December 19, 2016

Christmas Comes Early: NoFit State Circus Presents BIANCO for the Southbank Centre's Winter Festival

Delia Ceruti and Joachim Aussibal get tied up in NoFit State's BIANCO, photo courtesy of Seventh Wave
             NoFit State Circus has brought its Big Top tent to London as part of the Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival with a new version of its promenade show BIANCO.

             BIANCO takes the circus back to basics, in an environment that belongs to the performers who occupy the space just as much as the rapt audience who follows each heart-stopping move within it. The show is fluid, inviting the undulating audience to move forward to take a closer look and then step back to fully appreciate the beauty.

             Founded in 1986, Cardiff-based NoFit State delivers contemporary circus. The company is one of the few that still tours like a traditional circus, with everyone travelling and living together, as well as helping to put up the Big Top and operate the rigging systems in the show.

Photo courtesy of Tristram Kenton
             After Lyndall Merry, 32, from Wales completed circus training in Bristol, it was a life on the road doing what he had always dreamed of doing – trapeze. “I love performing. I get a real thrill out of performing. I love it when you’ve got a really good crowd who are giving you lots of energy. That feeling is incredible when you’re on point and everything’s easy and you’re giving to them and they’re giving back to you.”

             As well as being a trapeze artist in BIANCO, Merry is also the head rigger, which means that he designs and installs all of the flying systems. As the performers are suspended in the air, their fellow performers work in the shadows to support them with each smooth ascent and descent.

Danilo de Campos Pacheco, photo courtesy of  Maike Schulz
             Merry says, “People anticipate the hours of practice and training that go on to hone the disciplines and the skills, but it’s the technical community aspects that people don’t quite realise. They imagine that there’s a team of technical people, a team of laborers, that do the hard work, but actually, we do it.”

             If silly clowns and gimmicky balloon tricks are what you’re after, this is not the show for you. Directed by Firenza Guidi, BIANCO is both rough around the edges and tenderly executed, supported by an incredible live band.

Cecilia Zucchetti, photo courtesy of Seventh Wave
             A juggling pin goes astray here and there, while filled wine glasses wobble in the hands (and feet) of a contortionist, but the acts are done so deftly that I begin to wonder if the cast is just playing tricks on us. The contortionist in question is Ella Rose, 22, who originally hails from Australia and has joined the company for the London season of BIANCO.

             Rose points out that she was really bendy as a child, which predisposed her to contortion. Growing up in Albury, Australia, she toured with a children’s circus called the Flying Fruit Fly Circus School during her primary and secondary school years. She notes that the hard work came in when she had to learn how to be strong and how to control her body without hurting it.

Ella Rose during her contortion hand balancing act in BIANCO, photo courtesy of Tristram Kenton
             When asked what people would be surprised to know about her line of work, she laughs, “Maybe how many bruises I have that you can’t see. I think particularly for some of the work that I do, the feedback that I get afterwards is, ‘You look so beautiful and you make it look so easy’ and then I’m like, ‘My legs are six different shades of blue.’”

             There’s intentional mayhem as well as artful precision within the show. Francois Bouvier nimbly glides across the tight wire, slinking down into the splits, and Delia Ceruti rises and falls on a rope suspended in the air.

             The finale is dominated by Augusts Dakteris, who uses the strength of his body to maneuver around aerial straps, bringing the audience to a standstill. Just when I think the scene couldn’t get any more magical, it begins to snow – Christmas has come early.

Augusts Dakteris in the middle of a snowstorm, photo courtesy of Andrew Billington
            BIANCO has been seen by over a quarter of a million people in 11 different countries during its four-year run. The last time it was performed in London was in 2013 at Camden’s Roundhouse and London is now the last leg of the show before NoFit State begins research in 2017 for a new show.

             Merry says that the company has been working with the promenade style of show for 15 years, but the next goal is to create a seated show that still provides an immersive atmosphere and the same level of audience interaction.

Enni Lymi, photo courtesy of Tristram Kenton

             BIANCO will run at the Big Top, Southbank Centre, until 22 January 2017. Circus workshops, pre-show Q&A's, and seasonal performances are all available. Find out more and book tickets here. Although it is a promenade show, seats are available on request. Take advantage of the bar inside the tent, or outside at the Winter Festival, where you can warm up your hands over a fire while gazing into a big, beautiful London Eye.

October 09, 2016

Choose Life, Choose a Job, Choose a Family, Choose This Little Life of Mine

Izzy (Kate Batter) and Jonesy (James Robinson) think back to happier times, photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner
             Pick two: work, relationships, or self-care. Most of you will have seen variations of this work-life balance triangle graphic online. The career one is split between a job that pays well, is in a good location, or advances your career. The college one confronts you with whether or not you want good grades, enough sleep, or a social life. Again, you can only pick two. They might seem somewhat humorous or like melodramatic ultimatums, but for most of us, they’re decisions we face (and struggle to juggle) on a daily basis.

             That’s why the new musical from Michael Yale, This Little Life of Mine, at Park90 has tapped into something entirely human and relatable. Main characters Izzy (Kate Batter) and Jonesy (James Robinson) want it all – their own flat, their first child, and time not only for each other, but also for their friends.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner 
             They settle into a small flat, but that’s London for you. Jonesy comes home from work too tired for sex and lusting for a beer, but Izzy is raunchily positioned on the couch ready to pounce, because she’s “ovulating”. It’s a word I thought I would never hear in a song, but “Tick Tick Tocking” somehow pulls it off. That’s the genius of Charlie Round-Turner’s music. They’re propositioned by a married couple they’re friends with who turn out to be swingers. I am reminded of the “Expectations vs. Reality” scene in the film (500) Days of Summer, where the lyrics of Regina Spektor’s song “Hero” ring out: “No one’s got it all.” Pick two.

             It’s true; the course of true love never did run smooth. Although this quote first appeared in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream hundreds of years ago, human nature at its heart is, in essence, predictable. There are ups and downs and when the audience laughs or falls silent during This Little Life of Mine, it’s because that theme, moment, or even a look, resonates with this little life of yours and mine.

Bartender and barista Raphael (Greg Barnett) keeps the alcohol flowing when Izzy and Jonesy's relationship is on the rocks, photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner
             One such example is the exchange between Raphael (Greg Barnett), a barista, and Tina (Caroline Deverill), Izzy’s friend. It is in fact Barnett and Deverill who steal the whole show and garner the most chuckles. In a singsong Portuguese accent, Raphael chirpily introduces himself and runs through the expected and dreaded spiel that comes with ordering coffee, much to Tina’s impatience. “When you say you want small, do you mean tall?” What follows is the “Song of the Barista”, which Barnett delivers in a mock somber tone that only adds to its hilarity. When he sprays his cleaning product on the counter with utter determination and not even a quiver of a smile, it’s enough to send me into fits of giggles.

             That’s not to say that Batter and Robinson aren’t strong leads, but when pitted against Barnett and Deverill, who revolve five and four roles respectively, it’s difficult to compete. They are the comedic value, because the storyline involving Izzy and Jonesy is emotional. We watch their relationship slowly deteriorate after a traumatic experience only breeds distance and disconnect rather than the child they long for. The theatre accommodates 90 people and I was sitting in the front row, perched practically in their living room. This made me feel all the more invested in their relationship and all the more eager for it to work.

Jonesy seeks comfort in friend Tina (Caroline Deverill), photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner 
             However, life is not full of happy endings. Izzy sings, “When I dreamt of happy ever after, I didn’t really picture it with you” to Jonesy in “Hey Prince Charming” at the beginning of the musical. In the finale number, “My Life Story”, she sings, “In the film of my life, everything will be cinematic wonder and happy ever after, but that’s just movie make-believe.” Both songs highlight the pursuit of perfection, but perfection doesn’t exist. The sooner we come to realize that, the happier we will ultimately be. For a generation that expects to have it all, sometimes all we really need to aim to achieve is contentment with what we already have. This Little Life of Mine perfectly reminds us of just that.

             This Little Life of Mine is running at Park90 in Finsbury Park until 29 October. Book tickets here.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner

September 07, 2016

Laura From the BLOK Goes to the Gym

What's the best part about going to the gym? The post-workout smoothie
           BLOK gym, founded by Hackney residents Ed Stanbury and Max Oppenheim, opened in February and occupies the space of a converted Victorian tram depot in Clapton. While gym classes have always been popular, they are particularly en vogue in the world of fitness right now. BLOK’s classes, which run across two studios, can be booked individually or as package deals. Take your pick from boxing, yoga, Pilates, barre, Calisthenics, BLOK-Babies, and Dance Fit, along with many more. I must be a masochist, because I headed to East London to sweat it out for two back-to-back sessions of intensive workouts, and loved every minute of it! Not only that, but I went back for more the following week!

             Disclaimer: BLOK is not for the lighthearted or the less experienced of gym rats. You need to have done your fair share of scurrying around the scene, lest you want to risk an injury. 

BLOK's café looks out onto Arran Gregory's artwork, SPRINT, which points in the direction of the gym studios, photo courtesy of BLOK
             The minimal space leads with its café, where fellow gym goers are already loitering, ready and raring to go. The Broth Bar, which serves bone broth (naturally), proves that BLOK is yet again on-trend. This much-loved food boasts high levels of protein, vitamins, minerals, collagen, and keratin, and is also free of carbohydrates. Botanic Lab juices, Square Mile coffee, and BLOK’s own shakes are also at hand for pre- and post-workout pick-me-ups.

             The studios are stripped down to their bare essentials, which is all you really need and should want in a gym. Brick walls, vaulted concrete ceilings, and cast iron pillars couldn’t be construed as anything but no-nonsense. A lot of gyms hide under the shimmery guise of fancy equipment and an excessive amount of mirrors (for the narcissist in us all). BLOK simply lets its classes do the heavy lifting.

It had to be done...the infamous "gym selfie"
             Before my first class, Methodology X, was set to begin, I asked the woman waiting next to me if she’d attended before, followed by the all-important question, “Will I be dead afterwards?” She replied, “Yes…but in a good way.” With that comforting thought in mind, I entered the studio with around six others to meet our instructor, Corinne.

             Methodology X by Dan Roberts, who is a revered strength and conditioning coach, launched exclusively at BLOK in July. Roberts originally created Methodology X as a 28-day home workout for women. Actresses, dancers, and models swear by it to keep their toned and slim figures. The skill-based HIIT (high-intensity interval training) group class combines dance, martial arts, Pilates, and athletic conditioning.

Dan Roberts illustrates one of the moves from his Methodology X class, photo courtesy of BLOK
             Like the Energizer Bunny, full of vivacity, Corinne was bouncing off the walls and one step away from floating on the ceiling. As she demonstrated what we had to do at each station in our circuit-based workout, she made it look easy. It was hard to keep up! The setup allowed us all to go at our own pace without worrying about what everyone else in the class was doing. No matter how hard I tried, I didn’t quite manage to reach the ceiling, not this time anyway. After releasing my plank position, I stayed firmly prostrate and would have probably stayed that way were it not for Corinne’s words of encouragement. One hour later, and there was no time to roll over and play dead, as I had to get ready for my next class – BLOK-FIT.

Choose your weapon, photo courtesy of BLOK
             It is pertinent at this point to say that I do not recommend booking two classes in one day. I managed to power through my jelly legs during BLOK-FIT with Kenny, who was a powerhouse in his own right. Lean, tall, and strong, he was intimidating – in a good way. His looming presence was enough to make me want to work hard. Again structured in timed intervals across stations, the class (a mixture of men and women this time) couldn’t be better described than how it is on BLOK’s website: “fast, focused, and intense.”

Instructor Kenny gets in the zone, photo courtesy of BLOK
             The training effect, which is essentially the pain you feel after working out and your body’s way of letting you know it’s changing and improving, was in full force after my misjudged double whammy of classes. No pain, no gain though, right…?  

             The HIIT acronym seems to be popping up everywhere at the moment, due largely to the success of online nutrition coach Joe Wicks, otherwise known as The Body Coach. He heavily plugs the HIIT method and the reason it’s so popular is because it’s highly effective without being time-consuming. Before Joe Wicks, there was my father. He has been telling me the same things as Wicks for years. We would often hit the gym together and operate on a “get in, get out” philosophy. As a U.S. Army veteran, my father knows his stuff. He just missed out on the millions that his own fitness empire would bring. It’s a shame, but his tips and tricks still ring in my ears today and serve me well.

Studio 1, photo courtesy of BLOK
             At BLOK, it was the fast-paced pounding of upbeat music ringing in my ears as my motivation soundtrack. It was fun to move to the beat, but I also learned to listen out for the slower tracks. They indicated floor meditation and a cool down, as well as a dimming of the lights. Ah lovely, bring on Child’s Pose. 

             That brings me to my last class sampler at BLOK –  HIIT. In comparison to the hour-long sessions of Methodology X and BLOK-FIT, the 30 minutes of HIIT with Corinne came as a sweet, sweet relief. I never thought I would find HIIT easy, and it certainly wasn’t, but it felt that way in comparison to my hardcore boot camp induction to the previous classes. My Fitbit really thanked me for my sudden spike in activity, as it’s probably the most action it’s seen for a long time! What did I do to celebrate my triumvirate of accomplishments? I treated myself to an Energy smoothie from BLOK’s café, of course! After all, I earned it.

             Book yourself into classes at BLOK here. You’ll be spoiled for choice by the timetable! Single classes start at £14 each.