Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A death defying aesthetic experience

ImMortal

nofitstate circus , Roald Dahl Plass (Presented by Wales Millennium Centre) , September-13-07
ImMortal by nofitstate circus It was a very fortunate meeting between the intense, sometimes esoteric, generous spirited theatre artist Firenza Guidi and NFSC founder Ali Williams. This was a few years ago and this, now refined production, is able to embrace a wide range of circus followers of all ages, though it might be a little scary for the very young. Anyone wanting a bit more from their circus experience than acrobats, clowns and brassy music, they do have all this and it’s all very fine stuff, will find this show a very satisfying and at times an aesthetic experience.

In her programme note Guidi asks us to “Imagine waking up one morning to find your feet are moving by themselves. You have to go. It is beyond your control. The quest has started. A search for him or her beyond the shores of the living. You cross the ocean and the 7 seas. You cross the river Chuber, right through the borders of the earth to the final barrier of the human world”...

The actual experience may not go quite as deep as this but there is certainly, despite being offered a programme to buy and being given information as to where the bar is situated, an air of dusty mystery as one enters the silver domed marquee and starts to stroll around the perimeter of the curtained-off circus ring. Muscular men in black leather skirts and tight vests wander around demonstrating a sort of ‘mild’ menace. A young blond lady sings plaintively into a microphone and invites you join and sing with her. A dark haired lady in a bright scarlet circus coat attends diligently to her carving and filing of old coins into remarkable pendants. The delicacy of her work is much in contrast to the way she throws herself around the ropes and complex equipment as the show progresses.

The opening sequence is very dramatic with the whole cast, clad in black performing a mad dance around a grating steel grid just above our heads. Soon trapeze artists are hanging forty feet above us and long swirls of black silk flow from them onto the floor beneath.

The music is both strident and exotic, interspersed with speech, that though not clear enough to understand every word, adds to our initial unease as we cross the river. This is soon replaced by fantastic traditional circus activity of the highest level. A performer on a rope twirls through it down from the roof of the tent, determined it seems to hit the floor but stops within inches. This is not the only fantastic achievement that truly attracts the description - death defying. The female-half of the trapeze double act not only has us gasping frequently but also demonstrates that her limbs can bend and stretch into places limbs really aren’t meant to go. A very short clown beings performing in a dark surreal manner, desperately searching for a missing baby to put into a miniature black pram. We are never far away from the poetry and from an experience that fills us with uncertainty with wonder and with joy. The lights get brighter and our clown carries on circling on the grid around us doing the most extraordinary things with an old folding chair.

There is some balletic aerial hoop work, a rope mesh full of menacing, cavorting ‘spiders’. An extraordinary strong man who not only balances his whole body on one hand but describes a circle as he does so. Amazing things happen with hoola hoops, the swirling black drapes become white, a bride hangs high in the air with her train scraping the floor. The lady on the aerial hoop looks wistful, and longing, the ‘black’ men and women circle fire around their bodies as the serious fun comes to a fulfilling and entertaining end.

There’s something quite unique about circus folk, their relaxed, friendly manner belies the precision and dedication to their demanding techniques, this is true ensemble theatre, they have the lives of their colleagues in their hands.

It is now some five years since ImMortal was first put together, Guidi’s influence has most definitely added a new and fascinating direction to the work of the Cardiff based No Fit State Circus, whether it’s possible to reach perfection in this marriage, no one can tell but hopefully the search will continue.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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