“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
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 cultureandchips.com)
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 ffaentertainment.com)|
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.