Jemma Beggs reviews the circus show Bianco — Turning Savage, the sequel to Bianco — Time for Beauty at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Bianco – Turning Savage is the exciting new twist on the original Bianco – Time for Beauty, first produced in the Eden Project last year. It is contemporary circus involving a combination of traditional circus tricks, live music, dance and stage design. Now, the word ‘circus’ immediately evokes a very specific image – an eager audience expertly guided through (varying degrees of) hilarious clown sequences, daring trapeze artists, and other traditional performances by the ever present ringmaster, all in the comforting surroundings of The Big Top. With this vision in mind, it is safe to say NoFitState is by no means your stereotypical circus.
Ushered into a vast dimly lit room, the audience find their places around the main stage area, a large cube shrouded in semi-transparent sheets, behind which we are able to see the cast scrambling up and around four giant white towers, chattering constantly to…each other? Themselves? It is not clear exactly but the audience are made to feel invisible as we watch and wait for the show to begin. This goes on for a little longer than comfortable before a sudden elephant trumpet echoes through the room – a nod to Jose Saramago’s The Elephant’s Journey, which continues to provide inspiration for Firenza Guidi in his direction of Bianco. The music stops and the stage falls into darkness as heavy breathing echoes through the room and a voice speaks of a journey, a story to be told, a circus turning savage.
Unfortunately, there was not much savagery to be found throughout the show – on paper perhaps the pounding retro-rock music performed by the excellent live band, flashes of fire and crazed calls of the cast all indicated savagery but in reality this did not quite translate. There were moments which could be described as savage but overall this did not feel like the wild, ferocious performance the title promised. However, the other main aspect I was expecting from Bianco was beauty and thankfully in this I was not disappointed.
Just one example is that of Elena Burani who provided a stunning visual, clinging to a single rope with a billowing white dress endlessly falling to the floor, rose petals floating down from the ceiling as she was slowly lifted into the air. However, the dress and a few other similar outfits throughout the show seemed to serve little purpose other than to create an initial picture as, presumably not being practical for the tricks to follow, they were swiftly discarded before the actual performance began.
Described as ‘an immersive promenade experience’, there was far too much setting up involved between acts with nothing much to do in between but try not to be hit by the ever moving stage. As a member of the audience, this constant herding from one area to another made me much too self -aware of my own presence, making it difficult to become immersed in what I was watching. A great shame as throughout the show there were some truly talented and excellent performances; Anne Fay Johnston added some humour to the night as she acted the part of a hopelessly drunk girl attempting the Olympic rings after a night out, babbling away in French the entire time and simultaneously pulling off some very impressive tricks.
Another impressive performance was that of the trapeze artists, both at the beginning and later on in the show. The initial trapeze act was heart stopping at times as the audience stool below and surrounding the two artists, the tricks phenomenal and the pace unbelievably fast. The later act was a beautiful double trapeze routine, less a circus performance than a love story translated into theatre. This story enticed the audience and indeed I feel the show required much more of a narrative, something to thread the acts together and add meaning to the tricks, to make the audience feel an emotion as sometimes if felt like the performer was fully in the moment and attempting to project a certain feeling but it was not translating to the audience.
It also felt as though most of the acts were cut short before they reached their peak and the use of foreign languages in some of the performances made everything a bit baffling at times. But it may be that this was the very point – the savagery was never meant to be in the performances themselves but in the concept of not pandering to an audience, comfortably seated at the perfect angle to watch safely from a distance while the story unfolds in front of them. Of instead, tearing people from their comfort zone, placing them in the heart of the action and leaving them to create their own story from what they see and hear all around them.
Bianco – Turning Savage made for a dramatic evening, bringing something different and thought provoking. To be so close to the action, feeling the whoosh of air as a trapeze artist swings directly above your head, to see the expression on their face just before their feet catch the bar is an extraordinary experience. So if the bravery of the directors and the cast in pushing the boundaries of traditional circus did not quite make for a cohesive show, the talent of the performers and amazing vocals from the band still culminated in an exciting evening of entertainment.
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Jemma Beggs is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.