Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Glastonbury Festival Part 2: The Circuses

Then of course there were all the other amazing things to see. In the Circus Tent, Circomedia (the Bristol circus school and international centre for Circus Arts) had their end of year graduate show, with a variety of accomplished circus folks - hoop, rope, hat juggling, and suchlike. The last time I saw them, there was a trapeze act involving catches (this time just one person swinging on the ropes), in costume telling a loose tale, and at one moment, the female artist missed the catch and fell - mercifully they were all wearing harnesses! but this time, there were no such hair-raising moments thankfully, and rather than something put all together, this time each act came on separately. Remarkably, probably the most striking was the lad with the hats - he rolled them about, caught them with his neck, and all in all, was highly professional and compelling. Next on were Wookey Hole Circus, seemingly a family concern with some very young performers who had, it looked like, been born into the circus. Most impressive were three aerial artists all on silk ropes of shimmering fabric, turning and twisting in unison.
The last time I went to/performed at Glastonbury, La Seda were doing the same kind of act with two performers on an outdoor stage - but while a spectacle, all in red, it was rather too glitzy, with emphasis on glamour rather than skill, and Wookey Hole Circus by contrast were definitely an event, but rather more engaging with the emphasis on co-ordination and prowess.
Something I saw a fair bit of was artists on single ropes, and they all did very good sets. But the last Festival, I saw someone that set the bar pretty high for a single aerial artist on a rope, and that was Persephone Watkins. Dressed simply, she was grace personified and did what I can only describe as aerial ballet. The skill and beauty of her performance were simply magical. And it was firmly in the category of 'art' rather than simply 'showbiz', and hence went down well with spectators like yours truly. Circus art can definitely be just that - art, but it does of course have its roots in spectacular entertainment for a mass audience.
Another type of act that's really taken off in the last few years is fire. Last time, Kirsten Poi (as in poi twirling, but hers were fire poi) was unusual as well as wonderful to watch, with her fans and fire, but this time there was fire everywhere.
Ms. Flames had a theatrical set, starting with a single burning flame in the centre of the stage, and going on (utilizing a good soundtrack and lighting) after various dance moves, to use not only fire poi, but then fire fans, and most memorably a fire parasol which opened and closed! Finally fire ropes (which looked pretty dangerous) and then involving two members of the audiences, with torches. (Though I couldn't decide whether especially the first was someone she knew or not - he certainly must have been a performer of some sort himself...he danced fluidly, following her movements and seemed even less phased by the fire than the other one chosen.)

But had I been a fire artist with a late night slot, it would have put me out (no joke intended) to be just over the way from the Temple of Fire on the Blazing Saddles outdoor stage, as each night they provided the - main? - fire show, with fire jugglers, fire fan wielders, fire hoops and of course plenty of fireworks. And all this within easy sight of the flaming fire throwing presence that is the Afterburner in Arcadia! Surely (despite the fire shows and circus/theatre, art/installations/walkabouts etc. being what makes Glastonbury so special for me personally) the fire acts should have been paced and placed farther apart in time and space.

The same was true of the Invisible Circus, performing in a venue opposite the Afterburner. They looked great (and I checked out their website afterwards - see weblink below) but with all that Arcadian splendour behind me, I was too distracted and so had to go and be hypnotized by it instead. Would love to catch the Invisible Circus properly though - especially their folks in white dresses abseiling down buildings featured in a video on their website!

Another amazing performance-without-actors (i.e. its chief feature lay in the imagination behind it and how it operated, taking many to construct it, but leaving as the final product an artifice that needed little else, like the Afterburner) was the Insect Circus Museum. A tiny fairground caravan which sometimes had a long queue, and sometimes didn't, and I was lucky enough to catch late in the evening when there wasn't one (thanks Liz!). In each little porthole, you sat on a low stool and switched a switch which made a light come on, illuminating a scene through the 'window' of extraordinary proportions, as giant bugs from beetles to wasps to butterflies were seen in circus rings as acts - for instance a ringmaster trying to make fierce giant wasps fly in formation! The attention to detail and optical illusion was simply breathtaking, and there were three or four such visions before the final larger 'grand finale', of many monster bugs taking part in a grand parade. 'Push button mechanical peep show models' was what they were technically. It was superb - imaginative, brilliantly executed, quirky, eccentric, and was very special as how many gypsy caravan shows or attractions could hold their own with fire and aerial acts surrounding them? They also have a full size insect circus! With folks kitted out as stag beetles etc., which wasn't there, but looks really worth catching. Check them out on the link below, it's well worth it.

Insect Circus;

Invisible Circus;

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