I wanted to see more of this stalwart of the circus world. I’m amazed by the number of people who turn up to see them. Now, even with Alegría one of Cirque du Soleil’s older shows has been revised and dubbed ‘In a New Light’.
Whilst I remained impressed by the international effort from a range of the circus spectrum, the novelty can wear off quite quickly. The clowns were just that little too childish, the only thing for the adults was a very suggestive cleaning of a gun motif which went on for years. There is universal humor, though the British like things a bit more angular. Flame eaters wowed with their circular fury. Ariel acts dazzled with grace and spirit. The singers belt out the same unrelenting refrain of ALEGRÍA just a little too much, though other songs are sweet and loving. Even the clowns made fun of this when the title song came up on their radio during a clean up of paper snow spread across the promenade and stalls.
Director Franco Dragone, with creative director Gilles Ste-Croix have created a show which would have held more weight back in its day. The costumes by Dominique Lemieux recall the golden era of fashion not quite circus eras but Art-Deco, Gothic and more. Composer René Dupéré wrote an award winning plush score not afraid to get really soupy or even rocky heavy. I realised that the acts are very similar from other shows, I guess it’s just the trappings which change. The athletic prowess ever wants…it’s the pacing which struggles. A hock story about a crystal king is very slight and the clowns play a role in this, with little of so called plot development.
Most will find lots to love in Alegría: In A New Light. I think i’ll take a break for a while from the all consuming circus spectacle.
Alegría: In A New Light runs at the Royal Albert Hall till 3rd March, then on tour in Spain.
Who would have thought that if you combined pigeons and circus, you’d have a brilliant time?
Lucky Pigeons is Brainfools Ed Fringe debut, and what a debut it is. This is a highly interactive, family friendly show. Before any action even takes place, our main “human” character is out in the audience, introducing herself to each member of the audience, interacting with the children and ensuring that they are comfortable with the next hour.
A boy called Oscar becomes an unbeknownst star when he is called upon regularly to come straight onto the stage and help. The grin on this boy’s face is infectious and his excitement to take part is electric. Lucky Pigeons has really provided an opportunity to make a core memory for this kid.
Our main character loses her job and becomes lost on a street where she meets a group of pigeons who magically become human size and teach her the ways of the pigeon life which is… circus. There’s a sense of learning from them and improving of her mood from these simple yet talented figures. Their costumes border human with suit-like outfits but bright feathers and colourful face paint, pigeon style hats and movement like a bird. It is engaging, and fun, cute and adorable.
The tricks are of course impressive, acrobatics from the built staging in front of us, tricks with no support at all and team balancing acts. There are the occasional mistake but these are picked up quickly and moved on with little notice. There is silly comedy and slapstick, which, from the sounds of the children, tickles them and therefore achieves what it sets out to do.
Lucky Pigeons is engaging, fun, comical and ticks all the boxes for a family friendly show. It may be catered for this demographic, but anyone can find it enjoyable and hugely endearing.
There is something very powerful about theatre being built around you. Even more so when it’s circus, around, in front and above your head.
Walking into the space, we are faced with only a lonely deflated tent, that we are asked to stand around and watch as it comes alive. We start from the outside until we are welcomed in and under the tent. In front of us, the tent grows and grows and is built before us. There’s a sense of consent – that we are only allowed into this magical world when we are invited.
This reminds me a lot of No Fit State, Bianco, where the staging is ever changing and we see the build before us. However, with Brave Space, we are brought in close to one another, in an intimate and close encounter – the space is safe, the space is brave.
My only criticism with this is that we are such a large audience, that this becomes slightly uncomfortable, with the pressure of the tent on your head if you’re at the back. When we are asked to lie down and watch acrobatics above us, again, it feels compact, little awkward and some couldn’t quite find the space to do this so miss out on the impact. If you’re lucky enough to lie down, it’s magical and a new and relaxed perspective.
The actual circus tricks are of course brilliant and awe-inspiring. There’s the occasional mistake but this is picked up quickly and effortlessly, with very little impact on the smooth transitions.
Brave Space is a tranquil and intimate circus show, bringing us together and creating a new world, built before our eyes.
In a small, circular lecture theatre, we are brought an avant-garde expression of anxiety through the forms of dance, circus, music and .. oh a Llama.
From an Australian duo, Oat Milk & Honey quite effectively use their platform to share how anxiety feels, not only for the person experiencing it but also the impact on others.
There is no narration or vocals bar the occasional breath of the moving performer and pre-recorded voice overs but the silence is filled with beautiful, original compositions which occasionally go off-piste to express the interruption anxiety can create.
It feels relatively slow paced and it would have been interesting if there had been a change of pace. There was a little of this, interrupting the seriousness with an element of comedy when a performer comes in dressed as a Llama, reflecting the fact of serotonin created from watching Llama’s run which we hear at the beginning in a voice over.
There’s no doubt that both of these performers have great talent in their own right; a talented composer and musician and a very flexible and powerful dancer, circus performer. And each part of this performance is really interesting to watch but continues at the same pace which loses attention.
Oat Milk & Honey is transcendental and soothing, with a poke of humour but needed some different speed levels to keep the intrigue.
Perhaps the name to be most associated with the art of circus, Cirque du Soleil needs little introduction. With their meteoric rise in world-wide tours they have become an industry of their own making. Truly something to aspire to.
First seen back in 2014, Kurious – Cabinet of Curiosities is a steam-punk, fever dream showing of many eye-bulging acts. There are way too many names to mention (from 22 different countries) but I was staggered by the energy, the athleticism and the bravado that all offered. I honestly wouldn’t have minded a bit more of a narrative approach, something to be hooked by between screens changes and the like. Through this approachable universality of the whole thing is a crowd pleasing decision often through broad humour, metallic spectacle and outrageous feats. This is also the most props they have ever used for any of their shows: 426 in total.
Michel Laprise as writer and director has tapped into a goldmine of ideas here, the unrelenting flux of circus testament to the evening. Some personal favourite acts were Chih-Min Tuan, his intimate and dazzling Yo-Yo skills, something I never expected to see on a show of this scale. The hand puppet work of Theatre of Hands was just wonderful and clever, one of many delights. From Ukraine, Andrii Bondarenko left people flabbergasted with his Upside Down World something which just needs to be seen to be believed. Contortionists astride a giant mechanical hand, shock with their nimbleness and fluidity. Aerial and net play also were delightful with nods to The Creature from the Black Lagoon and other winks. Off note was the singer Sophie Guay, with a gramophone horn in her hair who added an extra depth to the acts and kept up a fine rollicking swing. The band were also a sensation, the celli being visible from the clockwork backstage.
The amazing set and costumes are of the finest quality as well, evoking the surreal, French Canadian vibe of the whole show. Mr Microcosmos played by Mathieu Hubener took on 20 pounds of metal costumes, a protruding belly where Mademoiselle Lili lived. Tackled by Rima Hadchiti, an evocation of circus of the past is here as her inclusion as a dwarf is a well handled and welcoming force and she often left us smiling. The Tomanobv Brothers appeared at first to be conjoined twins but this was a lie, something which leaves a bit of a bad taste today. Though their aerial straps act had us reeling.
Framing the whole event was Cherecher played by Antonio Moreno, a mad scientist of sorts, lost between dreams and the real world, often floating around in the air. Facundo Giminez had his Invisible Circus (an idea which could have gone either way were it not for the squibs and strings) and a odd scene when he dragged a poor lady on stage and began to throw up a mock hairball as a cat he took the persona of.
I’d recommend for the spectacle, though those seeking more meaty stories might need to look else where.
It’s been a while since many of us were in a big top, and I for sure missed the element of being in a field, walking into a giant tent and being wowed from start to finish.
The Wing Scuffle Spectacular takes the elements of fear and laughs in the face of it. Along with what we all expect – spectacular stunts, comedy and those ooh and ahh moments, there is also a narrative where the performers face danger but really, there is no real danger. For example, flawless rope acrobatics over broken glass has its illusion shattered (pardon the pun) when the performer stands on them on the end and it isn’t really glass. Despite these illusions being dropped cleverly, we never expect it as they intertwine this will real death defying stunts. There’s a comedy to it when your heart is in your throat and suddenly it is all a farce – Revel Puck are showing us to face our fears and make light of the danger.
Traditional Circus is always in play when we have our resident clown bringing the comedy between each stunt, with his own talented tricks and skills. He has his own narrative – a budding friendship between him and the… Lion! Don’t worry, there’s no real animal here but the development of a stuffed toy that gradually gets bigger throughout the show. From terrorising him, to becoming friends, to a romance, the clown and the Lion made the children and adults alike scream with laughter.
What I love about Circus is that the tricks and stunts tend to be similar or on the same path, but the way they are executed along with the narrative is what really makes it. And this troupe certainly bring their own performance, comedy and personalities which really adds to the general theme.
The only elements that felt awkward and with a need to fill were times when there was no silence or dialogue. It felt, well, a little static – some I could see the reason behind it, to create some tension, but I think with children in the audience still making noise, it lost this atmosphere and felt like we were intruding as they set up or began a trick, or even when they were performing; as if we walked into their warm up or training session.
Overall, I had SUCH a brilliant time at The Revel Puck Circus. It felt light, it felt fun, it felt normal and felt so good to be back seeing Circus performance again. The Wing Scuffle Spectacular has something for all ages, keeping to the tradition of Circus but bringing a youthful and unique take on it.
After 1 year of ups and downs in our industry, I cannot tell you how excited I was about tonight.
The brief period that we returned to Theatre near the end of last year felt like part of me returned but to be shut down again was hard for everyone. Suddenly, we are working our ways back and gosh, doesn’t it feel good.
What better way to celebrate our return than with The Producers (No, Not That One) at the Pleasance Theatre. With all proceeds going to the #TheatreArtistsFund, we were entertained with a cabaret style show full of talent, of fun and of joy while supporting those who have had a really difficult year.
While many, bar a couple of the performers, were new to me, we all laughed, we all felt comfortable and in tune with one another and it felt like a family enjoying a common love. To be back in a fringe venue felt like a homecoming amongst friends.
The Producers was as it says on the tin: A culmination of some of London’s finest Theatre Producers showcasing what else they can do. Often, we are all known in this industry as jack of all trades: giving our hand to a number of different elements (myself included) and often this is from starting with our love of the Theatre, perhaps to be performers and finding that our passion and talent in also in many other elements.
We were treated to wall shaking singing, some hilarious comedy, a circus routine, wonderful piano and a Host full of love and laughter. Every single person was full of talent and showcased that everyone from in the background to the forefront are full of talent and skills.
I could not imagine more of a perfect show to come back to, with our World returning somewhat back to how it was , than to bring some of the backbone of our industry and celebrate their talent as Producers but as performers.
Hi James, great to meet you, can you tells us about yourself and your work?
Hi there, and thanks for inviting me to do this.
I enjoy telling people that I’m quite a good poster-boy for how the arts can save young people who lack direction and, in my case lacked a stable family background.
I fell in love with Hip Hop & Breakdancing as a young teen, and then in my 20’s I discovered circus and aerial work which became my career for almost 20 years. Both things came along at times when I was heading down negative roads. What they have in common are the life benefits of physical training and a strong DIY cultural ethic of just making things happen before seeking permission.
The soundtrack to my early childhood was new-wave punk, Ska, and the early years of Hip-Hop. Breakdancing and the version of Hip-Hop culture that landed in Wales was my path away from the miserable cultural confusion of the 1980’s.
I’ve been lucky enough to live in Manchester at the height of it’s music scene, in London at a time when arts & culture really mattered, and back in Wales to work with NoFit State Circus when they were really hitting their stride.
I’m now Co-Artistic Director of Citrus Arts, along with the amazing Bridie Doyle-Roberts. Citrus have been making shows that combine Circus, Theatre, Dance, and Design since 2009 and we’re based in the Rhondda Valley. We tour shows around the UK and the last few years have seen us championing the hands-on skills that come with Circus life as a way to bring the people of our community together to create ‘Exceptional Experiences for Everyday People’.
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
Music is and always has been, a major force behind my path as an artist.
As performers Bridie & I played in plenty of shows where the music felt like an add-on background texture, that’s why Citrus Arts places an emphasis on picking high quality soundtracks and live musicians for our shows.
Bridie & I have two small children, so it’s hard to find time to immerse ourselves in music. There’ve been dozens of times when the boys fall asleep in the car, so we keep on driving, talking about ideas for shows, playing albums, and making major decisions about Citrus Arts’ future as we keep going until one of them wakes up. It costs us a fortune in Ice Cream when we eventually stop to play in a park, or beach for a while before turning back home.
My go-to sounds at the moment all come from the brilliant Late Night Tales series of compilations. The LNT label invites top-notch musicians & producers to curate a 1-hour musical soundtrack for a ‘movie’ that’s never been filmed. My favourite track I’ve discovered so far is “Henry McCulloch” by David Holmes, BP Fallon, & Andrew Weatherall.
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list five records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?
The Stranglers – ‘All Live & All of The Night’
My first music festival was Reading in 1987, where I saw The Stranglers headline the Friday night there along with The Cramps, The Pogues, and Iggy Pop over the weekend. This album was partly recorded that night. I still love the sound, image, and artistic message of the punk movement, but was just a young lad with a paper round when it had the real power to shock.
The musicianship in this album still stands out as a moment that shows how punk evolved into the more interesting areas of the charts in the 80’s.
Devo – ‘Q- Are We Not Men?’
I’m still enthralled by how this band made a unique musical, visual, and political style around their image and output. Two brothers in the band made Devo’s pop videos way before the advent of MTV, another member invented the Roland Emulator keyboard/synthesiser, and between them they built a complete and un-improvable artistic world for their music and message.
I love the fact that the lead singer Mark Mothersbraugh now makes music for Marvel super-hero movies.
Massive Attack – ‘Blue Lines’
I was working at a big record shop (a “Megastore”, according to Mr Branson) in Cardiff when this came out and nobody, and I mean nobody, from the Phil Collins-loving security guards to the guys in the classical music department had anything but huge praise for this album. For me it was a re-connection back to my years of loving early Hip-Hop, Soul, and Jazz influenced music, and represented a way to cross between tribes of taste and friendship groups.
Every single track is excellent, but the decision to choose “Safe From Harm” as the opener was a masterstroke.
Ted Barnes – ‘Underbelly’
It’s hard to find Ted’s wider work on the usual online platforms, but this album is a great example of his style. Citrus Arts’ first touring show was based around Ted’s music and if you listen to this, you’ll hear why we chose it.
Barnes was Beth Orton’s composer when she rode high in the UK album charts in the 2000’s. My favourite story about this music is knowing that Ted’s father was a Toymaker in the seaside town of Whitstable in the post-war years.
This album sounds like a boy sneaking-in to his Dad’s shed where wood was carved, and tiny mechanical things came to life.
DJ Shadow – ‘Private Press’
Another personal tale coming up here, but this is DJ Shadow’s best album.
In 2012 the Hip-Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa donated his personal record collection to NY Columbia University’s Cultural Archive – they were the plates of vinyl that were cut, scratched, and mixed to create Hip-Hop in the yard parties that founded the genre.
DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist were allowed to take those actual records on tour as the Renegades of Rhythm performances where they played them as a set, in tribute to one of the founding artists of Hip-Hop.
I saw the show. I listened to those actual grooves on those vinyl plates that inspired me to take a lifelong journey into physical performance, and the way that communities can make their own lasting mark on what I’m sure wasn’t considered ‘art’ at the time.
Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?
I feel like I want my own Radio show after doing this!
If there’s one track I’d like to share with you, rather than remember for personal reasons, it has to be Ted Barnes’ “Sting in The Tale”.
Its lush, gorgeous, beautifully crafted music that everyone should try dancing to.
Felicity Hesed has happily and triumphantly summed up this performance in her title. Full of comedy, music, Cara Vita is a great piece of fun for any evening.
Going through the trials and tribulations of a woman’s life, we meet Hesed on her wedding night all the way through family, breaking up and finding herself as a woman and a person again. The story is told with plenty of audience interaction, comical clown moments and up close and personal circus skills, flying high above us with a beautiful live played soundtrack.
Much of the telling of this tale is quite abstract; using sock puppets at one point to describe a break up; using other pieces of clothing to show the growth of children and the changes that come with this, to suddenly becoming invisible to rekindle the love for ones self when she then becomes visible to others on stage once again. The approach is very niche but not unwelcome, but it did seem to fall flat to some who one would assume came for a traditional clowning experience or traditional circus.
The pace of the production was quite similar; slow and steady, with pauses which eventually speeding up near the end for a climax. But it felt that little burst of energy could have kept us intrigued and engaged a little longer.
Cara Vita: A Clown Concerto is bundles of fun, comedy and a lovely narrative, celebrating women. A quicken of pace could have made it that little bit more special.
In November 2018 we published an article in response to the new Arts Council Wales Corporate Plan “For the benefit of all..” with a range of contributions from Creatives in Wales. We revisit this area in the updated article below with responses from one of the creatives featured in the article as well as an additional contribution.
Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”
We were very pleased to see some of the priority areas in the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”
In particular we were interested in Commitment 2 below
We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.
ACW then go onto make a series of intentions (below) for where they want to be in 2023 (5 years)
We will be able to demonstrate clearly that all our funding programmes promote and contribute to equality and diversity
There will be a narrowing of the gap between those in the most and least affluent social sectors as audiences and participants
We will develop the creative work of disabled artists by funding “Unlimited” commissions and developing a scheme similar to “Ramps on the Moon” operated by Arts Council England
We want to introduce a “Changemakers” scheme placing BAME and disabled people in senior executive positions in the arts
We want to see a doubling of the number of disabled people in the arts workforce
We want to see a doubling of the number of Black and Minority ethnic backgrounds in the arts workforce
We want to have introduced an Arts Council Apprenticeships scheme designed to provide opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds
We will have achieved a trebling of the number of BAME and disabled and on APW boards of governance
I struggle to fully engage this as a response. My recent experience has revealed that there is certainly a surge to include diversity in all its forms on boards and in creative spaces and projects. However, this new ‘interest’ feels more like organisations ‘needing’ to diversify rather than ‘wanting’ to diversify, in order to secure their future and funding. I am hopeful though.
Artistic Director, Taking Flight Theatre Company
What a year of change 2019 has been. For Taking Flight it has seen the company move away from the annual Shakespeare production to more indoor, venue-based work.
peeling by Kaite O’Reilly, opened on International Women’s Day in March at The Riverfront, Newport and then toured Wales and England and was a huge success earning 4 and 5* reviews.
The Guardian stating “Accessible theatre? Do it properly – do it like this”. Following this Taking Flight was invited to Grenzenlos Kulture festival in Mainz, Germany as an example of best practice in accessibility. It was a huge tour and highlighted once more the inaccessibility of much of Wales; accessible accommodation is very hard to find, and some venues struggled to meet our access riders. However, this did lead to some very inventive solutions involving temporary dressing rooms created with flats, curtains and even a marquee! Obviously not the ideal but with our hugely creative stage management team always looking for solutions rather than the problems and the support of venues we made it work. High applause to Angela Gould at RCT Theatres for her work in this department.
One of our lovely actors toured with her dog who was a lovely addition to the team. Max is a therapy dog; many places we visited were only familiar with guide dogs, which made us realise how much there is to learn about the different types of assistance dogs.
Everything we learnt during this extensive tour will feed into the work we have been developing towards a scheme like the Ramps on the Moon initiative. A scheme like this can never be replicated, but the interest and passion from venues in Wales to be involved is overwhelming. Creu Cymru, hynt and Taking Flight have been in ongoing discussions about ways to make this happen. We read with interest that it was also a priority for ACW and have begun conversations with them around a similar scheme. As we have been researching and pushing for this to happen since ‘Ramps’ began in 2016, we are passionate that this becomes a reality. Taking Flight has just received funding for their next production, Road, at Parc and Dare, RCT Theatres and we hope this partnership will be the first step. Taking Flight will give support to participating venues to be confident to manage and produce inclusive work, to provide excellent access and a warm welcome to all- both audiences and creatives.
While peeling was out on the road in the Autumn, we also remounted the hugely successful and totally gorgeous You’ve got Dragons. After a run at WMC we hit the road again for a UK tour including a week run at Lyric Hammersmith which was almost sold out and incredibly well received. The desire for inclusive and accessible work for young people is growing. Watch this space for more news on You’ve Got Dragons next adventure.
Taking Flight has often dreamt of setting up a Deaf- led Youth Theatre for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing young people and with funding from BBC Children in Need we have finally done it. Led by the tremendous Stephanie Back in BSL and English, the youth theatre began last week and the results are already fabulous. The Wales Millennium Centre are our amazing venue partner and host the weekly sessions for D/deaf children aged 4-18. We have been overwhelmed with interest in this project, demonstrating that this has been needed in Wales for a long time.
There has also been a surge in interest from companies and individuals wanting to consider access while writing funding applications. There is a general excitement around making work accessible. There are some brilliant intentions and I’ve had exciting conversations with companies about different types of access and have been able to recommend consultants and access professionals.
The ground has been fertile for change for some time and there is much more inclusive and accessible work being created here than when we first started 12 years ago. Theatres are also much more interested in programming diverse work and many have invested in Deaf Awareness training with Taking Flight (Led by Steph Back).
There is a real desire to diversify audiences and welcome them to theatre spaces. Taking Flight’s next symposium on 28th Feb at Park and Dare RCT theatres on Relaxed Performances brings the brilliant Jess Thom, Touretteshero to Wales to discuss ways to provide the warmest possible welcome to those who may find the traditional etiquette of theatre a problem.
There has been a surge of work featuring D/deaf and disabled performers, productions like Jonny Cotsen’s Louder is Not Always Clearer, Leeway Productions Last Five Years and Illumine’s 2023 really engaged new audiences and the venues have really built on this success. There have been more productions that embed access in a creative way, a gorgeous example in Gods and Kings by Fourinfour productions with integrated BSL from Sami Thorpe. I had lots of fun working with Julie Doyle and Likely Story integrating BSL interpreter Julie Doyle into Red. Companies are choosing to interpret, audio describe or caption all the shows in a run rather than just one which is really encouraging and promoting more equality of access to shows.
So, the will to make accessible work is absolutely there, the best of intentions are definitely there and, now the funding for access is factored into budgets, the funds are usually there. However, why is it still access that falls through the cracks, gets pushed aside or forgotten as a production approaches opening night? I hear stories of interpreters and audio describers who can’t get into a rehearsal space to prep or are placed somewhere on stage that is neither aesthetically pleasing nor practical. It can still sometimes feel like access is something that needs to be ticked off a list in order to fulfil a funding application.
I am absolutely sure that this is not the intention; but we are all so overstretched, one person is often doing multiple jobs (especially in small companies) and when no one is directly responsible for access or it simply forms ‘part’ of someone’s role. So those best intentions and exciting plans are really hard to fully achieve. Taking Flight are exploring this lack of provision for access co – ordination with Bath Spa University so watch this space for the results of our research… The next generation of theatre makers are coming, and they really care about making work that can be accessed by all – that makes me happy.
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. / Lleisiau amrywiol o Gymru yn ymateb i'r celfyddydau a digwyddiadau byw