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
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