Sideshow pays a visit to Slip 6, a 19th Century warehouse in Chatham's Historic Dockyard, once used to build and launch ships, now the shell-home of a new creation centre with big aspirations.
'Being realistic we're not going to attract half a million, a million Pounds worth of funding – which, you know, two years ago we might have been able to. But while there is the La Brèche model, these other places like Atelier 231, these French centres that people hold up, they actually started out in a fairly rudimentary state and have been developed over the years and through many residencies.'
We start with an empty stage, bar a lone musician, Joanna Quail, who is teasing a mournful, yearning tune from her cello. Enter mic stand festooned with black feathers (brought on by stagehands who seem a little unsure about whether they are visible or not), and crooner Dusty Limits, who sings a melancholic version of I Wanna Be Loved By You.
Wham's Last Christmas on a gradual volume-build is as good a harbinger as any of the Devil's approach. In Vesturport's Faust it is something like the final straw – Johann, once a great actor, now a retiree in a nursing home, has just been gently rebuffed by his young nurse, Greta.
Les Argonautes are, in essence, a troupe of musical clowns, ‘making circus, where movement is king and speech sleeps’ as they charmingly put it.
'When I first started developing the act I was thinking, OK I want to make something really pretty, something really beautiful and, you know, in quotes, "pretty". And I started working that way and it just wasn't clicking and it wasn't coming together and I realised i'm not a pretty artist, it doesn't work for me. I don't have long arms and long legs. I'm powerful like a gymnast, so I have to make something that's powerful like that. And that's how I've always loved to move. I don't love to move in a dancerly way. I love to move in an aggressive way.'
Aerialist Shayna Swanson talks to Sideshow about her Mallakhamb-influenced rope solo Inbetweentime.
'I think the Pina Bausch thing ended up being stronger than we imagined—in my mind it was lightly inspired by Pina Bausch and it came out strong. I'd say it's only recently that her influence has come in. I'd say that maybe our early work was closer to our other hero, Merce Cunningham. Maybe NightClubs was a little bit more related to Merce's work and mathematics and complex space and all of that, and certainly all our early work was working with complex spatial arrangements. With Pina actually it's terrifying when you see her work because you just realise how much everyone's got out of it. Kontakthof and Café Müller are extraordinary and beautiful works. They hover at the back of your brain those pieces...'
Sideshow talks to Sean Gandini about Smashed!, the commission piece from Gandini Juggling's 2010 Watch This Space residency, and a work of beautiful destruction and perversity.
'Equestrian ‘performance’ holds a special interest for me. In my younger days I competed as a sport equestrian vaulter, a little-known discipline that shares more with circus or ice-skating than it does with the usual round of equestrian disciplines in the sporting world. Despite training at the time in theatre and dance, it was in equestrian vaulting that I first experienced the tangible feeling of ensemble and of a certain kinaesthetic sympathy with another performer – in this case the sympathetic bond between equine- and human-kind.'
Former prince of the ring Thomas Wilson reflects on the horse in contemporary circus performance.
A scandalised woman in front of me is reaching round to cover her son's eyes as Marilén Ribot, wearing a knotted corset of rope, struts back and forth to a disco beat.
Now in his sixth year programming the National Theatre's three-month, outdoor mega-festival Watch This Space, Angus MacKechnie talks to Sideshow about the WTS residencies, stretching the budget, and pulling in the Alan Bennett audience
Originally made in just five days and performed for four nights to an audience of friends in the tiny stables of Switzerland's Circus Monti, InStallation has since moved into a tent and toured some of Switzerland and France's largest festivals. Following a UK performance at Milton Keynes' IF Festival, one of the creators, Roman Müller, talks to Sideshow about staying faithful to the intimacy and roughness of those first performances.
One memory of InStallation is a chain of enduring images, seen through washes of blue and white light. A Chinese pole swings as a pendulum, casting a crisp shadow.
Prurient, cacophonic, in bad taste (but not very), crude, annoying, overloud, overlong—The Butler is a play written for a cast of seven circus performers and one actor that treads familiar ground in using the brittle social dynamics of the dinner party as a starting-point for a narrative that wants to reveal hard truths of human falseness, self-interest and venality.
Four grey-robed Keepers tend the grounds of St Alfege churchyard and the gateway to the next life. From a list of names of the interred, three are chosen: Levinia Fenton, Gibson Grimly and Jose Manuel Fricachee—unquiet spirits who need to tell their stories in order to move on.
The tent is an art object. A ceiling of translucent white fabric, sawdust in the ring, bales of hay, block and primary colours on the wooden walls, a red velvety curtain for backstage, check patterns and stripes.
Fuse Medway, City of London, Glastonbury, Watch This Space, Greenwich + Docklands, Surge, Theatre Meadows, Stockton International Riverside, Edinburgh Fringe, The Big Splash...
Sideshow boils and reduces the summer festival programmes into one combined guide.
With a dearth of circus or physical theatre work in the Brighton Festival, it came down to the Fringe to fill the gaps. Enter the Freerange: a great red plastic geodesic dome which was parked on a church green in central Brighton—a temporary refuge for circus, variety and cabaret.
There's a certain kind of artist for whom their life is their work—meaning not just that they dedicate themselves full-time to their art-making, but that what they present on stage, or in books or on canvas, is, or feels, very close to the way they must conduct themselves from day to day.
Mental illness is vivid and also soulful. The soundtrack of mental illness is turntable scratching or bass-heavy dance music. Obsessive compulsive disorder manifests principally in outbreaks of pop n lock. Jumping off a building (onto a crashmat, with back layouts) may be the best cure for schizophrenia.
Last year I saw and reviewed the first part of Muualla, a collaboration between exceptional Finnish aerialist Ilona Jäntti and animator Tuula Jeker, and was broadly charmed by the world it created—a child's realm of exploration and pantomime danger where both the pleasures and the threats were imaginary.
Le Grand C might be disruptive to your normal breathing. Working with pitching (one of the oldest acrobatic disciplines, where groups of bases toss flyers to each other's waiting arms), Compagnie XY ensnare their audience in a constant action of tension and release.
The programme for Migrations has as its centrefold a timeline of the history of diaspora, starting with the Phoenicians in Lebanon (c. -3000 BC), tracking the movements of the Huns, the Magyars and the imperialist British, and ending in 2007 with the arrival at Circus Space of the recently graduated degree students who are onstage tonight.
'Nights were spent brainstorming about London and how to capture the essence of London through circus. We ended up with notebooks crammed with words and crumpled-up pieces of paper. On them were scribbled ideas such as the parallels between London and circus (i.e. violence or immediacy), words (rain, grey, loneliness), physical ideas of how to use the space, and some indecipherable things that have been forgotten.'
Collectif and then... on the lead-up to the first performance of their first full theatre piece, Like the rain when it stops.
Ah, circus theatre! The age-old dilemma of how to combine two opposing forces: the drive from ‘theatre’ to present characters telling stories that reach us through memory and imagination (evoking ‘there’ and ‘then’), and the drive from ‘circus’ to be in the here and now.
'We're developing a multitouch screen—a bit like an iPhone but much bigger. I'm developing a programme, an application, that is currently working on a small-scale prototype, where we can zoom in and manipulate objects on the screen. Then we'll make it to a larger scale. And then with this theme of folie a deux [a madness shared by two], the underlying idea for the touchscreen is to show "impossible" things and how in the mind you can develop paths that are completely wrong.'
Sideshow interviews Sebastien Valade and Rachel Pollard of Green Eyed Zero about remotely operating their sound and tech cues while performing on stage, the place of technology in their work, and their plans for a new show.
Extending roughly from the what if premise of what if Layla had known her Saudi Arabian father and grew up under different cultural conditions, the piece is less committed to a thorough exploration of that scenario than a strategy of dissonance and subversion that unseats any single narrative before it can dig in.
'My desire to create work in non-conventional places, my desire to create work in what became a label, 'site-specific', comes not from a trend. I've been doing it for 25 years. And why? Because live performance—and I'm not calling it theatre or otherwise, I'm calling it live performance—is 150 years behind the visual arts. Live performance is still very much, in terms of how it is being read, is very much that proscenium arch left-to-right without ever challenging the thinking process of the viewer.'
Sideshow interviews director Firenza Guidi about her work on 6½ Flying Circus' first show, Canto - The Last Flying Chance in the North; her long-term collaboration with NoFit State; her collaborations with space; and lab work on NoFit State's new piece for the hated pros arch.
Circus has always understood the appeal of the mechanical process. It's intrinsic to the artform at close examination, but just in the course of LIMF10 ideas in this line have taken more explicit form in The Mill (a giant, human-powered factory) and Öper Öpis (an unstable, tilting stage).
Bring on the gallows! A trapdoor in the floor is thrown back and the gallows carried in, fixed in place over a tank of water, and strung with a perforated metal box that contains two animate badger skulls (brothers). In punishment for their disobedience, they are lowered into the water and held there for several minutes.
I think really I had my fill of Okidok with their first Mimefest showing, Slips Inside, and going back within a week to see their second piece was never going to show them in their best light.