love.  

The places I regularly check for the latest on circus news and spectaculars are:

Circus Space:   www.nationalcircus.org.uk
This Is Cabaret: www.thisiscabaret.com
Circus Diaries:   www.thecircusdiaries.com
Jacksons Lane:  www.jacksonslane.org.uk



A New Year's Wish-List

Finally, they say if you throw out your wishes to the universe, it always finds a way to answer. So, here go a few of my unresolved desires:

The Aeronaut, in Acton: A group outing on a Friday or Saturday night, those being the circus nights, followed by DJs. Not only has it been personally recommended by someone I rate (Julia!), all the snippets of action they broadcast look so much fun. And did I mention I have a birthday coming up?! www.aeronaut.pub

Barely Methodical Troupe's "Bromance": Winner of the Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Award for Circus at Edinburgh this summer and opening the LIMF this week (8-10 Jan), but I can't make it, dammit! Click here for tickets. 

Madame Jojo's:  Forced to close - see article.  RIP. Will someone please give her the kiss of life?!


At the end of the day, life is a roller-coasting circus and whether we soar or take a tumble, here's to juggling, clowning around, and managing the balancing act as best we can in 2015. Happy New Year Folks!