Jennifer Lee, a Circus Space Adult Programme member, reviews Multistory
As the only school in the UK which offers a circus degree, the graduates of Circus Space represent a sizeable portion of UK’s emerging circus talent. As such, it was with much anticipation that I attended the opening night of MULTISTORY, the Circus Space 3rd year and Postgrad show on Wednesday 28 March. And it was a superb night!
Most agents, casting directors and journalists don’t come to graduate devised shows. That’s a shame I thought there were a lot of strong acts that night that were better than some of the circus shows that received glowing press reviews and which I’ve paid more money to see. And then there’s the title of the show, MULTISTORY. I know there are heated debates about this, with one camp all for narratives (me me me!) one camp that wants circus to establish itself as a pure and separate form of performance art that doesn’t need to have a story to tell. As far as I’m concerned though, it is through stories that human beings are able to share experiences and relate to one another. An act with a narrative triumph an act that is a series of tricks or ‘something abstract’ pretty much any day.
I went to the show with my acrobalancing partner, Mr T, and we scored some great seats near the front. Below is pretty much a blow-by-blow account of the show, but bear in mind that a) my handwriting is mostly illegible, b) it was dark, and c) I had a few drinks before the show, and some more during the interval. Coherency may be something to be desired…
1. Niamh: Hand Balancing
I thought it was a great choice to open the show with Niamh’s burlesque/musical theatre hand balancing act; it set the mood for a night of circus with something that is comfortably within the audience’s expectation of what circus is. In a Chicago-esque performance, she sang (surprisingly well, especially considering she was upside down a lot!), high kicked, and hand balanced her way through a saucy and fun act, setting the bar high for the remaining acts.
2. Estelle: Aerial Hoop
I have to admit, I was initially a bit put off by this act. I acknowledged that the edgy blend of aerial hoop skills and contemporary dance displayed her strength, technique and creative transitions; however, the piece was sufficiently abstract that I didn’t know what sort of situation or emotions she intended to show, and her blank expression gave me no clues. The more I thought about the act though, the more I remember quite creative fusing of aerial and contemporary dance techniques. For example, there’s this part where her legs were hanging on the hoop while she pushed and crawled on the floor, which reminded me Graham-style floor work, but without being fully on the floor Also, there were images from the act that left a strong impression, like the hair tossed forward and her rolling her shoulders back and advancing like a lioness stalking prey. The piece plays out like a stream of consciousness – I thought it could benefit from a bit more structure.
3. Antek: Trick Bike
This act was exactly the kind of circus act I like, and which I think really shows off circus as fully deserving it’s own niche in the performance arts. I thought that this piece, more so than other acts, highlighted the intimate relationship that the performer forms with his prop. With abrupt yet rhythmic and movement, deadpan expression, and an eccentric outfit that accentuated his lanky figure and shaven head, Antek efficiently established his character as a cross between a watchmaker and a mad scientist intent on methodically analysing his Trick Bike and figuring out how it works. He does this by stepping on the bike, using it like a compass to measure the stage, giving it a few inventive spins on stage, and crouching down to scribble notes in his little notepad. I was expecting more complex tricks on the bike, but on the whole, the piece is well structured, comedic and endearing.
4. Douglas: Hand Balancing
Douglas’s hand balancing was the Strong Man act of the evening. He threw himself up into a variety of hand balancing tricks, holding difficult poses for an eye-wateringly long time, threatening to collapse any second before transitioning to another pose. It was an impressive display of strength, and the audience gasped when he transitioned to the ultimatum, a sort of reaching back and up a high set of hand balancing block sticks to the sort of planche position associated with straps, not with hand balancing (you can tell I’m very au fait with circus terminology, haha!). The act left something to be desired in that I felt like he’d been working on technique all this time, but the performance aspect wasn’t quite there for me.
5. Ryan: Juggling Hats
I’ve seen Ryan perform before, and he is great fun to watch – I feel that he really gets that circus is a performance art, and that it’s about the performing in front of and entertaining an audience. With this piece, I thought the psychology was interesting in that Ryan presents his character to the audience in quite a vulnerable position. We’re watching his morning ritual seemingly without him knowing, and when his character suddenly notices the audience staring at him, and we in return realise that we’re watching something quite private. But his character is quick to reassure; it’s OK, neither of us are scary, let’s just relax and see what we can make of these five hats that I’m using as a washbasin. I really liked his character’s charming and affable manner and the little juggling mistakes which were either part of the act (more likely) or which he recovers very well from – I’m impressed either way and I like that I can’t quite tell.
6. Holly: Aerial Hoop
Holly’s aerial hoop act started with a silent face off with the audience for about two minutes. She’d do these amazing tricks, like leaping from the top of the hoop to the bottom part, but then she’d return to sitting and staring at us. It was pretty intense! Then the music kicked in, and Holly’s face lit up with an fierce expression that silently shouted, “BRING IT!” She flung herself into a high energy aerial dance routine, and boy did she own the stage. She looked like she had so much fun performing, which made it exciting to watch, and she had great control over the aerial hoop, even using it like a boomerang. I thought Holly demonstrated that she was a versatile artist and could perform an aerial hoop act to suit any occasion.
7. Kate: Swinging Trapeze
I’m one of those people who doesn’t feel that a night of circus is complete without a swinging or flying trapeze act! Kate’s act is called Faust, and I thought she thoughtfully incorporated lovely macabre details into the act, like the red noose around her neck and signing away her life with a black feather pen. However, I think it’s generally quite difficult to choreograph an original swinging trapeze act – the performer climbs up the trapeze, does a few death-defying tricks, comes down, and it’s over. Strictly speaking, this was another one of those acts, but it was one of the best ones I’ve seen.
~ Interval! I had two glasses of wine and my notes from here on out are especially incoherent and illegible. Maybe I should specialise in tipsy reviews. ~
8. Antonio: Chinese Pole
Here was something I had never seen before – Chinese Pole fused with hip hop. I’m going to say at the outset that I cannot come up with any criticism for this act. My notes just say, “GUH! Beautiful!” And it was beautiful. Everything blended together perfectly – the excellent song choice, the translating of the music onto movements on his body, the drops, spins and silky smooth transitions, ohhh. It was a spellbinding performance, and prompted Mr T to whisper to me mid-act, “If I were the slightest bit gay, I’d be crushing on him right now.” (Quote used with permission – Antonio, if you want Mr T’s number…)
9. Emma: Hula Hoop
Emma performed a technically impressive tribal dance with her hula hoops, throwing in some quirky illusions and contortions in there too (I rarely see contortions in circus anymore, it’s a shame cos I love it!). The routine was well put together and performed, but I thought it was a bit too much by the books and lacked creative flair. I also thought that placing this act towards the end, when the pace of the acts were gathering speed, was unfortunate.
10. Jonathan: Hand Balancing
This act was the highlight of the evening for me, and Mr T’s too. We both forgot that we were watching a graduate show; it was so slick and so full of attitude, it would have shined even in a Cirque du Soleil show I think. He maneuvered expertly through a mini forest of handstand blocks on sticks, flinging himself above and between them with incredible balletic agility, strength, and flexibility. I’m not sure it had a story, but with his black trousers and eye makeup, I projected my own story on him where he’s the Black Swan who is tragically abandoned by the Prince. My heart bled for the act, and I couldn’t resist turning to Mr T afterwards, “You should crush on him too!”
11. Augusts: Straps
Augusts, like Ryan, seems to genuinely love being on stage and interacting with the audience in order to entertain. He rolls onstage inside an oil barrel, and when pokes his head out and gives a cheeky little wave, you can’t help but go “Aw!” and wave back. I think the piece is about a child who hopes to become a WW2 fighter pilot, and Augusts used a great range of props to play out his character’s childhood fantasies – there’s the barrel for the sneaking up to the enemy, goggles, a toy plane that he interacts with while zooming around in the air on straps, and then, as an after thought, a helmet! I was expecting more tricks on the straps, since the plot lends itself to showing off, but the story was very well told, and it was a charming and fun act that evoked fond childhood memories.
12. Gemma: Aerial Hoop
The third Aerial Hoop act on the evening, will things finally get samey? Nope! Which I think is a great testament to Gemma’s skills. The act was well choreographed and performed, it was sassy, vibrant, free-spirited, and with a rebellious edge; the skeleton leotard lent the act a macabre oomph to the act, a perfect touch. Mr T and I agreed that it was a fantastic act, and that the piece was versatile in that it would have fitted in both an underground sort of circus show as well as at a corporate event. Commercial success seems inevitable.
13. Ana: Rope
Ana is so lithe and petite, she looks like a wisp of mist from a fairytale. But then she did these side to side swings on the rope, and boy is she strong. And then she really got into the act, and I was floored. For the first time, a rope act that isn’t a series of tricks awkwardly linked together with ‘dead time’ transitions – every moment counted in this act, and every moment was beautiful, strong, and graceful. The best rope act I’ve ever seen.
14. Billy: Cyr Wheel
And the show ended with a bang with Billy on the Cyr Wheel. I’d seen videos of Billy rehearsing before, so I already knew he’s strong and musical, but this was his best performance I’ve seen of his yet. I lack the vocabulary to describe the seamless flow of daredevilry that Billy performed as though he was welded with the Cyr Wheel, so I’ll just share this story he told me when I first met him. Circus Space students choose their discipline, and their prop, after their first year on the degree programme. Billy wasn’t sure what he wanted to choose – he just knew that, as someone with a dance background, he wanted to be near the ground. So he thought he’d give the Cyr Wheel a go. The first time he had a go on it, he crushed his thumb under the Wheel. But he still went on to choose it as his prop! I’ll let you draw your own conclusions…
It was a well put-together show and a fantastic night out! The show finished running on Saturday 31 March, but video clips should appear here soon. If this year is anything like last year, then these students will probably tour as a group around London and the UK after graduation. I’ll be keeping an eye out for them to see how they develop as performers.
Read more of Jen’s blog posts at bloodybirdsnest.wordpress.com