June 2015 sees the triumphant homecoming of Bianco, the immersive promenade circus experience from Cardiff-based NoFit State. This year’s production promises something for new and old audiences alike as director, Firenza Guidi, injects new ideas and new performers into the show.
Tom Rack, Creative Director for NoFit State says, ‘We’re really excited to bring Bianco back to Cardiff this year. We were overwhelmed by the positive response to the show last year.’
To mark the occasion, Wales Arts Review features, from its archive, Dylan Moore’s rave review of the show in 2014.
Big Top, John Street, Cardiff
For all the resurgences right across the arts in Wales, it would be difficult to find a company more worthy of a collective shout from the national rooftops than NoFit State. Founded in 1986, and having grown to become the UK’s leading organisation of its kind, the Cardiff-based troupe is firmly established in the firmament of international ‘contemporary’ circus. Bianco, a reworked reprise of a show originally conceived for Cornwall’s Eden Project in 2012, is a thrilling reminder of why.
Bianco is not simply a mesmerising showcase for all of the classic disciplines of this cutting-edge brand of circus, although it is that as well. NoFit State’s visionary Artistic Director Firenza Guidi has stitched together a dreamscape, comprising a cornucopia of trapeze artists and cloud-swingers, acrobats and aerialists, a multiplicity of languages, a non-stop madcap adventure. It is passionate, chaotic, infectious. In short, she has created a world.
The attraction of such is that it is not our world. Like all great art – and make no mistake, Bianco is great art – we get lost in it. We are bewitched, bewildered, bamboozled. Around the edges of the Big Top, erected especially for the show outside the company’s training warehouse in John Street, Cardiff city centre, there is a bar, and stalls selling popcorn and memorabilia. But from the moment the show begins, the outside world is forgotten; John Lewis and the Radisson hotel seem a million miles away. Instead, we are immersed in light and colour and noise; the timeless thrill of the circus, twenty-first century style.
The pulsating soundtrack from NoFit State’s multi-talented resident live band would be well worth the entrance ticket on its own. There is high-energy rock to accompany the swinging trapeze, pulsating electronica for a mesmeric juggling routine; there is polka and piano and a choral dirge that sounds like it emanates from the very bowels of the world, a call-to-prayer bellowed through a didgeridoo from an underground cavern. If the NoFit State band – Calum McIntyre, Annette Loose, Andy Moore and Doug Kemp – are beyond inventive, their often ethereal sounds threatening to take attention away from the performers, the stunning visual design of Bianco means that if you do take your eyes off toward the edge of the tent to wonder how the sound is being produced, they are soon brought back to the visual feast at the centre of proceedings.
Girls of the night swing high in cages made of silver beads; a lady in a white dress is lifted high above the crowd as red petals fall from a bucket at the very top of the Big Top; female bodies escape from the bondage of ropes in a high-stakes Houdini act. There are moments of bawdy – on the tightwire, an extroverted hunk strips to his boxers, revealing a body as tight as the rope on which he teeters maniacally, drawing giggles from the ladies in the crowd; later, a naughty chanteuse finds herself upside down in a gigantic sink suspended above the audience. But such fleeting, knockabout moments are transmogrified into the very stuff of life by the ever-present scent of danger.
Even the set changes are a thrilling daredevil enterprise, as the audience – often free to wander among the performers while the acts are in full swing – are corralled into spaces between the wheeling stanchions, reeling rigging and lurching apparatus. At any given point in the two-hour extravaganza a quick glance around the assembled throng reveals mouths hanging agape: children silenced into awe, women lost in amazement, men stripped of any lingering traces of bravado by the sheer wonder of what we witness.
Forget the names of the disciplines for a moment. There is a young man hanging off the ceiling! Women swinging on ropes across impossible distances without the aid of CGI! Yes, this is art – it’s all an act, a show, a piece of theatre – but this is also real life! Watching aerialist Anna O’Loughlin fearlessly launching herself, Cardiff’s answer to Spider-Woman, or Lyndall Merry hanging off the swinging trapeze with the strength of an Olympian and the grace of a ballet dancer, it was hard not to admire the sheer human courage as well as artistry on show.
Bianco lifts the spirit, reaffirms your humanity, has you walking on air. It is truly like a visit to another world. Who knows what it does for the adrenalin-fuelled performers? As a critic, I have rarely wanted to give such unequivocal praise; as a person, I almost wanted to run away with the circus. And to think: this stuff is made in Wales! We should be shouting about NoFit State from every rafter.
Tickets for the 2015 version of Bianco are available at www.nofitstate.org/bianco or by calling 0333 222 9000.