LucyLovesCircus

Friday, 23 December 2016

Chapter 168: #2016BestNine

My favourite images of 2016:
Tightwire artist Alana Jones at The Cockpit (click here), Ken Dodd & Yours Truly, Slava's Snowshow (click here)
La Soirée with Carolyn, 40th Birthday card from my friend Yolanda, Jair's birthday Freedom2Fly style at The Hive
Flying Fantastic Scratch Night Elves (click here), Mother's Day, Christmas Stag 


There is an app linked to Instagram that collates the nine most liked posts of the year, and it has started me thinking about alternatives.  What were my #2016bestnine? I put together my 9 favourite images and then compared it to the automatically generated result. It was amusing to see we only overlapped on one photo, which I took only a couple of nights ago, of performer Danny Ash clowning around on a hoop in my Christmas sunglasses. It is fabulously festive, circus style, and all in the best possible taste!

Amongst the fun and frolics, 2016 has been a mixture of successes and failures, struggles and graces, the year beginning on the back of a humongous slip-up, after smooching on ice with my husband Xav left him with a leg broken in three places... Here then, are my top 9 moments that picked me up again:

1. Ken Dodd and that custard pie at the Slapstick Festival up in Bristol (Chapter 128 - click here). My initiation into the world of clowning. A milestone turning 40. You still don't get it? "Those who dance are considered insane by those who can't hear the music." Thank you Nietzche #justsaying.

2. Le Patin Libre and La Soirée (Chapter 127 - click here). Two for one? Possibly a bit cheeky to start bending the rules already, but it was the same night to remember. Funnily enough him indoors with a broken leg wasn't really up for going to see a bunch of phenomenal free-skaters at Somerset House, but my skating partner-in-crime Carolyn was. We met my first ever ice guide, also a talented actress and storyteller, Rosie, who was doing front of house that night and were thrilled and chilled by "Vertical" in equal measure. Walking over Waterloo Bridge afterwards we slipped into the second half of La Soirée just in time to catch Denis Lock's spellbinding new bubble act and bump into Bristol-based Cirque Bijou on a festive jolly for good measure. The show is now on in Leicester Square, and according to Lyn Gardner: "La Soirée continues to be a class act, largely because it keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek and never takes itself too seriously." Click here for her review in full: www.theguardian.com/theatreblog/dispelthegloom.


3. Gandini Juggling & Akhnaten: what better treat for a circus-loving Mum on Mother's Day (Chapter 133 - click here) than to travel up to the British Library with her 8 year old and see Gandini Juggling, choreographed by José Triguero and set to music from Philip Glass' opera Akhnaten. Bowled away also by the voice of Anthony Roth Costanza, I listened to the CD non-stop and a few weeks later found myself at the ENO on the very last night of the opera with Carolyn (Chapter 136 - click here), not just a skating partner-in-crime. Philip Glass was in the audience too that night, and I inadvertently snapped him in the photo taken surreptitiously of the cast taking a curtain bow. The evening was sublime. I do not say that lightly.

4. The Calder Exhibition at the Tate Modern (Chapter 135 - click here). What can I say? My universe shifted again. Einstein was a fan too. I felt connected. It's all relative. 

5. Zippos: It was Zippos 30th anniversary tour this year. I had caught them earlier at Winter Wonderland (Chapter 118 - click here) at Cirque Beserk (Chapter 131 - click here) and then over in Streatham where I saw the legendary ringmaster Norman Barrett MBE do his wonderful turn with his performing budgies. I used to have a pet budgie called Daffodil. She never did tricks like that! Watching the turns on the wheel of death was the most terrifying experience I've had watching circus - especially when the artist was standing on the outside of the ring, blindfolded, and on stilts. 

Zippos and Cirque Beserk are currently at Winter Wonderland  in Hyde Park
see www.thecircusdiaries.com/circus-at-hyde-park-winter-wonderland

6. Barely Methodical Troupe's "Kin": (See The Circus Diaries - click here). I went to the show with Xav, who loved the humour, the skills, Nikki Rummer holding her own with the boys (and then some), as much as I did. It was funny, it was exciting, and you can watch it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlBHgC4CBe0.

A little while later I saw one man show Paradise Lost at Battersea Arts Centre with Ben Duke in a bloody brilliant tower-house of a performance. In the bar afterwards with another circus writing Lucy (Lucy Ribchester, who writes for The List, when not being an award-winning novelist), circus inevitably cropped up in conversation. I excitedly started telling Ben all about this great show Kin that had been on at Circus Fest which he absolutely had to see. Turns out he had already. Being the director and all. I guess there are worse faux pas in life!

7. The Hive: That night at Kin I bumped into Jair Ramirez and, chatting about circus training spaces and my frustration at not being able to find daytime classes, he suggested I come along to Freedom2Fly classes in Hackney Wick. Not the easiest of locations, it takes me a whole day, but the space has saved my sanity. The Hive, where it is based, also runs the odd sell-out cabaret, and a highlight in summer was going there to see a preview of Mimbre Acrobats "If I Would I Could", pictured left (Chapter 143 - click here), that tells the day in the life of an everyday hero and the superhuman effort it takes to overcome everyday obstacles struck a chord. 

8. Giffords Circus: It was a joy to see "The Painted Wagon" head to the Wild West not just once but twice this year. Read about the show here in Kate Kavanagh's review for The Circus Diaries. The first time my daughter and I went straight from stomping and twirling in the sawdust ring with audience & cast in the morning, to the hospital for afternoon visiting hours where Mum had just emerged from her coma the day before. Mum had nearly died barely a week before and her recovery was little short of miraculous.  I arrived to find her with a copy of the The Lady by her bedside, directing me to an article all about Giffords. Always full of surprises and ahead of the game Mum, and I am still in wonder that we will be spending Christmas together. Returning to Giffords, this time without kids but with Hamish and Onni in tow, two of the performers from Ssshhh!, the day before the cabaret at Jacksons Lane (see below), was definitely my guilty pleasure!



9. NoFit State: The arrival of NoFit State in London reminded me of my original dream to become a circus strongwoman, and kickstarted my own training again, and for that I am so very grateful. It was so much fun going behind the scenes interviewing the wonderful Delia Ceruti (Chapter 162 - click here) and then climbing up the scenes in a workshop later (see Chapter 165 - click here). Bumping into aerialist Frances Widow there was another highlight. We have been on Twitter together for a couple of years, meeting through an illustration of hers that I admired and used for one of my most popular posts of 2015 (Chapter 65 - The Circus Strongwoman - click here). NoFit State also gave me a night to remember with one of my oldest friends Jane, where we celebrated the sheer talent on display and partied the night away.

The show Bianco is my top review of the year, see Chapter 164 - click here. If you haven't seen the show yet, you have until 22nd January. Catch it while you can. After that Bianco is no more, and NoFit State will be moving on to their next flagship project for 2018, celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of modern circus. 



Of course, my ultimate best nine are the nine utterly terrific performers who agreed to be in Ssshhh!, the cabaret we put on at Jacksons Lane this summer as part of the Postcards Festival. These pictures by Shauna Summers speak volumes where my words fail. It was simply one of those nights to remember, and I am so grateful to Artistic Director Adrian Berry for the trust and confidence he placed in us to let rip.

From left to right:

Michaela O'Connor, Red Sarah, Molly Orange;

Cheryl Teagan, Brett Rosengreen, Hamish Tjeong;

Sean Kempton, Danny Ash, Onni Toivonen.

A huge thanks to those of you who were with us that night, who supported with shout-outs and spread the word. And thank you to all you readers for your interest in the circus scene here. The blog has had over 12,000 hits this month. As a writer that fact brings a warm glow, a sense of being relevant and engaging, and feedback is always welcome. Highlights are listed above, but there are so many more performances and challenges which have made the journey over the past 12 months such an eventful one. 


For all you aerial enthusiasts out there, circus spaces may be shut over Christmas, but you can still keep the exercise ticking over thanks to Paper Doll Militia's competition for exercising aerialists with videos uploaded daily on Facebook. I will be following with interest and am inspired by the accounts already using the hashtag #Fit4TheHolidays over on Instagram. 

If you are looking for that last minute Christmas gift, I cannot recommend highly enough a circus experience afternoon at the National Centre for Circus Artswhich is where it all began for me in Chapter 1 - click here. And please consider supporting Jackson Lane's Christmas Day lunch appeal that reaches out to the elderly in the local community in the spirit of social circus:  www.jacksonslane.org.uk/donate-support/christmas-gifts.

Events for your diary over the holidays: Along with Bianco, La Soirée, Cirque Beserk and Zippos, The Mad Hatter's Tea Party at The Roundhouse (See Chapter 55 - click here), check out the two wise men in Two Tongue Theatre's Boys Club (See Chapter 160 - click here), mentored by a third, dark clown Peta Lily (See Chapter 156 on Peta Lily's Chastity Belt ), at Etcetera pub theatre in Camden, 6th (and 7th) January. It's an epiphany! 

Book now for the 40th London International Mime Festival (LIMF) kicking off in January. Top of my list is Thomas Monckton's Only Bones (click here for teaser trailer) and French puppet company Les Antliaclastes' Here Lies Shakespeare (click here for teaser trailer). Also don't miss the phenomenal Alex Walton's in Adrian Berry's poignant From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads (Chapter 161 - click here) back at Jacksons Lane on 27 February for one night only.

Meanwhile I'll be back in the New Year to get "Smashed" with Gandini Juggling, as a special edition opens the London International Mime Festival on 9th/10th January at the Peacock Theatre, Sadlers Wells. Time now to chill... Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all! 

Monday, 19 December 2016

Chapter 167: Aircraft Circus - Greenwich Circus Festival

Photo: www.aircraftcircus.com/greenwich-circus-festival (click here)

Once upon a time I had pictures taken by boudoir photographer Stormy Sloane. Following her Instagram account from then on, I noticed one day a circus image that would fit a post I was writing at the time on The Snake Charmers (click here). That was in the days before I started writing about shows. When my blog was simply styled as "life through a circus lens" - a space to share random thoughts through a metaphor where anything is possible. The model in question was a circus performer called Kat, who coincidentally was appearing that week in show called Midnight's Circus (click here) at a theatre up in Highgate called Jacksons Lane, so Stormy and I went along with my husband Xav, and a couple of friends. Ah, it was a great evening, and that was how I encountered Aircraft Circus.

Aircraft Circus is based at The Hangar, on an industrial estate in Woolwich, and, as well as creating shows, it is a training school offering 15 and 16 week intensive full-time courses for artists, as well as recreational classes. It is one of those places that I've heard so much about but never visited, being a nightmare to get to from where I live. This weekend however their Greenwich Circus Festival coincided with Christmas lunch at old friends' down the road, and Sunday driving  outside of rush hour made it all the more accessible. 

It was funny to walk into a circus space where I knew literally no-one, but none the less welcoming for that, buzzing with that familiar festival vibe. My 8 year old and I arrived just in time for the All-Sorts family cabaret show, compered by a Christmas star of an elf. We both sat cross legged on the floor and watched fantastic displays from a mix of students and teachers, compered by the bright Christmas Star of an Elf, Emily. I was delighted to see Aircraft Director Moira in the air again after her sexy wildcat trapeze duet at Jacksons Lane (click here). It was announced that she had been out of action due to injury for a couple of years, so this really was a special occasion, and the performance gave me goosebumps. I also witnessed the most fluid of mermaids on hoop, the youngest aerial ninja on trapeze, a bowler-hatted Malcolm McDowell in a surprise descent from the ceiling on silks, and Moira's students, a duo of sisters executing feats of superb strength and flexibility with insouciant attitude on trapeze. Of course, my daughter's favourite was "the youngest act, Mum" who was so nimble and quick with her turns and her drops. 

Despite her appreciation of all things aerial, the workshop that interested my daughter most was acrobalance. She had a terrific time, despite Nik warning that it was used as a form of torture in medieval times. It certainly stretched her! Watching her with the younger ones, reminded me of how good she is with our littlest monkey, so I was not totally surprised when she said that while learning how to fly was cool, what she enjoyed most was being a base. The kids had lots of fun balancing on each other, and the activities culminated in a three-high human pyramid, that held for at least a second or two before they all collapsed in a tumble of giggles. Meanwhile I went along to the juggling workshop, learning a few neat tips to take home and practice, before we moved onto the inflatable slide downstairs. 

While we would have loved to stay on for the next "Movie Nights" performance, which I heard was excellent, we had to get back to one of our own, arriving just in time to curl up with the rest of the family on the sofa and catch Luke Skywalker's hand-balancing act on Dagobah, with the ever-vigilant Yoda. There you go, I thought, circus everywhere. 



For more information about the festival programme, split between day and evening passes, click here.

The evening included astounding alumnae acts, and the superb Midsummer Night's Circus with aerial, fire-eating, stilts and all-sorts. Check out @nzboyzabroad's (aka Rafiki character in previous chapter!) posts on Instagram and the hashtag #greenwichcircusfestival.

For more information about courses, parties and events run by Aircraft Circus visit www.aircraftcircus.com

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Chapter 166: Christmas Showcase at Flying Fantastic

Sarah and Katy at Flying Fantastic demonstrating that aerial skills are good for your elf
On Sunday evening Flying Fantastic hosted an end of term Christmas show where students showcased their skills to friends and family. I had been once before a couple of years ago, coming across Flying Fantastic quite by chance, and keen to support circus in my local neighbourhood (Chapter 53 - click here). It was a great night, Edel and Chris Wigan the founders were so welcoming we have been in touch ever since. I ended up going on a fire-eating course (Chapter 88 - click here) with Rachael, one of the students I met in the interval, as well. 

Young Flyer Dugan
This time, my 8 year old daughter, a regular now at Flying Fantastic in the young flyers classes, came along for the ride. Going on automatic we rocked up to our old haunt in Battersea, only to find the show was happening at the jazzy new premises in The Arches, on Union Street, Borough. Doh! Of course it would be! The car was operating on reduced power (aren't we all?!) due to engine problems, but somehow we made it in the nick of time ("Er Mum, didn't the message flashing on the dashboard advise you to drive moderately?!" I was!), to catch Dugan, the son of one of my oldest friends, perform an astonishing turn on silks that held us spellbound. There were three other acts featuring young flyers, all similarly inspiring and a real eye-opener for my daughter to see. "These are the performers of the future" declared ringmaster Kate, "and a credit to young people everywhere". Too right!

Victoria and Dan

My daughter's other favourite act was the duo on aerial chains, "because I've never seen anything like that before, Mummy", as two sexy ladies strutted on in pvc and wearing blindfolds, putting the Sohoho oomph into Christmas. It was a brilliant tease of a piece entitled "Pretty Painful" set to the lyrics "I want to chain you up/I want to tie you down/I'm just a sucker for pain..." Of course, that went completely over the head of an 8 year old who was simply enchanted by the new shapes and sheer contrast to familiar silks. Another new piece of apparatus was the aerial net, which reminded my daughter of her favourite cocoon, so clever and looked enormous fun. 

Wee as Rafiki
While the rest of the acts were on hoop and silks, there was plenty of novelty to distinguish each in turn. Duets could be on a pair of hoops, a pair of silks, or one of each, movement either symmetrical or synchronised. They were all on a par in terms of level of skill and flexibility, executing split balances in footlocks on silks and dizzying rolls on hoops, but what distinguished each was the unique personalities that shone through, accentuated in costume and make-up. I loved the black and white chequered and stripey leggings that kicked off to circus music, the touches of lace and gold lamé, the monkey boy paint and antics of the Lion King Rafiki character, and the stunning peacock with a feathered hat and train as long as the silks she ascended. These were people who pulled out all the stops and had a lot of fun in the process; the energy was infectious.

Efi The Peacock
There were fourteen acts in total, compered by the inimitable Ringmaster Kate Hart who entertained while explaining to an audience, the majority of whom were unfamiliar with aerial skills, how difficult the training was, #circushurts after all, and how hard the students worked. It was important that she did that as the performers all made it look so effortless. None of those students do circus skills for a living, but what they all have in common is a passion that drives them forward, and what is great about Flying Fantastic is that not only provide space to train, but a performance space to bring it all together. 

Ringmaster Kate


It was great to see, but also rather poignant as it brought home to me that it has been two years now since I first saw a Scratch Night at Flying Fantastic and dreamed of having a go, and yet I am still  in no fit state. Ironically, I have a rope class at Flying Fantastic tonight taught by Danny Ash, one of the performers from the Ssshhh! cabaret I put on at Jacksons Lane in June (Chapter 153 - click here). 

So maybe I'll get there next year, eh?! There's even talk of a mother and daughter double act?! We'll get by, with a little help from our friends...




Many congrats to Young Flyers Maya & Jo, Fimi, Xenia and Dugan, and to the adults Wee & Miley, Eleanor & Jenni, Vicky & Gera, Dan & Victoria, Efi, Laura & Brittany, Clare & Naomi, Charlotte & Erika, Sarah & Katy, superstars all - thank you for a terrific night. 

In true circus spirit, the proceeds of the evening went to a charity called Safe Passage, who provides education for the children and their families living in the garbage dumps of Guatemala City, as Edel knows first hand, having worked out there 15 years ago, and has run the UK arm for them ever since. For more information click here: www.safepassage.org

If you are thinking of giving aerial classes a go, Flying Fantastic (www.flyingfantastic.co.uk) run classes in Battersea, Wimbledon, and Union St, their new flagship premises that has to be seen to be believed, and has the best loo sign ever! Flying Fantastic currently have a newbie offer on for packs of classes and run daytime, as well as evening, classes, open 7 days a week. There is so much on offer including classes in flexibility, pilates, aerial yoga, as well as static trapeze, rope, silks, straps, chains and aerial pole. Keep an eye out for workshops for the more experienced as well, such as the dance trapeze morning with aerialist Serenity Smith Forchion on Sunday, 8 January, whose CV includes Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros and numerous awards. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Chapter 165: Running away to the circus...an afternoon with NoFit State


"Lucy, if I offered you the sun and the moon, you'd ask for the stars as well..."
- Mum

Some people never grow up. I still take a childlike delight in a world filled with infinite possibilities. There have been a fair few knocks along the way, don't mistake enthusiasm for naivety. But each time I feel a bit jaded, the universe gives me a gentle nudge, as if to say, don't give up dreaming. Not just yet. 

A few years ago I watched NoFit State's Bianco and imagined running away to the circus. As Lyn Gardner once wrote after watching the show: "If you don't want to run away and join the circus afterwards, you probably need to check you have a pulse." I started learning circus skills. Tentatively at first. I enrolled in a polefit class, well that news spread like wildfire at the school gates... In my vest top and hot-pants, NoFit State emblazoned in pink across the bum, it took me several weeks to manage a few steps of a climb - I really was in no fit state! - several more for an invert and then a month or two after that, finally, off came the fake tan. Growing in confidence, I then signed up to an experience day at the National Circus with a dozen girlfriends which segued into evening recreational classes, and a foray into fire-eating. I started writing a blog to chart the (mis)adventures of a slummy mummy like myself, only to find it was much more interesting to write about other people. But the more shows I saw and wrote about, the less time I had to train myself, and by summer this year my training was dwindling away.

Hearing the NoFit State circus was back in town rekindled that spark, motivating me to pick up classes (see below*) again and fight for that ever-shrinking physical space. How wonderful then to be invited along to an afternoon's workshop with NoFit State, thanks to the blog that really they had kickstarted. It felt like the (cyr) wheel had come full circle! I went on Tuesday with about a dozen other bloggers and vloggers, including those from on-line publications like The Londonist, Theatre Bubble and This Is Cabaret. Some had seen the show, I'm sure, but none of those to whom I chatted had seen it on Southbank and this was their first time in the Big Top. As we walked into the tent, noting the tightwires set up and François rehearsing on them made me wonder if I couldn't just skip the practice and sit and watch. Seeing the footwork unobstructed was a real treat and the jumps, and trophy backflip, as ever filled me with awe. My own tightwire is in storage. It's a small one, but I have a fantasy that one day I will have space to bring it to London and practice regularly, go back to evening classes at National Circus and learn some tricks. Maybe not backflips, but a pirouette or two would be fun. My tightwire boots (www.isabellamars.com) are made with the soles of ballet shoes after all. 

Split into groups we rotated round three activities: hula-hooping with Blaze Tarsha, juggling with Lee Tinnion, and counter-weight aerial (taking turns to scale the scaffolding tower and bungee around in a harness) with Joa Aussibal and Topher Dagg.


Hulahooping was fun. Straightforward hooping round the waist was literally child's play for me, ever since we took the kids to Camp Bestival a couple of years back, but the tricks were something else! Hooping round the knees, ankles, wrist and neck, I wondered if there was any part of the body Blaze *couldn't* hulahoop from, only for her to bend over and show us how to spin a hoop off her bottom (François' party trick - keep your eyes peeled in the show!), and most intriguingly round her hair bun. I loved the fact that David in our group, who thought he would be at sixes and sevens, was the first to get the trick flicking the hoop up and over from the ankle bone, and I was over the moon to get there eventually too.


Counter-balancing rocked. Flying around on a bungee in a harness was bliss, my own Peter Pan moment in the panto season - life really is better upside down! -  but it was climbing up the scaffolding towers and sliding down that was a revelation. You really do feel the weight of the other person, how sensitive the movements are, how vigilant you need to be at all times and the faith required. It's interesting that both Topher and Joa have backgrounds in rock-climbing and mountaineering. In both of them I found a familiar deep calm and rooted steadiness that comes with an appreciation for the natural world. You would instinctively trust them with your life. I also envied them. I mean, it was so much bloody fun and they get to do this all day long?! 

Finally, the juggling. Brightly coloured metallic balls, rays of sunshine and a dollop of a red nose. We worked through a few exercises, my favourite three ball trick was called "tennis", where Lee used an overthrow from side to side to bat a ball back and forward, it was just so gratifying to watch. Lee made a variety of combinations look so easy, I'm not surprised he has a degree in maths; he's a natural puzzler.


The time flew by, thank you Blaze, Lee, Joa and Topher. I soaked up the vibe, the buzz of concentrated activity, and I loved looking around at the performers warming up alongside workshop participants having a ball. The tent really was like one big love bubble, and that energy shone out. I left wishing everyone could have a piece of this, and you can, it's up to you. Go see NoFit State's show Bianco and see where it leads. Let me know how you get on, I'd love to hear about it. Oh, and have a go on the flying chair ride outside. Floating out afterwards I clean forgot. Again. Ah well, I'll just have to go back...


*Interested in running away to the circus? Below are the circus spaces in London where I've had so much fun hanging out over the past couple of years. You can google more, search them out, and roll up, roll up:

- Polefit London: Stockwell YMCA and Merton run by Anna Milosevic, also does aerial hoop, barre fit, flexibility and stretching classes. www.polefitlondon.com
- Flying Fantastic: run by Edel and Chris Wigan, has classes in Wimbledon (where my daughter learns aerial), Battersea and a jazzy new premises in Union Street. www.flyingfantastic.co.uk
- Freedom2Fly: Hackney Wick, with Jessica & Jair Ramirez, who also run intensive professional courses with www.myaerialhome.co.uk in Sydenham. www.freedom2flyda.com
- Airborne Circus: run by Adam Cohen in East Finchley  www.airbornecircus.com
- National Centre for Circus Arts: Old Street. Check out their Experience Day, evening recreational classes and lunchtime conditioning slots. www.nationalcircus.org.uk
- Aircraft Circus in Woolwich www.aircraftcircus.com - I've never been, but heard great things. 

This weekend both Polefit London and Flying Fantastic have their student showcase on Sunday, 11 December, and My Aerial Home has a circus panto on Saturday, 10 December, which will give you a great idea of what you are in for. 

And if NoFit State's "Here Be Dragons" leaves you with an urge to breathe fire, the place to train, damn hot on safety, is with Sarah Harman at The Fire School in East Ham. www.thefireschool.co.uk

Friday, 2 December 2016

Chapter 164: NoFit State's BIANCO

Augusts Dakteris
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton


"I met my old lover on the street last night..."  Paul Simon, Still Crazy

Here's a funny thing: I was on my way into the National Centre for Circus Arts on Monday morning and I ran into my first proper (or improper!) boyfriend. Turns out he lives round the corner. Ah, it was so lovely to see him, a real surprise, but there were none of the butterflies from once upon a long ago. We simply chatted and moved on. So the next day, off to the Southbank, I wondered if that might not be the case for Bianco too. My first love in circus, would I feel differently having played the field now for a couple of years? Would Bianco still excite me in the same way...?

Enni Lymi
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
I had already checked in on NoFit State a couple of weeks ago when meeting up with Delia Ceruti (see post The Circus is Coming - click here), but, now the Winter Festival was all set up, and lit up by night, it was a different sight. Walking down from the National Theatre, I loved the view of the roller-disco "Bump" grinding away in the foreground, then, behind the giant spaceship of a circus tent, the swinging fairground ride, seats akimbo, in flagrante. I took it all in, waiting for my old university friend Jane, who had seen NoFit State up at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, and had had that same visceral urge to join in. The air was thick mulled wine, spiced with fun and laced with anticipation. 

Meeting up with an old friend on the eve of their birthday, as it was Jane's, carried its own energy and excitement. These feelings intensified as we stepped over the threshold into the Big Top and entered into a twilight zone where anything was possible. No matter how relentless or humdrum a day, here was a circus space where you could recharge, regenerate and reconnect. The live band was superb, delivering a cracking concert that would stand alone in its own right, and was responsive to the performers' acts, resonating with the sheer joy at being alive. This was the show's third incarnation and the music has been completely rewritten by David Murray since I last saw it. I can't tell you how precisely, only that this time round amidst the electric ska, latin beats and soulful blues I registered the presence of more Eastern esoteric notes that underscored darker moments stirring. "Here be dragons" the tagline warned. 

Bianco is a promenade show, and the audience was shifted from one space to another by roadies with a white flower in their hat and leather kilts, while performers often weaved through us in studied anarchy, drawing us into the space. This time round, more familiar now with the trajectory of contemporary circus in the UK, I heard Mad Max echoes of 80s circus company Archaos (particularly because I had been chatting recently to their events manager Dave, now director of the Cockpit - see previous post): a bell rang from somewhere behind moments before a tricycle randomly pushed its way through the crowds and a Babelonian chaos of voices ahead and above shouted out to each other, each performer speaking in their native language. The significance of the words themselves were unimportant, sacrilege to a wordsmith like me who enjoys a good narrative, yet I appreciated it was the texture of emotion conveyed in the utterance, rather than the text itself, that mattered. Whether I understood what they were saying or not, it felt as though I was eavesdropping into their world, peeking in on the familiarity and fun they were having with each other, and they knew it. There was an intensely voyeuristic pleasure to that.  A top or a skirt was discarded and we were invited to feast our eyes on ripped torsos, impossible strength and divine grace. Who wouldn't want to admire or possess that in some way?

Felipe Nardiello and Jess O'Connor
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

I enjoyed again the thrill of the twists and turns at breakneck speed from Lyndall Merry and Jess O'Connor on the swinging trapeze that opened the show. The urgent, frenetic energy of five rope aerialists lifted up by their feet to "devil music" (as Jane called it) made me think of characters from an Edgar Allen Poe tale contagious with St Vitus' dance. Now, learning silks, I found I could decode a little more of their language as they performed inverted straddles, hiplocks and drops, which was a pleasure in itself. Enni Lymi's static trapeze act was new, and the light play in the flamboyant folds of her dress caught me by surprise, while I found her sinuous moves utterly captivating. I was hypnotised by the beauty of knots in the cat's cradle created by Jani Földi on a triple cloudswing, which I'd never seen before, and his rousing discourse in Hungarian. I later found out that the very moving text was written for Jani by a friend. I wished I could have understood the beauty of what he was saying at the time, but what I like about Firenza Guidi's direction is that she took the fragment of a friendship in this way, the energy of a memory, and then got the artist to channel it. That was part of the raw, creative process Delia Ceruti had talked to me about (again see post The Circus is Coming), and I found her iconic act, rising up in immaculate white, touched by a desire of blood-red rose petals, a study in strength and vulnerability. The contrast in her "bianco" with the black-suited Joachim Aussibal as they dueted over three ropes was beautifully poignant. Jane, meanwhile had a soft spot for Danilo de Campos Pacheco on silks, or, in her own words, "the image of the most fuckable Jesus in history writhing around on a silk sheet 8 meters in the air, whilst overhead a dozen pilgrims knelt with or breathed flaming raised torches, is a truly memorable image I hope I will see again on my death bed." 


Watching the aerial acts, what I love about NoFit State was the way they exposed the mechanics of a circus show. The riggers on the scaffolding took centre stage along with the performers. Besides a clatter of distracting voices, no attempt was made to hide the pulleys and human counter-balances, that raised and dropped the aerial performers as required. Rather they featured like a shadow puppet ballet. It was like finding out the secret to conjurer's trick, only instead of divesting it of any aura of magic, it simply enhanced the show.


Ella Rose
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
The juggling act was new to me. While the romantic in me pined after the poetic flow of Portuguese and juggling balls from when Hugo Oliveira waxed lyrical last time round, my inner clown warmed instantly to Cecilia Zucchetti's joie de vivre and chic-to-cheek retro style. Effecting a tipsy Lucille Ball with insouciant throwaway drops of her clubs, she nailed the comedy. Speaking of booze, having contortionist Ella Rose handing out drinks is a sure-fire way to get any party started (created by the cast as a tableau vivant behind her) and she rewrote the book on how to get into a pair of heels.

Having caught a little of François Bouvier rehearsing a fortnight ago, executing an astonishing back flip on the tight-wire, I already knew that his act would be worth the ticket alone. But beyond the tricks it was the effortless way he moved, a challenge to any mere mortal even on the ground, that really held me spellbound. For most of the show I found myself at the back, on the margins, where I'm happiest as a writer. As so much of the action is airborne that was fine, except when it prevented me admiring the footwork of François on the lower of the two wires on which he was working, or catch little more than tantalising glimpses of Felipe Nardiello on the Cyr wheel. But still, as well as the jewels of action taking centre stage, there were nuggets of gold to be had there observing from the fringes: the care and concentration as ropes were wrapped and winches pulled; the rapt expressions of other audience members, the ushers and bartenders caught in the dreamscape too. I soaked it all in. Quite by chance, for the last act, Jane and I found ourselves catapulted to the front. In the line of fire of the thundering Tarzen on straps, Augusts Dakteris, I held my breath as he took a running leap towards us and then, at the last second, spirited up into the air. It was powerful and exciting to watch, while the romantic narrative that drew the female rigger into the frame made for a picture perfect finale. Down came the snow. A blanket of joy. Jane and I stuck out our tongues to catch the snowflakes. Not the smartest move when it's actually foam, but there you go. We lost track of time afterwards, missed the last train home and couldn't stop laughing. One of those nights.  Even now, a few days on, we are still soaring, just happy to be alive. Ah Bianco, you worked your magic again: ephemeral, vibrant, darkly beautiful and as romantic as ever.... 

Still crazy after all these years.

Thank you.




NoFit State's Bianco is running at Southbank Centre, part of the Winter Festival supported by NatWest. For more information and link to the trailer visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk (click here)

CAST:
Augusts Dakteris; Blaze Tarsha; Cecilia Zuccheti; Danilo de Campos Pacheco; Delia Ceruti; Edd Casey; Ella Rose; Enni Lymi; Felipe Nardiello; François Bouvier; Jani Földi, Jess O'Connor, Joachim Aussibal; Junior Barbosa; Lee Tinnion; Lyndall Merry; Topher Dagg.