Life – A Love Letter to Merce Cunningham
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London
“The fall is a moment of philosophical contemplation,” says juggler Sean Gandini with a mischievous grin as he presents Life. Gandini Juggling’s joyous new show is the opener of this year’s London International Mime Festival, the annual showcase of physical theatre.
A tribute to American choreographer Merce Cunningham, Life is a complex and breathtaking mix of dance and juggling — most of us would do a lot of “philosophical contemplation” if we tried even the simplest of company moves. It’s also playful, bewitching and often of great beauty: no need to know modern dance or contemporary circus to be swept away by the talent and grace of the show.
It starts off soft, with Gandini and his co-founder and company director Kati Yla-Hokkala performing a series of juggling moves and making connections between ball patterns and musical signatures: three balls gives us a waltz; five and we are in Stockhausen territory. Then comes the company, moving across the stage in a series of fluid movements. strained and sharp withdrawn, eyes fixed on the whimsical patterns of the balls they toss into the air.
Soon they were leading us into a world of shapes, spaces and rhythms, where balls, clubs or rings seem to join the dance, matching the intricate footwork, hanging mid-air or extending the arcs and lines created by the performers. At a given moment, the dancers furrow the space, some in curved jumps, the balls tracing the curve above them, the others in the, with the balls thrown out the sides of the space in sympathy with their outstretched legs.
There is a headache-inducing passage when two dancers join hands to create a rhythm, using all four hands and feet, and pass the balls between them simultaneously. Live, layered music by Caroline Shaw adds another bit of complexity. Perhaps the most beautiful are the slow sections. In one, a couple glides backstage in a mesmerizing duet of lunges and arabesques, passing illuminated clubs between them.
This isn’t the first time the company has drawn inspiration from dance. For Life, Gandini and Yla-Hokkala worked with former Cunningham dancer Jennifer Goggans, who makes her juggling debut in this work.
There is a meditative quality to the piece and, as in many contemporary circus performances, a reflection on the rhythm and balance, trust and cooperation needed in life, as well as on stage. His short film is unfortunately over, but it is a show that will surely return to the company’s repertoire.
As with so many shows, LifeThe trip to the stage was cut short by the pandemic. Indeed, the entire mime festival marks a return to live, in-person performance, following the event’s migration online last year. There is therefore a particular pleasure in seeing pieces that celebrate the physical presence of the body (the festival has long since moved beyond narrow definitions of “mime”). This year’s program brings back favorite artists, such as Aurélien Bory (ash, Barbican, 26-29 January) and hits such as Vanishing Point’s Interiors (Barbican, February 2-5), which takes place under a glass roof around a dinner.
On an international tour, gandinijuggling.com
Shoreditch Town Hall, London
There is a certain emotion in the works about loneliness and loss in this month of January. Re’s Theater bluebelle is one of them, opening in an empty theater with just a “phantom light” on the stage (the lamp that burns when a theater is “dark”) and beginning with the gradual emergence of what seems to be a traveling troupe of a past century. This strikes a chord, given the experience of the arts world over the past two years.
The story of the performers is a mysterious and disturbing piece, drawn from various folk tales and delivered without words. A king and queen yearn for a child and summon a fairy to grant their wish. But they fail to keep their end of the bargain, with disastrous consequences. Like all of these tales, it’s a fantastical story that delves into dark psychological truths – here the pain of infertility, the protective nature of parenthood, and how protection can tip over into control. The much-desired child is enclosed in a transparent bubble, which keeps her safe, but restrained.
The company (directed by Guillaume Pigé) delivers all this through precise and eloquent body language, accompanied by live music, creating an eerie and otherworldly atmosphere. As the story draws to a close, they coalesce, as if returning to a metaphorical backstage space where the folk tales that run through our culture are stored.
At The Lowry, Salford, on February 8 and 9, thelowry.com
The red ball
Puppet Theater Barge, London
Loneliness is also the key to The red ball, a sweetly charming children’s story, expertly delivered using long-string puppets. The place, moored in the Little Venice district of the capital, is, as its name suggests, a ship entirely dedicated to puppetry. It is particularly suitable for toddlers (The red ball age three and up), who climb onto the catwalk and into the small auditorium where ducks float past the portholes.
In the String Theater show (based on Albert Lamorisse’s seductive 1956 film of the same name), a little boy befriends a red balloon, which floats in the air like a seductive lollipop, teasing and comforting his solitary little companion. The puppet show (directed by Kate Middleton and Rob Humphreys) lacks the gritty gray backdrop of the original, which was filmed in ramshackle post-war Paris, and events differ – here, there’s an elderly lady doing the laundry and a rather random acrobat on a swing, which allow the puppeteers to show off their dexterity.
But the role of the ball as a beacon of hope and a child’s dreamy escape from a dull, rules-bound life is still relevant. It’s a little gem of a show that captivates its young audience.
As of March 20, puppetbarge.com
The Square, London
We are back in France for (the pain, but this time in the beautiful and lush Southwest. The show for Jean-Daniel Broussé, who performs under the name JD, begins with a video of the neighborhood — producing an audible gasp from the audience — that gradually zooms in on his family’s village bakery. His autobiographical solo, directed by Ursula Martinez, traces his struggles in the hope that he will advance the family business, his “fugue” to the circus and his emergence as a successful queer artist.
This is another mime festival delight. JD’s story is often poignant, often painful, but it’s sprinkled with mischief and sprinkled with humor: the title itself plays on the French and English meanings of the word ‘bread’. He arrives dressed for a pastry class, in chef’s trousers and a white T-shirt, and begins by kneading the dough and preparing baguettes which he will then bake in an oven on stage.
As the tantalizing smell of baking bread gradually fills the auditorium, JD wrestles with his identity, splicing the film of his father considering closing the bakery with a choppy onstage performance that has him writhing in a white bag like a piece of leavened dough, athletically roll, jump and slide on a floury kitchen cart and play the boha (traditional bagpipes) while telling a story in Occitan (the local language).
The bread – pounded, stretched, risen, coming golden from the oven and finally shared with the audience – becomes a metaphor for her experience. “Could I be both? Baker and interpreter? he thinks as he crosses the stage, half-naked and holding a tray of chopsticks. “How could I even do that?” »
On tour at Warwick Arts Center (February 1), Manipulate Festival, Edinburgh (February 4), The Lowry, Salford (April 21) and Déda, Derby (May 19). The festival continues until February 6 mimelondon.com