Composed by NoFit State Circus with direction from Firenza Guidi
Cast: Augusts Dakteris; Delia Ceruti; Francois Bouvier; Danilo de Campos Pacheco; Blaze Tarsha; Celia Zucchetti; Ella Rose; Jess O’Connor; Jani Földi; Topher Dagg; Lyndall Merry; Lee Tinnion; Junior Barbosa; Felipe Nardiello; Enni Lymi; Joachim Aussibal.
So I Saw… Bianco
NoFit State’s newest show feels deliciously clandestine – despite what its name Bianco (Italian for the colour white) might suggest. Just getting to the venue for the performance feels indulgently like taking a deliberate turn off the beaten (and proper) path; as you cross the flow of people walking off the east stairway of the Hungerford Bridge and dive down onto its underpass. As part of the Southbank’s Winter Festival a mini-city of market stalls has popped up down here; giving off the heady aroma of mulled wine and beer. Swimming through this, as the waters of the Thames glitter darkly alongside, you eventually reach Bianco’s home: a real big top. But it’s not quite what you’d expect. It’s small for a big top, and isn’t brightly coloured like most modern circuses. Instead it recalls the travelling circuses of the late 18th to early 19th century, when they were (most often) run by a single family or small collective of families – before they became fully commercialised and acquired the technicolour gimmicks geared towards mass appeal that are familiar to us now. Posters telling us to ‘step right up’ and see the show are no where to be found; rather a cast member smiles, holds out a hand for a ticket, and allows you into their world.
But whilst the atmosphere in the tent feels exclusive, it certainly doesn’t exclude. Rather, it’s as if we have been invited into a microcosm of vagabonds, and to become embroiled with the temptingly transgressive aura they exude: even the smell of the fake smoke in the air acquires a sort of musky allure. Vital to this extraordinary mood is the personal contact Bianco’s performers are afforded with their audience; for the tent has neither a ring, nor a ringmaster. Instead the audience stands, whilst the performers weave through them – doing their own thing. Although there is no central ring at this circus, there is (initially) a scaffolding that encloses the central area of the tent. It is wrapped in a gauzy fabric that the performers peel up as they casually clamber into (or up onto – dangling carelessly over or heads) this central space. They come together loosely, informally, and almost instinctively – chatting and swaggering about (casting huge shadows), loudly enjoying the inside jokes they have amongst themselves; calling to one another in a pan-cultural patois (including Italian, Spanish and French amongst others), in the same breath as they chat animatedly to (or just stare at) members of the audience – both inside and outside of the gauze. They are simultaneously friendly and intimidating, enticing and frightening, relatable and superhuman; moving between these expressions of character as quickly as the audience is (literally) moved around the performances.
This feels sort of dangerous – in a good way. As the performers spin in hoops above our heads (most of them scantily clad and highly muscled) it’s impossible not question whether they might fall: in fact they do – although intentionally. In a comical trapeze act a man dressed in a flamboyant white suit smoking a cigar swings over-exuberantly above our heads – and flies off the trapeze; hitting the tent ‘ceiling’. He bounces off – caught by his safety wire; but we laugh both at the intended hilarity of the moment and at our feeling slightly trepidatious. And that helps us to let go – to let our guard down. So too does being a part of a constantly moving audience. Gradually the fear that you might tread on someone’s feet, or commit some other faux pas, dissolves the more we are moved around together – although this comes with a caveat, if you’re five-foot-one, like me. Others have reported seeing ‘a six-foot man bend down to check that the woman who is barely brushing five feet can see’: I wish that had been me.
However, visibility issues aside, immersion in Bianco’s world is immensely liberating; for the logic of its universe is one where contradictions can coexist. Or, as the show’s director Firenza Guidi puts it, one where ‘there is only passion, the messiness and infectiousness of life’. But don’t assume that this is code for complete confusion: although we are presented with no consistent narrative, strong themes emerge. These range from something as light as the childlike pleasure in achievement (as in Francois Bouvier’s tightrope, where he completes a backflip, punches the air and joyfully points to himself), to something as heavy as the boulder the gods of Greek mythology force Sisyphus to repeatedly push up a hill, only to watch it roll back down and hit him. Camus regarded Sisyphus as ‘the absurd hero’, (whose ‘whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing’, and is trapped by his fate; yet is paradoxically fulfilled by his choice to embrace his fate) and there is something of the absurd in some of Bianco’s acts. For example the aerial silk performance of Danilo de Campos Pachecos: as he repeatedly climbs up his silks, with huge energy (muscles, that clearly indicate his skill and the effort he has put into this performance, visibly working) he suddenly falls, and hangs completely prone – like a puppet. Other images of human attempts at self-assertion, juxtaposed with entrapment are scattered throughout Bianco: from the aerial door-way shaped boxes a performer climbs through to open the show, to Delia Ceruti’s aerial rope performance, where she literally ties herself in knots.
But the great thing about Bianco is that all of these performances could equally be interpreted otherwise: it’s a blank slate of sorts – partly because of the vivacity of its performances. Whilst there is a voiceover that mumbles (a little needlessly) a few words on existential themes – that are perhaps much better conveyed by the deep rumbling tones emanating from the band (particularly from the singer – whose voice is suggestive of Leonard Cohen meets throat-singing; often sustaining long deep primordially resonant notes) – words are not the point of Bianco. Rather this show is a collection of vivid, wild and totally immersive images ripe for an audience to interpret how they will – depending on what resonates most with them. Just as Ceruti’s aerial rope performance might be seen as expressive of a sort of absurd struggle, we could more specifically interpret it through the lenses of our own lives: for example this audience member read a narrative of perfectionism into Ceruti’s performance. This is where the audience’s freedom to move comes into its own; because the angle from which you view each act affects how you interpret it – and each person has the opportunity to find their own viewing sweet spot. As I watched her wrap the rope around her waist, and pull it up in front of her so that she could ‘walk’ along it at the same time (see the image to the right), my vantage point emphasised the restrictiveness of what she was doing to herself; for the rope constricted her waist, like a corset, and the rope-path she walked along (the rope she held in front of herself) seemed all too much like a self-inflicted tightrope – implying a fear of falling.
In the final act the aerial straps artist, Augusts Dakteris, dives deep into the air (only just stopping himself from hitting the ground) from the peak of the tent’s top. As snowflakes begin to fall (inside the tent) he flies in circles – soaring, held up only by his own physical strength conducted through the thin straps supporting him. He is perfectly elegant – he clips his toe (not a usual occurrence as far as this reviewer could judge) on the scaffold that has been constructed and re-constructed around us throughout the show; but he ignores it. He pushes on. He starts to create his own his own weather, his own tornado in the snow swirling about him as he turns within it. He lands, then the audience is invited to the centre of the tent to enjoy the snow too. We can’t fly through it as he did, but the collective euphoria makes us feel, for a moment as if we could.
Later as I leave I see two people taking pictures of each other – with their heads covered in the snow; collecting a new image to colour their world. Bianco, may mean white – but just as each snowflake has its own unique pattern, this show seems to encourage us to take the images it gives us to create our own collage that concentrates how we feel about our experience of life. It’s less about grand performance (at the end of the show we are even invited for drinks at the in-tent-bar with the cast) than the experience of being there – it’s personal, intimate and more than a little alluring; and powerfully freeing for this.
More information about the production can be found at: http://www.nofitstate.org/bianco-southbank-centre and https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/117873-nofit-state-circus-presents-bianco-201617
With thanks to Theatre Bloggers: http://theatrebloggers.co.uk
by Emily Swettenham
Monday 5th December 2016.
 The Victoria and Albert Museum. 2016. Victorian Circus. [online]. Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/v/victorian-circus/ [Accessed: 5th December 2016].
 Howard, J. 2014. ‘Bianco – review’. The Guardian. [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/feb/20/bianco-review [Accessed: 5th December 2016].
 NoFit State. 2016. ‘Bianco: Southbank Centre, 23rd November 2016 – 22nd January 2017’. Press Release, 29th November 2016.
 Camus, A. 1942. The Myth of Sisyphus. [online] Available at: https://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/hell/camus.html [Accessed: 5th December 2016].