A collaborative performance of Hanging By A Thread, which included work by Just Poets, Touchstones Creative Writing Group, Spiral Dance (now Can´t Dance Can) and People Print (now Community Media), was performed in Rochdale a few years ago by Skylight Circus Arts. It was the parting performance by the circus organisation, as they prepared to leave a soon to be demolished premises to move to a new home elsewhere in the town.
They reprised an adaptation of the show as part of the cultural Olympiad ‘All About Us, Rochdale’, which, in the words of Martine Bradford from Skylight Circus, ´was all about celebrating arts, drama, culture, music, dance, circus, along with all those sports we saw in the Olympics. The show was a collaborative process featuring Skylight Circus Arts, M6 Theatre, Spiral Dance and People Print. Young people from Skylight groups and Falinge worked together to create a piece that was inspired by Rochdale’s textile heritage. All those looms, all those mills, all that steam, all the cotton, all the rope, and all the people who worked there as well, from the children to the adults. We put it all together and made a production called Looming Brilliant.´
The benefits of the collaboration were expanded on by Caroline Kennedy, M6 Act Now! Young People’s Theatre manager at the time.
´Working with other Rochdale arts organisations really enriched the performance and gave participants a truly fulfilling cross art form experience fusing high quality theatre, dance and circus skills. The Falinge Junior Wardens, aged 8-14, worked with both M6 and Spiral Dance on their sections of the performance and the skills they have gained from both drama and dance really complement each other. As the different groups rehearsed together and got to know each other, new friendships were made which is a really important part of a project of this nature and something which all the staff were really pleased to see. By the time it came to the performance day, we were one company all working together.´
´Having Skylight Circus perform in the M6 Studio Theatre added another thrilling dimension´, Caroline concluded, ´and it was great to have the building buzzing with excitement from all the highly skilled participants and staff.”
Watching the show you couldn’t help but recall the industrial revolution as exemplified in the opening ceremony of London 2012. Having the show performed in the confines of a studio theatre really brought home Blake’s “dark, satanic” description. It was also a lot sharper and tighter than the original performance, mainly due to cultural Olympiad funding, which enabled increased rehearsal time.
As Caroline added, “Projects of this nature do require a lot of extra work, but I’m sure we all agree that it is worth it. Loomin’ Brilliant was so incredible; we are already planning our next collaboration! With such a wealth of talent in the Rochdale Borough, it seems only right that we bring it all together and share our skills with each other. The sum was definitely greater than the combined parts as our overwhelmingly positive audience feedback testifies.”
It certainly does, and we include a selection from thirty ‘post-its’ left by happy visitors:
“What a fantastic show – gives you faith in the kids of today. Well done to all kids, youths and adults – super”
“Absolutely amazing – best show this year”
“An excellent performance and a creative input to Rochdale’s history. Worthy of being performed in the Palace Theatre”.
Imagine our surprise and delight, then, when shortly after retiring here to Lanzarote a few years ago, Dee and I ´discovered´ a circus company very similar to Skylight operating over here, effectively playing the same field.
Every year the Haria circus hosts an international gathering of circus acts, who give public al fresco performances and more traditional gala shows in the evening during the first year of a new year. We went to great pains to ensure we caught one this year´s gala performances.
The adverts carried on the weekly newsletter and web site of the English language Lanzarote information web site, promised a wonderful circus festival, with four days of public events all over Haria for from 2nd January. Various circus activities would be performed free for the public in the town´s streets and squares throughout daylight hours and then each day would culminate with an evening gala performance at 8.30 pm in a venue not precisely identified on the posters Miguel had re-printed on his pages. These were the same posters as could be seen around the island and in various other local Spanish language print media publications on the island, so there was no more that could have been done.
This was all to be part of 13th annual performance of MalabHaria, a circus gathering attracting circus groups and performers from all over Europe. It is always held the area at this time each year, and yet somehow we have never managed to attend previous shows. Despite the fact that Dee and I worked occasionally and were good friends with the management and performers of Skylight Circus, we have found a reason over the previous four years here to miss the annual shows. The journey up to Haria to watch an event that would then see us driving down tortuous, unlit hairpin-bend mountain passes that would lead us back to the South Of The Island.
This year, though, our 2020 resolution is to be even braver for our readers than we have been in the past, and so the Saturday evening gala performance of 4th January was scribbled in bright red ink on our big Lidl Lanzarote calendar. Having girded our loins and taken a stiff drink, (no, no that was a joke, officer) we set off to Haria at 5.00 pm with the intention to be there early enough to buy a ticket, as we were sure that despite any mentions thereof on the posters, tonight´s would be a ticketed event.
There was, too, the fact that we didn´t know precisely where in Haria the gala would take place and what parking might be available in the proximity.
We, were, though, determined to deliver a report for you all and so stopped at our local petrol station and requested the attendant to ´Completo noventa y cinco´ to ensure we had enough fuel to set off, get lost, finally arrive in Haria, then set off back home, (having watched the gala) and get lost all over again in the dark on the hills with Dee shouting at me to just follow that star, as if we were wise men on a camel.
However, when Dee went in to pay she picked up a January edition of a gratis magazine called Guia and as I drove up past the Salinas de Janubio, pink-tinged by a setting sun, she flicked through the magazine that had been published only this week, and found an advert for said circus.
In the fading light she began muttering as she read. ´Oh, its on at the football ground, or at least it says deportivo !´
I mumbled that it all sounded ok, then, as I know where the football ground is, but I kept to myself that I know it to be at the end of a narrow, snake-like one way system that slithers around the late artist´s Cesar Manrique´s house and that, when everyone later departs at the same time, reduces progress to less a snake-speed slither than a snail like crawl.
´Oh, there is an admission charge, but its only five euros,´ Dee informed me in her best Fiona Bruce voice as she continued reading the news.
So, now we were on our way armed with all the information. What could possibly go wrong?
Miraculously, nothing did go wrong on the way there, and we wound our way into the car park at the football ground dead on six pm, (for an eight thirty start, remember !) .
We had approached up the hill from the windmill roundabout at Arietta rather than by over the tops from Teguise and because I didn´t have wifely dispensation neither had we taken the terrific adventure trail that is the Tabeyesco road.
The gates to the ground were open, and pretty much unguarded, and with hindsight we should have sneaked in whilst we had the chance. The only people around were a family of three with a distinct ´circus look´ about them, in so much as the father figure was wearing a silky groomed, long-hair wig and a bowler hat.
´Entradas completo,´ the jolly looking clown informed us whilst two people who might have been his wife and teenage daughter pulled sad faces and wiped away mock tears. This was all good fun, and they were very friendly but the bottom line was that the hire wire circus event was sold out ! We wondered how this could be when no tickets had been advertised but the family informed us that, in fact, tickets had been on sale since the 10th December in Haria town hall, but now they were ´all gone´. How could anyone have known that, we asked. Well, apparently the web site had been mentioned on the fliers. What fliers, we enquired? There had been no mention on any of the fliers we had seen. No, they only came out this week, it seems.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Trying to be helpful, and seeking to console us, the circus family explained that, even as we spoke there were live events taking place in the square in the centre of town, so we set off to catch some of that.
It was then that the enormity of this event hit home to us. There was no car parking space for about five square miles, and the streets and squares, all beautifully lit, were thronged with people jostling for good viewing sites of what seemed to be jugglers and mime artists etc demonstrating their skills.
However, the few cars trying to navigate their way through were being hurriedly waved on by harassed looking policemen and though it all looked to be a buzz we had no choice but to make a bee-line for home, disappointed and dejected.
There was some consolation in stopping on our return journey, for a meal at The MargeRita in Puerto Calero, before we arrived back home to find Clinger, one of the several cats belonging to our neighbour Pepe, waiting for us on our patio. She looked up at us, shaking her head sadly, as if to ask ´another wasted journey, eh?´
Well, almost, but not quite wasted, because I was so exhausted I tumbled straight into bed and enjoyed a full night of deep sleep. Circus-dreaming, I watched marvellous performances by GropCirco Myers, Xampetito ´XO´, Gala de Circo and the clown antics by Kicirke Kicerke, the areal dexterity of Fredito ´Oyun´ and the jumping through hoops of Gala Cierre. There were daring young men on the flying trapeze and armies of acrobats performing somersaults in my head.
Come Sunday morning, we awoke determined more than ever to visit Cirque de Soliel ( logo right) on Gran Canaria later this year, and to more fully investigate the mystery of tickets on Lanzarote that never seem to go on sale. We are sure it is our fault for not being sufficiently pro-active, though, and so we have made resolution number two of the new year to serve you better.
The local Lanzarote government (The Cabildo) could clap their hands, though, and say ´job well done´. The town was absolute heaving, and as parents watched enthralled, children were being educated with transferable skill sets even as they learned to climb ropes or to dance on rolled out barrels. All the circus organisations taking part in this collective event were attracting non-traditional audiences and new generations to their art forms.
Local bars and restaurants were all probably having their most profitable week of the year and, certainly amongst circus communities, the small town of Haria was being spoken of all over Europe. These and so many other fringes are benefits of supporting the arts and making them part of the community and we would love, one year, sot Skylight over here as part of it all.
Meanwhile, our friend Margaret is on the island for the next few weeks. There is something of an interrogative detective about her, and she is unafraid to question across language barriers anyone she feels might be able to direct her to sites and events of authentic culture. It might be time for us to set Maigret Margaret to work to investigate ticket supply and demand!
Meanwhile, we still have another circus event to look forward to later in the year.
Cirque du Soleil is a Montreal-based entertainment company and the largest contemporary circus producer in the world. Located in the inner-city area of Saint-Michel, it was founded in Baie-Saint-Paul on 16 June 1984 by former street performers Guy Laliberté and Gilles St-Croix.
When their production of Luzia toured Europe at the start of this year one of its earliest destinations was The Royal Albert Hall in London. For several years now any performance by Cirque de Soliel has been a major event so it was not surprising to see a review included in the Dail Mail´s Friday arts pages on January 17th and it was not a surprise either to see it appearing below a headline of Super Circue Works Its Wonder. It wouldn´t be too surprising now to learn that many readers might have had to stop to catch their breath to read that review after taking a look at the accompanying photograph of a Luzia contortionist twisted into what looked an impossible position.
This was the Cirque De Soliel´s thirty eighth show in London but for reviewer Melanie McDonagh it was her first and she said the show had met all her hopes of being ´thrilled, frightened and entertained.´
The show takes its name and narrative from being a celebration of Mexico. It is not celebrating what has become the popularly held view of Mexico today as a country of drug deals and a high murder count, but of the Mexico as inhabited and brought to life by artists like Frida Kahlo.
When I was working with Pam McKee as Just Poets in the UK, Pam and I were so enthralled by Kahlo that we designed a special creative writing workshop, using her story and creations to inspire the sessions which we delivered in schools and to adult writing groups.
A Mexican painter known for her many portraits, self-portraits, and works reflecting the nature and artefacts of Mexico, Kahlo was inspired by the country’s popular culture. She employed a naïve folk art style to explore questions of identity, post-colonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Her paintings often had strong autobiographical elements and mixed realism with fantasy. In addition to belonging to the post-revolutionary Mexicayotl movement, which sought to define a Mexican identity, Kahlo has been described as a surrealist or magical realist..
The scenery, settings and costumes of the London production of Luzia perfectly reflect that era with its fashion and cast of girls dressed as humming birds. It is all very nineteen fifties, which some would say was the most glamorous time of Mexico´s history.
All this is seen through the visual effects of pouring rain, which throws amazing patterns as it tumbles down and disappears, though to where was difficult to fathom, if you will pardon that pun.
Like a show we saw last year by the Cuban National Circus in Lanzarote, the clown in Luzia does not speak, but communicates with his cohorts and his audience through whistles. He was, reports Ms. McDonagh, ´brilliantly funny.´
Only a few days before reading the Daily Mail review of the January production in London, we had booked to fly over and see the show, scheduled for July, on Gran Canaria, a neighbouring island of ours. We now know we can look forward to ´feats of strength and dexterity that are something else.´ We are also expecting to see a balletic muscle-man and a performer called Ugo Laffolay doing the splits on bendy canes.
The Mail´s reviewer described the trapeze act as being one of ´somersaults from one moving swing to another, backwards somersaults, triple somersaults and two at a time.´ Her report wobbles a bit there as she had her hands over her eyes at this stage, apparently.
She recovered in time to witness a dazzling juggler. When she reports that he made the only mistake of the evening she does so more to reassure herself that what she had been watching had been of human endeavour after all, on an evening of perfect feats.
So we will be off to the circus again in July so that we can bring you our own report on Luzia by Cirque De Soliel. We might not be able to deliver a review as informed as that in The Daily Mail, but might possibly be able to verify Danny Dyers´ comment in arrival newspaper that ´Circue de Soliel are people who do weird s**t !
So, we have booked the flights, reserved accommodation and have printed out our tickets from the on-line booking site. What could possibly go wrong?