Big Sexy Circus City, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 14th August 2015
Wings In My Heart is an extraordinary work of circus innovation developed by the husband and wife team Rigolo: Lena Roth and visionary artist Maedir Eugster – famed for creating the Sanddorn Balance that has found recent internet celebrity, and which is performed by their youngest daughter Marula Rigolo as a pin-drop finale to this show. Wings had its World Premiere in autumn 2014 and is now appearing in the UK for the first time.
In a search for personal freedom and peace – its symbol a feather, whose presence builds throughout the full-length production – the figure of Marula progresses through strange worlds to find her own serenity, taking the loose narrative of ‘voyage and return‘ that has seen such success in the Cirque Du Soleil canon.
One of Eugster’s key signatures in Wings is visual illusion, with people and objects materialising and transforming like a dream come to life. Live and recorded music, dance, and aerial performance with excitingly novel equipment combine to produce a spellbinding show that will inevitably go on to become iconic in the genre.
Wings has an elemental nature, in keeping with the Eastern philosophy that inspires and drives the piece. While air and flight take the most significant prominence, we are grounded by the tap dancing of Daniel Borak, beating the rhythm of life with live drumming from Julius Oppermann in a percussive jam, or swirling in the sand with Kemal Dempster; the opening of the show sees a line of flame transmute into a life-giving pool of water.
Projected texts on two side screens pen spiritual concepts that inform the acts that follow. The solid black and white of the projection design sits rather awkwardly with the aesthetic qualities of the rest of the show – which is ambitiously lit and includes costumes which devolve from great intricacy leading to a simpler purity of spirit – but are at least easily legible. Particularly in the first half, not all the lighting choices pay off, but when we are sprinkled with scattered rays, or watching glowing arms become wings of their own, then the effects are remarkable.
Wings In My Heart introduces wholly original acts to the circus repertoire: a pair of spinning frames that whirl with the bodies of Jennie Ritchie and Suren Bozyan and with their own momentum as counterpoint to the dancing pair, often looking millimetres away from collision; shifting harmonics of dance and physics (such as explored in 4X4), revealed through a newton’s cradle and the acrobatically limber company weaving in and around the swaying globes that then become a galaxy, a universe, the music of the spheres; Karyna Konchakiviska and Bozyan again in a pas de deux mediated by the ropen pulley that both separates and connects them, growing to a leaping bell-ringers’ struggle that leaves my mouth agape.
After the interval, a bird in the form of a kite flies in the tent, and a green lit storm shakes us; the drama is tangible, even if the use of circus’ own ominous codes is missed. Ritchie manipulates a giant pair of mechanical wings into a regular graceful waft through her turns and acrobatic relationship to the central pivot, soaring down to raise Marula into a cloudswing suspended underneath, gifting her with the palm rib that suggests the famous balance act to come.
Marula’s image is formed, Picasso-like, from fragmented shards of birds, while Oppermann rolls a large swirling drum. From a desert sandscape Borak and Dempster rediscover their playfulness and light. Finding her own wings, to the sounds of breath and meditative chanting, Marula begins to build the YouTube sensation. Live before us the tension is thrilling. Slowly rotating, she adds piece after piece, as if creating a ladder in perpetual motion, with supreme control over her own weight centre.
The final image has more power to it than I could have conceived, and I find myself unable to catch my breath, a face full of tears. A sweet and human ending reconnects the performers and the audience to the realities of our world, but I need to take a minute to recompose myself.
The show, less than a year old, is not perfect, but I don’t think I would be understating the case to mark Eugster as a genius of creation. If I could revisit my Fringe experience for one night, this is the show I would be returning to see.