Day 1: Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival

So we attended our first night of circus shows through the Chicago Contemporary Circus. (Shows started on Thursday but we had circus classes). It was incredible! If you can go, I’d highly recommend catching a show or two. They will blow your mind. Note: in my discussion of the pieces, I talk about my interpretation of the pieces.We saw three shows, though the first show was two groups of artists put together.

The first was called Muualla/Elsewhere by a Finnish artist, Ilona Jäntti who goes by the name Ilmatila. The piece was this wonderfully abstract interactive acrobatics/rope act. She performed against a while wall with  beautifully animated scenes. She’d do an impressive pose and the silhouette would appear and take a life of its own as a monster. It was a combination of a beautifully abstract computer game and Alice in Wonderland, chasing the rabbit (in this case a red rabbit like monster). She interacted with the wall animation, sitting on 2D chairs, and trying to catch this red rabbit monster. One of the most sublime moments is when she goes into a house, grabbing a rope and pretending to walk up the stairs. And then everything goes wrong and she simulates falling down the stairs, banging her head on each step. It was brilliant and moving.

The second group in the show was duo group, Cohdi Harrell and Laura Strokes, called Ricochet in a piece “Smoke and Mirror.” It was probably the best circus narrative I’ve ever seen. The piece had doubles trapeze, double rope, trapeze, duo double rope, acrobatics, and interpretive dance to talk about the pursuit of happiness in America.

It began with the man and woman on the trapeze, dressed in 1950s suits. It was a piece about constraints and oppression (the woman wore high heels on the trapeze-holy cow!). Then the two went their separate ways. The woman went through the routine of taking off her outfit and makeup which I thought was a comment about the general domination of our daily routines. She did a beautiful, haunting double rope act to express that loneliness and sense of limitation. The man then did a interpretive dance with a chair and light, symbolizing the repression of the day to day job, tied to a chair working for someone else.

In the next part, the man and woman come together but the man in turn oppresses the woman, pushing and trapping her under the chair. He finds freedom in this incredible trapeze act, that has to be one of the best trapeze acts I’ve seen. She emerges from her chair, topless and disoriented, and does an interpretive acrobatic dance. I interpreted it as women finding their own liberation but it’s messy, problematic, full of starts and stops. Then the two come together and proceed to fight, throwing each other around stage.

Then they both do a awe-inspiring duo act on the double rope. This act was done with a voice  the music about how we need to come together, need less cleverness and more kindness, need less machines and more emotions. But then, this moment of solidarity was over. The two put on their work clothes and then reached out into the audience, still seeking and alone. A friend of mine put it best, “I’ve never seen two people on stage so helplessly alone.” Incredible.

These two pieces will be performing again on Sunday at 8.

We also saw the International Edition of Circus Cheapo. It was also wondrous. It’s a different show from the others since it is a cabaret style and no narrative between the pieces. There were many amazing acts but I’ll talk about only a few. My favorite piece was a Chinese pole by Avina Rose-Williams. She flipped herself up and down the pole in ways I didn’t think the human body could move. The piece seemed to be about her affection for the pole who wasn’t the most kind of friends. It’d trip her, make her stumble (All on purpose, I assure you) but she remained faithful to it. Simply lovely.

There was a wondrous Duo acro piece by Andy and Abigail. A spotlight came on and Abigail struck a pose. Andy came along and picked up her up and moved her. She’d fight back over the spotlight. The piece was charming and impressive. Andy threw Abigail up and around. At one point, she stood on his hands while he lay down and he proceeded to roll over and over without dropping her. Amazing.

Another piece that really struck me was Rain Anya and Sarah Bebe Holmes who call themselves “Paper Doll Militia.” They performed a piece called “New Approach” on the duo silks. It was one of the most beautifully, menacing acts I’ve seen.  One way I interpreted the piece was that one artist was in a mental institution and the other was the physical embodiment of her insanity. The first was dressed in what looked like a ripped up straitjacket. The second artist crawled off the silks and terrorized the first artist. Very unusually and exciting.

So that’s all for now. I’ve got a full day of circus and a silent film ahead of me.

Until tomorrow.

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