Edinburgh Fringe Festival; 5th August 2014
Bianco 2014 is a subtler, deeper, cleaner thing than the last version I saw, whilst maintaining the joyous freedom and anarchic undercurrent that marks the Welsh NoFit State Circus. The show is a thing of beauty, and reminds us of the magic to be found in every part of life.
This year’s tagline is ‘Here Be Dragons’ and, as we move between the shifting landscapes of white scaffolding towers underneath the big top, we are moved between the poignancy of home, and the fears and exhilarations that come from facing the new and unexplored. This year’s live band (made up of Doug Kemp, Annette Loose, Calum McIntyre and Andy Moore) leads us on a journey of moods and cultures, tied together by a jazz vibe in the original compositions of David Murray, which fleshes out the visual, physical music composed by the circus performers in the air and all around.
As we enter the tent, we pass the bar and concession stands, which are enhanced this year with an external cafe bar, and rustic seating created out of disused pallets and cable drums, turning the wasteground site into a unique place for us. Inside, we can explore at will, and I’m drawn towards the gauze covered central sections, lit at moments to allow us a glimpse of the ghostly figures alive within. They begin to bleed into our world, or we into theirs.
The performances are honed and vibrant, from the wild abandon of Lyndall Merry and Anna-Fay Audet Johnston on parallel swinging trapeze, to the exquisite flow of Hugo Oliveira (Maciel)’s wholly seated juggling, or the five growling bats of bodies hauled into the air on ropes, clawing and grasping at their tethers as if that rope were the oxygen needed to breath.
A two-level tightwire act from smooth, suave, Geoffrey Berhault includes somersaults, hand-balances, and a sauntered ease with hands in pockets. A spilled sandwich is the only excuse we need for the trousers to come off, and the good grace and humour with which he recovers from a missed leap between the wires is consistent with the high quality of his whole act.
Fred Rendell presents his Cyr wheel in the centre of the ring, and I’m surprised his spins on the floor in a backwards crab position don’t garner more applause. Hooked onto a counterweight by a floating ninja, he rises into the air surrounded by female shadows on traditional hoops and, returning to the ground, we see and hear the effort as he heaves the heavy ring around and around, swinging into the horizontal plane to rise and spin again.
The first half is neatly topped and tailed with spoken poetic text; we hear a pre-recorded Augusts Dakteris tell us ‘I have a new home’, as the live version dives from the top of the tent towards the floor on his aerial straps, and this show feels like it has become a true home for all the performers. For all his strength and muscle, Dakteris is a delicate performer, like a lion conserving his full power, hinting at a ferocity under the surface. With Freya Watson on counterweight, and the band crooning lyrics that must resonate with us all – ‘I want a fairy tale’ – the half is brought to a close with flames and passive witness from the rest of the ensemble.
If director Firenza Guidi has recurring favourite motifs, it’s because they are effective and beautiful, and this is the first time I’ve seen the burning torches taken to the air.
In the second half, we are welcomed back with an inventive pool party, where beach balls are flung about, brightening the monochrome world, and the ensemble bounce and swing with delight around the central construction, built from the ever changing towers.
To a voice-over that evokes the nightmare of being crushed, then finding new courage, Elena Burani appears easy on the vertical ropes as she sheds her yards of spreading silk, sitting atop the rope lazily scratching her knee, before making her way downwards in a seemingly leisurely series of poses across three ropes dangling adjacently; Johnston is fresh and funny in a hand-balance act that sees her washing her hair in the kitchen sink, flashing her sparkling knickers and rattling off a chatty monologue in French; a triple cloud-swing features as an object of desire, briefly captured by Jani NightChild (Jani Foldi) and then reached for and lunged at by other members of the cast before being raised to the usual solo rope for Watson’s swinging. A choral witness builds in intensity, with Watson’s breathing heavy and ragged over the radio mic, until a sequence of 360° spins around the rope from wrapped ankles leave my breath catching too.
Members of the company rise and fall, in cages curtained with glittering, tinkling strands of beads, giving a gentle moment for the five counterweighting performers to show their skills and artistry, and the show moves to a fragile state as Watson and Merry roll into light and fleeting balances across their revolving aerial frame to the haunting Scottish accent of McIntyre singing ‘We’re coming to take you home today’.
The costuming, by Rhiannon and Angharad Matthews, is clear and attractive in a black and white fantasy of sharp stripes and floating fabrics. The drifting chiffon skirt that Sage Bachtler Cushman wears for the dance trapeze finale is only one example of the total integration of their designs into the overall concept of the show. As the demure, swirling fabric is shed to reveal Cushman’s colourfully painted leg tattoos, and she is shaken around amidst a falling snow by counterweight Marco Fiera, the band remind us to ‘Take a look around, and try to be afraid of nothing at all.’
Using their own tent as a venue, Bianco is not restricted to the 60 minute turn-around of most Fringe shows in Edinburgh, and the two hours end in a jubilant curtain call. The thrill of power at being allowed the freedom to choose our own vantage points and paths through the show adds to its emotional intensity; life is affirmed, and we should grab what it offers while we can.