Stilt-walking has always been the most lavishly costumed circus discipline—a lot of times the pleasure is in seeing the bespoke detailing and the ways in which the weaknesses of stilts (the need to cover up the legs, the jerky movement) have become strengths of the design (cloven hooves for pegs, insectile limbs, giant stilt robots, etcetera). In Danza Antigua we have corpse and corpse bride—Søren Nielsen and Daniela Essart, skeletal king and queen—in black, white, deep red and royal yellow. It sends a little stir through the crowd when they first see them: they look great, like they belong in a grim night carnival, Søren lumbering on at the start and pausing to crack his neck back round, relocate his shoulder. The act itself is very simple. There are two aerialists—looking something like dead, pallid elves—whose silk and doubles hoop routines are interleaved with stilt dancing (tango and cha cha cha) from Søren and Daniela. There’s a great mood—the dead come out to dance—that’s helped along by the environment: the company perform under, and rig from, a huge overreaching tree, and at the edges of the ring there’s real fire, real smoke—the smell of it drifts back and forth.
Following Scarabeus’ performance, the audience moved across Rochester Castle Gardens (quite a few of them ran) to the big aerial rig where Upswing were performing Loved Up. It’s billed I think as a battle of the sexes which here means combative flirtation and eventual resolution. Four characters—two guys, two girls—sit (but not still) on a bench. As they jostle for position, dancing on the seat and around it, attractions are formed and dissolved. It’s what you’d broadly call street dance—breaking and popping with some other stuff mixed in—and the performers are very good, having enough variance in their styles that they retain some of the eccentricity that lies at the heart of breakdance and gives it its life. The show works very well as outdoor performance for a large audience (probably 500+ the night I saw it)—it’s quick and light and playful, draws its characters and narrative with clean lines. In a way the wired sections are sort of superfluous, or carry principally the interest of novelty and distraction: it would have worked fine played out entirely on the ground, but the aerial work (brief counterweighted aerial tricks when the characters pair off to duet) adds something in making Loved Up feel like a special and sizeable event—closing the first day of Fuse Medway’s second weekend and leaving the audience abuzz.