Sunday, 1 March 2015

Circus Video of the Month - February

Something a little bit different this month! I have been watching all the circus documentaries I can find for free online (which, although there are tons that you have to pay for, isn't actually that many, booooo. I'm waiting on tenterhooks for 'Grazing the Sky' to go on sale...) and this is hands down the best.

It's an Al Jazeera feature from 2012, about a circus enterprise in Morocco called Cirque Shems'y. Cirque Shems'y started out as a social circus project for disadvantaged kids, but then became the first national circus in Morocco.

It's definitely worth taking 25 minutes out of your day to watch this, for the following reasons:

  • It's aesthetically very enjoyable! The contrast between the shots of sweltering, arid Morroccan scenery, deprived areas of town, etc. and the energy and design of the acts / show makes for a really striking effect.
  • Every single person in it has passion and love shining out of them.
  • There's no pretension, just genuine excitement to be part of something and to be creating something new, as well as having the chance to do what they love and transcending the problems that they had in their lives before.
  • It shows the director massively losing his shit somewhere in the middle, which makes it clear how much he cares about the show (it's very endearing) and creates some nice narrative tension, meaning that you can share in a bit of the pleasure when the show goes well.
  • The live band which accompanies the performance at the end.  Not only do they play beautiful music, they also just look BRILLIANT. I want to join them!
  • The soundbites from the performers (see below)


One of the best things about it is the way you see the radiant positivity of the performers transferred to the members of the audience who are interviewed after they watch the show.  This feels really important to me - maybe it's the point of spending all those hours honing and creating something amazing? Communicating a part of your passion and inspiration to other people, who maybe aren't able to spend the time connecting with those things through physical training, but can benefit from sharing them nonetheless?   

The aspect of this video that really stayed with me, though, are some of the things the performers say near the end:

'when you are onstage, you feel a sense of real joy. You have to really concentrate and you get a really nice feeling...'

'When we're in this ordinary everyday world, we feel ordinary. But when I'm in the circus and I'm up in the air doing a sequence I know really well, I have a feeling of lightness... like a dove flying free.  I feel really free.'

'When I get on stage, it's just like I'm dreaming. I forget everything in my head, everything vanishes. I'm not there, my body is just doing things unconsciously.'

I think this really helps explain why learning circus skills can have such a strong effect on people.  The words 'freedom' and 'joy' come up again and again in talk about the experience of doing things like aerial and acrobatics.  And the idea of concentration and forgetting yourself fits exactly with the whole theory of 'flow' - the younger boy in the film even uses that very word: 'I just flow with the show, flow and flow...til I feel it's over.'  You've probably encountered it before, but basically 'flow' is the mental state that is supposed to occur when someone is immersed in an activity which is neither too difficult or too easy, but is perfectly pitched to their abilities with clear, achievable goals. When you are in flow, you are so absorbed in what you're doing that you lose all sense of time, or yourself, and your emotions are spontaneously positive and energised.  Flow is pretty much the key to happiness - if you believe what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says anyway (I think I do). 

This all may be particularly interesting to me because I'm so into the idea of the 'benefits' of doing circus (and because I have a bit of an unrequited desire to visit Morocco), but I really think this is an excellent piece of human interest documentary.  Hopefully you do too!

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