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> > > Graeae and Circo Crescer e Viver present Belonging

24 April 2014

Earlier this month Graeae joined forces with Circo Crescer e Viver at the Roundhouse in Camden for a short run of a new circus-based piece of work ‘Belonging’ as part of the Roundhouse Circus Fest. Review by Liz Porter

photo of a female performer in a white wedding dress, hanging from a chandelier

Sara Bente performs in Belonging - a collaboration between Graeae and Circo e Viver. Photo © Patrick Baldwin

Expectations for Belonging were high considering the amount of excellent aerial work the company have produced in recent years. The central theme for this multi-lingual (English Brazilian, BSL) show was about where you belong, and how spaces, buildings, people, objects and shoes (in particular), trigger memories.

The setting was a group of people converging on a building, which is about to be demolished, to revisit their relationship with the space and each other. Within this premise the characters share stories in a series of simple aerial, dance and brief spoken word encounters, accompanied by evocative and sometimes haunting music.

Jude Mahoon gave a good literal audio-description (AD) of the action on stage, signposting appropriately to where to look next and providing reasonable descriptions of the action. A few straightforward elements could be added to the AD alluding to the lovely shadow work and mood lighting, which adds poetic layers to the piece.

On stage, large hoops, red silks, a hanging chandelier from which a woman in a white wedding dress rises and sits for the first part of the show. To the right a woman sits with piles of shoes of all sizes and shapes, and to the left there is a kitchen sink. Two trapezes hang mid-stage in front of a white backdrop with a central imagined door.

The audience are provoked to question a sense of belonging, childhood peer identity and acceptance, as well as the need for cultural understanding – and our relationship with our feet. Prosthetic legs are used creatively in movement. They are taken on and off and explored as extensions of individuals.

Where the legs were perhaps overused, the reference to shoes could have been explored more. I recall at drama school learning about Joan Littlewood who believed fervently that you got your basis for a character from the shoes you wear; so we were always encouraged to find our character shoes early on in the rehearsal process, so that we got used to how the character stood, sat, moved, etc.

There were some good moments in the piece; a childhood play, a tango dance, a trapeze fight and some interesting use of multi-layered language. However, I did not feel emotionally connected, because most of the performers were concentrating so much on the circus work they were doing, it didn't feel as though they were ‘in’ their roles. Belonging showed the potential to go a long way, but this performance felt very much, in development, rather than a fully rehearsed piece of work.

What attracts me to circus and physical theatre is the clever, highly-skilled and often death-defying catch in your stomach moments the performers deliver. Performers who have obviously trained for years and shows that probably have longer rehearsal lead-in times. Companies like No Fit State, Les Ballets C de la B and Cirque Soleil weave full-on, often politically charged storylines, poetry and live performance in and around some death-defying trigger moments. It’s exhilarating to experience; especially when their imaginative use of space is part of the process. 

The casts of these companies are often culturally diverse and on occasion they use disabled performers. However wonderful these performances are; access is usually poor. So I’m all for Graeae collaborating. Sharing experience is good for both sides. However, I don’t want to see circus performed by disabled people just for the ‘sake of it’. 

In Belonging it was clear that some of the performers had more circus experience than others. I have huge respect for anyone who hangs upside down from a hoop or silk with a 30 foot drop below, yet there needs to be some form of quality evaluation; and first and foremost more training and recognition that to be at the top end of the game it takes years of work. 

Whilst you’ve got to start somewhere (and I do believe Graeae have made some headway here), I think each production needs to be carefully considered so as not to be tokenistic and yes this probably means more rehearsal time to take accessibility exploration into account too. There's no way circus can be an add on, and sometimes it feels like it is.

I don’t know if there’s ever been a conference to look at the current role for deaf and disabled people in circus but it would be a good idea.

Dates for Belonging to tour Brazil are to be announced soon. Please click on this link to Graeae's website for more information


Sophie Partridge

25 April 2014

‘There is no house like the house of belonging’ David Whyte

“Where do we long to be?” was the premise of this piece. A cast of 10, including 4 women and evenly split between Graeae and the Brazilian performers; all with a range of impairments.

The conceit was that characters only had 15 minutes to say a fond farewell to the space they were in – a place where each character felt they belonged. The 50 minute piece was a loosely constructed narrative around intimate aerial moments of duets & solos.

Having worked previously with several of the Graeae cast members last summer, on The Limbless Knight, I know what a challenge that is; particularly with both time and budget constraints and as with this piece, additional challenges of working in 2 different spoken languages in a rehearsal period of only 2 & a half weeks. I feel there’s always a danger with aerial piece, that they will end up being “100 & 1 things to do on a hoop”!

Some beautiful, intimate moments, did ensure Belonging was more than that: the show opening with Brazillian performer Sara Bentes singing whilst suspended high, Tiiu’s Mortley’s solo, Jez Scarratt’s piece which melted into duet with the w/chair-using Brazillian performer Vivianne Macedo. Only Stephen Bunce could think to hide behind a shoe(!) and his trapeze duet with a Brazillian performer, plus Signed exchange, was a highlight.

Also Tina Carter’s choregraphy was evident in these moments. Other personal highlights included a strong movement by Vivianne to indicate “this is me” in a universal language where words are not necessary, her hands sliding down her torso to incorporate her `chair. This, into a tango danced with Milton Lopes’ (he’s been doing a lot of that lately in another show!). Milton is a highly skilled aerial performer and his strong stage presence throughout, provided some much needed slick gel to Belonging.

The connection on his & Vivianne’s faces in that moment, ignited a real spark and perhaps this was what was needed more throughout; those strong connections in general. Some performer pairings worked better than others and the characters at times, felt disparate. For me the tango lit a fuse which wasn’t quite maintained. All the makings of a great show are there; the idea of people belonging to each other as much as to places, is a great theme but I felt (in my Not very humble opinion!) we needed to see that more. I love a story and a stronger narrative could give the show some dynamism to drive it forward; a little more of that slick gel and then perhaps, less could have in fact been More.

Over all, Belonging felt it hadn’t had the proper development & rehearsal time it deserved. This does become generally problematic when tickets are priced at that for a `finished’ show and calls into question the whole issue about Funding (and putting Belonging completely aside for the moment); can it actually do more harm than good to offer `carrots’ for projects which, when shown, feel incomplete because realistic funding has not been provided?

Aerial work is a highly skilled art form and particularly when working with disabled performers, who have to do extra `work’ just to get up on those hoops & trapezes, it takes TIME in rehearsals. This surely should be acknowledged and funded adequately?

Considering all these barriers to the development process, Belonging at the very least, cut it’s swathe but to truly belong in memory, needs realistic resources for proper development.

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