Sunday, 21 December 2014

YouTube Circus Video of the Month

Welcome to my monthly Hey Look At This! feature.

Having spent an embarrassing amount of time wistfully watching circus videos on YouTube, I feel I'm well placed to bring you its finest offerings. To, er, save you the trouble - a public service if you will.

There's a lot of boring crap dribbling around on YouTube in the way of amateur trapeze videos (not that there's anything wrong with that - hopefully one day one of them will be mine! however they are quite dull to watch if you're not the subject's close relative), but there's also some blimmin' amazing stuff that will have you Googling your nearest beginners classes within seconds, mark my words. Unless you're DEAD INSIDE. The video below is my all-time favourite, which may mean I've peaked too soon with this, but I don't care.

This lady is Angelica Bongiovonni. According to her website, she's a pro circus performer who started learning static trapeze when she was five, has a dance background, has won a variety of awards and has toured with some major outfits like Cirque Eloize (all of which is very depressing to my hopes of ever achieving anything slightly like this, but that's beside the point).

Since I'm pretty ignorant about the finer points of aerial technique, the reasons I love this are simple: as well as doing all sorts of amazing tricks, Ms Bongiovonni manages to make the most beautiful, graceful shapes with her body throughout every single moment of the act, the whole thing is totally absorbing and exciting, and the music is a brilliant choice.  I also like the way there's lots of spinning, as my personal preference is for a bit more movement than the classic static trapeze (whilst not being flying trapeze either).

It seems she's moved on to Cyr wheel now, which to me is baffling when you can whip out a trapeze performance like this, but ... yeah... she's pretty good at Cyr wheel too. Bah humbug.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Everything But The Circus - Part Two

Ehem, bit more of a gap between Parts 1 and 2 than I intended (it's been my birthday, can I use that as an excuse? Busy at work? Okay I've just been rubbish)! Where was I? Oh yeah, Bristol, 2012, with my trembling little foot set on a trapeze for the first time.  

It was a circus taster day at Circomedia, in their lovely re-purposed church on Portland Square. I signed up for it pretending to myself that there was the slightest chance I would be taken by acrobatics or juggling, that my head might be turned by the tightrope.  Stupid.  Literally the moment I made it up to a sitting position on the bar of the trapeze I knew that this was for me. My life had just been gently but fundamentally tweaked, the needle hopped a fraction to the left on the record.

Circomedia's church - pic borrowed from
Over the next few weeks I came back and worked at all the basic, wonderful, exhilarating, painful beginners moves. And I WASN'T terrible at it! Despite being crap at basically every sport I've ever tried, having no coordination, and the fact that my natural upper-body strength to lower-body fat ratio is not particularly suited to hanging around with my puny arms above my head.

I wore all my bruises and rope-burns and tired muscles with pride. I loved feeling the aches and pains, they were like a happy secret I carried around in my body through humdrum work days, a reminder that there was more to my life than sitting at a desk emailing. I spent hours trying and failing to do pull-ups at home. I watched just about every static trapeze video on YouTube. I did stretches every night. I listened to all the music on my ipod trying to figure out what tracks I might one day do a routine to. I repeatedly showed people my imperceptibly larger biceps (they were very polite about it). I did circus-focussed freewriting exercises. I dreamed and dreamed about trapeze.

So, you may be wondering where I'm going with all this. Am I a skilled amateur aerialist now? Performing in cabarets? Running a circus school?

No. Sadly I am doing none of those things. Because, I am ashamed to say, I did not stick at it. All that obsessive stuff I just listed above lasted about two months total, and then I let life came between me and trapeze.

Me, pretending to be some kind of farmhand, but mostly just letting life come between me and trapeze
For a million different reasons  - every one of them idiotic - that burning aerial love got squashed up, pushed back, packed down and put away.  I was too far away from the regular class venue at Circomedia; I was too broke; I was too tired and demoralised by my crappy job; I left Bristol on a wacked-out hippy mission to become an organic farmer, to travel around and live without money, to do a PhD (I didn't get funding), to be a housesitter, a waitress, to run away to Taiwan, and finally, to move to London and sort my god damn life out. Bla bla bla, all you need to know is, there's been EVERYTHING BUT THE CIRCUS.

But no more! Somewhere in the middle of all the craziness of the last 18 months, I was lent a sweet whacked-out hippy book on how to figure out your heart's desire, and I was feeling just about lost enough to follow all the steps.  Guess what my heart's desire was?


So now I'm actually settled in one place, with just about enough financial stability, the classes are booked people, the CLASSES ARE BOOKED! After being on the waiting list for months, I finally have a date with the National Centre for Circus Arts, me...some other people, I'm assuming a teacher and some aerial equipment. 7th Jan 2015, 12 week course. Hallelujah!!

Will it stick this time? It bloody better. (I'll keep you posted).

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Everything But The Circus - Part One

“Damn everything but the circus!. . .The average 'painter' 'sculptor' 'poet' 'composer' 'playwright' is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown's mouth, orchestrate twenty lions.” 
- E.E. Cummings

Pic borrowed from
I've had the circus hanging around in my head for a while now.  

By which I mean, had it in my head probably just a bit more than the average person, because of course the whole idea of circuses and their magical, showy unknowable-ness - the idea of being transported away from your unleavened life by a talented tribe of eccentrics - has a pretty solid place in society's collective mind. I'm sure most people have thought briefly about running away with one at some point in their lives, but for me, well, things circus have been taking up a much larger area of my brain than is normal in recent years. 

Having seen the usual touring family shows as a kid, and being a voracious reader, I'm sure I had some acrobats and clowns, maybe a contortionist or two tumbling around in my grey matter already. However, the true seed of my circus crush was sown during the summer of 2004, in Edinburgh, where I ended up working as a barista/barmaid at the Spiegeltent over the Festival.

The beguiling Spiegeltent (pic borrowed from
As you can see, the Spiegeltent is a beautiful, mirrored Art Nouveau venue, perfect for creating a spellbinding cirque-ful atmosphere. That summer in Edinburgh was a hazy, enchanted time altogether, but working at the Spiegeltent particularly felt like entering another world.  One in which the regular performers, such as the fey, pale Romanian twins whose rather homoerotic act involved (amongst other things) urgent underwater swimming around a circular glass-walled tank, and the burlesque stripper whose act ended with a silk scarf triumphantly materialising from her private parts, would wander up to my coffee counter for a free panini. A world in which the tent's retainer staff, all Australian and straight out of the 1930s, hung around the break-out huts in waistcoats, braces, stripy tights and shabby flounced dresses. Being around these people gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to exist in that world, to be a performer, to be a behind-the-scenes circus worker. Quite frankly, it seemed incredibly, unimaginably cool. I was insanely jealous. An enduring circus fantasy was born.

This fantasy lay dormant until, perhaps inevitably, I went to see the Cirque du Soleil in Manchester and fell head-over-heels for the aerialists. 

Cirque du Soleil aerial hoopists (Pic borrowed from
The Cirque du Soleil may have its critics, those who say it's too big, too slick, too impersonal, too stylised, too safe, bla bla, but if you've not had an awful lot of exposure to 'new circus', seeing a Cirque du Soleil show is like being punched in the heart by a rainbow. 

Seriously. I highly recommend it.  

I came away from it with stripes and hoops in my eyes, raving with whimsy and ridiculous circus wishes. I held no real hopes of becoming an actual performer, but... I was musical, could I play in a circus band? I liked words, could I write my own circus novel? I ordered a stack of secondhand books about the circus from Amazon and read them all as 'research' for said novel (it never happened, in case you're wondering). I forced my housemates to watch the entire first series of 'Carnivale' with me, even though it was rubbish, and basically just bored everyone around with dreams of flying through the air with the greatest of ease, until I got distracted by starting a MA course, pulled myself back to reality and put the whole thing behind me. 

Behind me that is, until I went to China and met a girl there who was a trapezista and clown from Argentina, who showed me that it was possible, really possible, to be a normal human being of this earth and be a trapezista and a clown. 

Behind me, until I returned to Britain and moved to Bristol, the home of the Circomedia circus school. 

Behind me, until I set my first, trembling little foot upon the bar of a trapeze.

But that, my dear readers, is another post!  Everything But The Circus - Part Two, in fact, which is Coming Soon.