I am, once again, very lucky to be in London during the International Mime Festival. If you didn't read my blog on this topic last year, this is a physical-theatre festival that has almost nothing to do with actual mime, and it features many of the most innovative European circus companies. Greg and I were able to catch three shows this past week (separately); Greg went to see a puppetry group called Blind Summit on Monday, which he very much enjoyed.
I began by seeing the Gandini Juggling Project's show, Smashed, on Thursday at the Royal Opera House. What a thoroughly enjoyable show! ....some background here. Sean Gandini and his troupe have been doing ground-breaking object manipulation work for about 20 years. (since before I learned to juggle, that is.) In the mid-1990s, when I was studying in England, they were already well-known for their brilliance and weirdness. I remember when Sean and Kati came to teach a workshop to us Circomedia students. The two things Sean emphasized - that dropping was wonderful!; and that to get good at something, you must practice every day, especially the days when you really don't feel like practicing.
I also remember seeing the Gandini Juggling Project performing at an IJA convention in the late `90s, and having a hard time connecting with their work. It was too esoteric, too abstract for me, their exploration of movement around props had just gone too far from my understanding (or interest?).
Fast-forward fifteen years or so, and here is Smashed. With 9 fantastic jugglers on the stage, and the only juggling prop being apples, I had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be an hour of laughter and amazement and very few lulls. The characters were playful and the choreography was inventive. The audience was watching human scenes in action, where the language spoken was apple-juggling. Some of my favorite moments were this sitting-in-a-row juggling sequence, where each person had just two apples; the five-apple-juggling chapter where one performer tried to knock the others down; Sean & Kati's duet, which echoes work they've done together for all these years; and of course the climactic ending, with smashed apples and crockery and knocked-over chairs - a tremendous mess that succeeded in being exciting, shocking, and funny all at once. All in all, I was truly impressed with the balance they've struck between being creative, and yet accessible.
Then, I went to No Fit State Circus with the kids today. Unfortunately I don't have a good report for this one. I had high hopes - I'd heard of No Fit State over the years (they've been in existence since 1986) and their Web site boasts that they are "leading the renaissance of contemporary circus in the UK". But this show was grungy and creepy. The artistic direction, music, costumes and lighting were all very unappealing. ...skill-wise, I was also in despair by intermission, although at least in that department there was some improvement in the 2nd act. But a pet peeve of mine (and Greg's, too) is when someone brings something really interesting onto the stage, and then goes nowhere with it. And that happened a number of times during this show. A shout-out is deserved, however, to the juggler girl who did all kinds of acrobatic stunts while maintaining her 3-ball cascade, and the big tricks of the swinging trapeze artist. I enjoyed the static trapeze artist's lean-out on the dangling silks, into her toe hang. So there were certainly some glimpses of novelty, making it worthwhile.
I wish I had a chance to see all of the shows in the festival - there are a lot of other intriguing ones! - but time and budget will not allow. Nonetheless, I am excited and encouraged, as always, to have a glimpse of the evolution of circus arts here in Great Britain.