Demain38

It’s Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain this weekend and there are two UK acts taking part, perhaps a milestone for UK circus.

One part of me thinks the contest element is stupid, how and why does circus compete in any meaningful way? Why does this format still exist? Apples and organgutangs etc.

Another part of me recognises that the festival launches careers, it showcases amazing artists and it has a historical significance which has had a direct and indirect impact on me. Mark Robertson competed for goodness sake!


Demain always reminds me of Luke Wilson. I think back to Luke and Ilka competing as LukaLuka in 2003, the fist Circus Space alumni to reach a truly internationally respected circus platform with their own work.

Luke had a great story of meeting Francis Brunn at the festival. Francis asked to see his hands, saw they were all callused and broken and said, “Good”. Luke was immensely proud of that.

Luke returned to the festival stage in 2011, he got picked to be a volunteer for a pickpocket. It was slightly set up as Luke had been given objects specifically for the act. As Luke pointed out, he would never utilise a belt and braces at the same time, for obvious reasons.


I’m proud of the NCCA, it’s so excited to see artists go through the UK system and come out on a level on par with the rest of the world. LJ and Korri are a credit to the progress being made in UK circus and obviously they’ve also worked crazy hard to get into the festival.

Good luck to them both and the other artists involved in the festival.

I’ll be watching the live stream here:

http://concert.arte.tv/fr/38eme-festival-mondial-du-cirque-de-demain

Immersive Juggling Research

Circus Geeks received Lab:Time funding to carry out research into an immersive juggling experience.

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Doreen Großmann, Iñaki Sastre and Arron Sparks spent 3 days in the Creation Studio at the National Centre for Circus Arts generating juggling material and working through experiments on a friendly guinea pig voluenteer audience.

Inaki Sastre suggested the concept of creating a juggling piece in an alternative enviroment from the traditional show format of a juggling performance- imagining what and how a juggling installation might function. From that original concept, Arron generated a series of questions to explore and an array of different directions the research could head.

“Over the first couple of days we created two short pieces, one in which the external viewer could move where ever they pleased while a juggling piece took place in the same space (much like how a traditional gallery space operates with a sculpture). In the second version the performers guided an audience of one through the piece which happened over, around, to and with the aid of the audience member.

Based on audience feedback from day two and our own insights we decided to focus on the second more personal method used. We spent day 3 creating a 7 minute piece which we then performed as a continuous loop for close to two hours, receiving feedback throughout and testing adjustments.

With more research time it is probable that the first “free-range” method could be developed and refined to get over the obstacles we encountered, such as the audiences self imposing rules which restricted their viewpoint, enjoyment and even understanding of the piece. This could be circumnavigated by stating the rules of engagement from the start (with, for instance, the use of a sign) and is an area of research that could de explored and tested in its own right.

Exploring the possibilities of putting a non juggler into the world of juggling is something I have considered before. In an early version of Beta Testing we attempted (unsuccessfully) to simulate the pressure onstage that a professional juggler has to confront with an audience volunteer. However in this research -thanks to the questions we set out with and the softer, intimate approach Doreen and Iñaki brought to the performance helped us communicate to an audience the physical experience of juggling and the pleasure that it brings us.

After 3 days of research and a series of tests and feedback we are confident that this is an area of juggling rich with possibilities. We hope to further explore the area of immersive juggling in the near future.”

Arron Sparks

Immersive Juggling Research made possible thanks to the National Centre for Circus Arts, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The Production Shed and all our friendly guinea pigs.

 

Luke Wilson – Moisture Festival – April 2011

I’m currently sat in a hotel lobby in a foreign country typing on a MacbookPro Retina, which Luke would have particularly have approved of. Not only for my superior choice of technology, but also the pretend rock star status of living on the road.

I went through periods of seeing Luke every day, almost every waking hour for a few months, to seeing him randomly once every few months. So it’s only recently that I’ve really come to appreciate that I’m never going to see the particularly skinny Englishman again. Until now it was possible that not running into Luke was an unfortunate side effect of busy calendars. But now, 2 years since his death, I think my brain has fully accepted that meeting Luke is not going to happen again.

Sadness asides, I thought it would be interesting to those who never knew Mr Wilson or his work to use this anniversary as an opportunity to analyse a little of his work and try and understand some of the detail and reasoning in his compositions.

I’ve been watching a version of Luke’s club routine (which he mentions in Repetition, posted on Circus Geeks), filmed by Alan Plotkin. In Alan’s words, “This was the last time I filmed Luke Wilson. It was at Moisture Festival 2011 at the Vashon Island venue. I challenged him before the performance to go drop free and he nailed it.”

Unfortunately I never got to see this version live so I am almost certainly missing detail which video cannot convey. I did however see two versions of Luke’s older club routines live and Luke shared a couple of different older versions on video with me.

You can watch Luke talk briefly about his Moisture festival here:

The Moisture Festival version is my favourite of his club routines and in my opinion the most interesting and developed. It gives a clear definition of Luke’s artistic choices and yet leaves a couple of unanswered questions.

Act breakdown

Luke stood sideways on stage looking across stage- not at the audience. He is holding 5 clubs- two clubs in his left hand, visible to the audience.
0:28 Routine starts
Places 5 clubs one at a time precisely on stage in a line, using his hands and feet. Reminiscent on Sergei Ignatov. http://juggling.tv/160
0:41 Hands in pocket, takes a moment to collect the image.
0:44 Foot lingers, almost flirtatiously around the first club
0:49 Hands out of pockets in stylised way.
1st Club kicked up. Manipulation thumb roll sequence
0:53 2nd club kicked up
0:57 3rd club kicked up – juggle walks forward and turning
1:00 Stand still – leaning into juggle run
1:04 4th club kicked up – 4 in doubles, classic fountain. Walks forward – odd feet – reaching for the remaining club
1:15 5th club kicked up
1:21 Triple into scissor catch in squat. Looks at audience.
1:26 Club down – fake drop – foot catch into 4 club routine: multiplex
4 club fast triples
4 club singles
53 iIn triple singles – turing backwards in a circle
Switch to synchronous – splits
1:59 High throw into multiplex bend back
2:02 Freeze with odd catch. Look at audience. Manipulation turn
2:10 Careful placement of balance – finger – cross armed set 3
2:14 Clubs with a balance – left-handed start – 3 chin rolls – drop into 4 – 53 chin roll turing
2:26 collect
2:27 Pass club around body getting lower until on the foot.
2:31 Kick club causing it to roll on floor
2:34 Odd jump – pick up other club
2:35 Slow hand – look at remaining club – turn walk to it with purpose
2:43 5th club in kick up position – look at it
2:44 Kick up into multiplex pattern
2:57 Scissor catch look at audience – club still rocking gently
3:01 Stand up
3:05 Turn and throw 2 clubs away*
3:09 Almost a new person – new routine
3:13 Odd feet and club movements – puppet like – repeating patterns
Odd patterns, placements and wrist traps – odd starts and stops
linking moves, half turns
3:52 Chin roll combinations
3:57 Chin roll reverse cascade
4:01 Balance
4:06 Multi placements
4:09 Helicopter kick up – backcross combination – flat front 44strange1
4:15 Stylish 2 on a 342
4:20 Wilson 52242 wrong-end
4:22 Squat again – fast juggle – doubles with music
4:25 Fast doubles
4:27 Flats turning
4:33 High throw – Ignatov – slapbacks – half turns
4:45 Catch all 3 in right – squat – look at audience
4:52 Fake hard throw of one club
4:54 Slow 1 club slide – lego – puppetry movement style
5:05 Point
5:09 Helicopter wrist trap kick up – Luke signature
5:44 Ends kick up sequence
5:47 Contortion cascade
5:50 Under arm trap – problem and solution
5:57 Leg catch freeze – build up tension
6:04 Triplex kick up
6:07 1 up Pirouette
6:09 Throw clubs behind him
6:14 Bow
6:24 Exit stage

Luke starts the routine standing still on stage, not looking at the audience – an interesting choice. It isn’t till a few seconds in that he looks at the audience, allowing them to take in his appearance and identity. Before that first look Luke is almost secondary to the props, the oddity in his moment and choices are clear but we don’t know how he feels about it.

The juggling begins with Luke kicking up into a 3 club cascade, he turns in a circle allowing the audience to take in this first and most classic pattern. From then on there are only a few classic juggling patterns which have been chosen for specific reasons. Most of the act consists of juggling created by the performer, something which used to be a rarity in juggling.

The first compliment (freeze) allows the audience in, before we have seen a window into his world, a taste of skill and things to come but that eye contact allows us to catch up and take Luke in. The freeze itself is an interesting position, in a sitting squat, far from a unusual ballet-influenced circus poses.

The section where Luke is continually moving and adjusting his legs, arms and clubs are a slight (but only slight) exaggeration of his OCD tendencies. Going for a coffee with Luke could be fun; moving the cutlery or various napkins off-centre would result in him subtly readjusting till everything was back to being in its rightful place, square and proper.

Watching Luke warm up every night for several months was also a chance to see how much he enjoyed systems which would be carried out pace for pace, throw for throw every night. Luke enjoyed his discipline. These puppet-esque movements sit very well with his energy on stage and yet are surprising and unusual, far from the normal movement qualities jugglers traditionally use.

The precision of placing the club into a balance on Luke’s head, is something that is common in many of his routines. Moments of careful precision that Luke was so excellent at, the weight and gravitas he gives the prop and the detail of the pinky finger out – reminiscent of a delicate tea cup which Luke was so fond of and makes for an important moment, heavily contrasting with some of the fast and complex juggling that has preceded it.

Luke runs his own version of a classic 423 kick-up using wrist traps to catch the kicked-up club (Luke help popularise wrist traps in club juggling, taken from another juggling prop – the devil stick. Luke invented many variations with wrist traps, now commonplace in contemporary juggling). This pattern is run for 33 rounds and lasts over half a minute. It’s an unusual choice of trick to run for so long.
Luke has chosen a unique trick to him, subtle in detail. It would be easy to miss the wrist trap if it were ran for only one or two rounds and it’s not a particularly difficult trick in a single repetition. As the pattern plays out the tension builds, we see Luke begin to struggle from the shear repetition and final relief when he breaks out of the loop. Repeating the pattern for so long allows the audience to take in and possibly understand the juggling and gives effective dramatic build in the act.

Luke also particularly enjoyed kick-up tricks which may also explain why he chose to repeat his 423 variation. He finishes the routine with a triplex kick-up, a trick Luke loved and is covered extensively in this video tutorial we made together in 2009.

The pirouette is the final full stop for the juggling, enforced by the dropping of the clubs**. The holding of breath as the audience begins to show it’s appreciation and the exhale of relief helps underscore how much concentration has gone into performing such a complex and well thought-out performance.

Luke was a talented magician and I can see it’s influence in the whole routine, particularly in his bow which was obviously thought out and practiced. The unbuttoning of his jacket and classic open hand position reminiscent to me of dove magician, Lance Burton as was Luke’s immaculately folded sleeves.

Luke left nothing to chance and thought out every detail of his work. Everything had been gone over with a fine comb, from the choice and variation of prop (Luke could probably have written a book on this subject) to his method of rolling up his selves.

Perhaps the biggest lesson for me to take from Luke’s work is to question every choice, be aware of every decision.  Do what you believe in.

I miss Luke.

**The dropping of the clubs really confused me. When studying on my degree Luke taught lessons examining at the nature of status and how we treating our props on stage adds to the communication of how much an audience should care about what we are doing (trying not to drop in the most part). 
Theories for Luke’s end throw include, it was as simple as a stylistic choice or that he got carried away after performing such a perfect routine. However both these reasons don’t fit well with me, they don’t take into account Lukes meticulous nature or his lessons on giving the props value.
For my money, the best guess comes from Jay Gilligan, he said that in one of the MRL laboratories Luke was exploring the idea of finding an ending that could not go on. Jay went onto say, “in one case his [Lukes] solution was to make an ending that was not only conceptual but also literal in the sense that he threw the clubs away from him, preventing any further contact and therefore erasing any doubt at all that he would continue.”
* At 3:05 into the act Luke turns and throws 2 clubs away. It looks slightly award and messy, if we understand the end drop then I cannot fathom this prop dump. My only attempt to grasp Luke’s choice here is that it’s a stylistic choice (or someone was supposed to take them from him?). I wish Luke was around now so I could quiz him about it.
Many thanks to Lauren Hendry,  Sean Gandini, Jon Udry and Jay Gilligan for their thoughts and feedback.

Metal

I smell of metal or more accurately, I stink of Iron. And I now have a tiny insight to what it must be for aerialists to love their large, impractical geometric shapes. Moving them from gig to gig, no wonder they are so strong. Metal is heavy, perhaps I’m stating the obvious, I’m stating the obvious but I appreciate that mundane fact in a whole new way after the last 5 days.

I’ve been at Pangottic HQ, in their studio/workshop, helping build being a general dogsbody for Matt who is chief engineer on Project_Vee.

Project_Vee is a collaboration between CircusGeeks and Pangottic. It’s a chance for us to bring to life a prop/structure/apparatus that we have only seen on video and love, a chance to push our technical skill in a whole new direction (literally) and a chance for me for to try more outdoor work.Project_Vee

I’m in uncharted water but in safe hands, a dangerous sentance that overuses cliches but is also reflective of the situation. Matt knows building; his last couple of shows have been feats of engineering extravagance. But over the last few days we’ve both been scratching our heads. For me it’s when I don’t know which gloves I should wear; welding gloves or builder gloves? And for Matt, will the stress load at 38 degrees be ok for the 2786KG winch or not? Each learning in our own way.

Metal dust gets everywhere, in your clothes, in your hair, under your finger tips and on your water bottle. Projects like this bring take you to new places, places you never thought about, places you thought would have disappeared, unneeded in 21st century Britian. Worlds that you don’t belong to, fascinating to see over the counter of a shop or at the entrance to a yard.

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Project_Vee is the adaptation of a famous (at least to the juggling world) act, making it possible for us to perform this spectacle, out doors. Allowing new audiences to experience a juggling treat.

Metal takes effort to cut, energy and sharp blades. It’s noisy and punishes you if you’re not paying attention. It takes ages to clean up and is a pain to join. Welding scares me.

But now we’re halfway through the build and despite the graft I’m like an excited kid on Christmas Eve.

Back to building next week.

Project_Vee premiers June 2015, and we can’t wait!

Trust

Here is a video created by BuzzFeed and Cirque Du Soleil: Why trust is worth it

This is hardly a ground breaking concept and the tricks chosen don’t really scream ‘trust moves’ to anyone who has a working understanding of acro and it’s potential.

Perhaps the video feels a little cheesy because the text is spoken about the performers and not by them (possibly the accent and rhythm of the voice over just grates on me) it is still a bit of a style change for Cirque (with a capital C). Not a video I would straight away associate with their athstetic.

The video also doesn’t match the style or artistic choices for the show it is advertising, Totem. Not that it should, just interesting that it is a different approach to promotion from the normal ‘reporter in a harness on stage’ that we are all so used to seeing featured in the ‘and finally’ item on TV news. Perhaps this is the future of circus advertising?

Aesthetically it’s a move away from bad 1980s graphics and toward 1990s Calvin Klein adverts. But perhaps that’s just BuzzFeed having some artistic influence on the video?

Interesting collaboration anyhow.

101 Lessons

101_film_school

101 Things I Learned in Film School ®‘ by Neil Landau & Matthew Frederick is a beautifully concise book which caught my eye when browsing the Tate Modern gift shop. I thought it would be nice exercise to go through the book and apply some of the lessons to circus. I’ve picked and adapted 39 lessons which I think could easily be applied to circus performance.

1) Start strong

Prompt intrigue

Suggest the central theme

Revel back story

2) Start late

Cut the first 30 seconds of a piece.

3) Show, don’t tell

4) Three stages of show making

Pre-production – meetings, fundraising, planning etc

Production – rehearsing

Post-production – selling the show etc

5) Audiences want to be as close to the action as possible.

6) Conceal the action.

Creates curiosity and intrigue

7) Story telling -> Beginning – Middle – End

  • Act 1 – Establish the problem
  • Act 2 – Complicate the problem
  • Act 3 – Solve the problem

Establish • Complicate • Solve

8) Practice the perfect pitch.

High concepts can be explained in one sentence.

9) A good title says what the show is.

10) Create memorable entrances.

11) Create a show on different scales.

12) Every scene must revel something new.

13) What can the human eye process?

14) Set rules early, clearly and simply.

15) If it can be acted why do it with circus?

16) Make the setting a character.

17) Define the relationship to the 4th wall.

18) Beware working with children & animals.

19) Have a plan but enjoy the detours.

20) Signs of novice circus.

It’s a dream, all black costumes, sequins, bare feet, m

Amely sound track,

21) Leave breathing room.

Both theatrically and practically.

22) Place figures in uncomfortable proximity.

23) Ensure everyone is making the same show.

24) Have some show stoppers.

Big tricks, tear jerkers, hilarious jokes etc.

25) Every show is drama, conflict and suspense.

26) Dig deeper.

Do fewer things better.

27) Good writing is good rewriting.

Write->leave->revisit->rewrite->repeate

28) When you receive a no write back thanks.

29) Different spaces, venues, audiences might be better for a different kind of show.

30) Rhythm / Tempo

Larger pace created by the show / pace of scene or act

31) Don’t cast by looks.

32) Actions speak louder than words.

33) If you want to make circus, see circus.

34) Work in the trenches.

Take less than ideal gigs, learn around your subject / ultimate goal.

35) Let it go already.

Make->assess->move on->repeat

36) Play well with others.

37) Make it shorter.

38) Don’t over use cliches or coincidences.

39) “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Circus Hackathon

NOLA Hackathon 2011
NOLA Hackathon 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been reading a bit about new ways technology is allowing people to collaborate, things like Google Drive, GitHub etc. It seems as usual circus has a bit of catching up to do!

In Wired a while ago I read an article about Hackathons and thought it would be great to see/take part/organise a circus equivalent. Hackathons are a chance for coders to meet up, work like crazy in small teams and produce a sketch version for a new service or product.

Earlier this year when I was in Montreal I spotted Impro Cirque, something quite close to my idea. Unfortunately I left before it took place but from video it looks pretty fun…

I’d love to see a more informal version done in the UK, perhaps no ‘public’ audience. No one gets paid- All it would need is some interested circus artists and some space (perhaps some pizza and beers at the end of it). Perhaps two days manic work and a fun showing at the end of it? Best team performance judged by a panel wins a years supply of Apple products (or not)?!

Just a thought….

Beta Testing – Creation Week 2

The week started with packed days spent working on various scenes which were constructed in the first week. Trying to tie down ideas and begin to set a couple of the sketches.

Every day we worked on our solo juggling and group technique, which will hopefully go into the final show. Juggling takes time to solidify and become familiar so we’re trying to put the hours in at this early stage of the project.

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We had an unsuccessful prop hunting trip to IKEA  but will send Matt back next week armed with his van and unusually short-sharpened pencil. Talking of Matt, he spent a couple of hours in his workshop making the first drafts of some exciting props and set for us- more on this later…

Myself and Jon spent the end of the week working on our work-in-progress showing at Out There festival in Great Yarmouth. Matt already had commitments so Jon and I had to rework a couple of old bits and present a couple of new ideas. Under the watchful eye of Matt we managed to slot a rather unusual show together.

The showings went fairly well (I forgot my lines a couple of times, learning speaking parts is still fairly new to me) and we received some kind feedback and ideas on how to improve bits later down the line. Onwards and upwards or just sideways, hopefully not backwards.

Now I’m spending my few days back home soaking up some culture as it’s London Design Festival and there’s lots of inspiring work to be seen.

Next week we’re off to La Breche. Exciting times.