ROSE petals drop slowly from the ceiling as a woman in a huge white dress ascends towards the gods. Later, foam will fall as snow while a trapeze artist performs a stunning aerial routine.
Artistic director of No Fit State Circus’ Bianco, Firenza Guidi, will later explain that the show is about “painting with human beings”, while a canny audience member describes it as “choreography in 3D”.
The UK’s leading large scale contemporary circus company is coming to Limerick as the next big international show for City of Culture. A visual, physical and sensual show, Bianco is circus without clowns or animals - a thrilling, theatrical and acrobatic show set to live music, with jaw dropping aerial work.
There is no real narrative at play here, save for the show’s creator using José Saramago’s novel The Elephant’s Journey as a jumping off point. The ‘cast’ are international, some whom have graduated from the street to world class performer level.
It is messy, abstract and unashamedly joyful. What it is far from is “green leotards, plumes and feathers, and 20 people that look the same” - as the passionate Guidi says with a derisive snort.
“You are coming to see individuals that are first of all human beings, that are messy, there is sweatiness. It is raw, raucous and infectious.
“I really like a performer that is a circus performer, that actually has a thinking quality. Very often it is about training the body, the muscles. But actually to be an aerialist and be time based, be filmic, be Tarantino-esque.”
No Fit has visited over 15 countries and played to hundreds of thousands of people. A travelling world with deep roots in its home community of Cardiff, it is a village on the move that extends roots around the world.
When it comes to Limerick, No Fit will construct its Big Top in the car park alongside the Culture Factory, which recently played host to Fuerza Bruta.
While the action in this two hour and 20 minute show - with interval - happens around you and above, that is where comparisons to Fuerza end. Although there is no linear narrative to Bianco, the promenade style theatrics, coupled with high wire, strap and trapeze work, are all immediately familiar to the audience.
“Forget about traditional circus with clowns and red noses and dogs that squirt water at you, this combines traditional circus skills with dance, theatre, live music, film, and brings it together into a truly extraordinary event that is like nothing else you have ever seen,” says Alison Woods, executive director of No Fit State.
No Fit State are bringing the full ‘Big Top experience’ to Limerick, a 550 person capacity circus tent, 35m in diameter and 30m high, with four central columns replacing the proscenium arch of theatre.
While the initial thought process was to construct the tent - which looks like a UFO that has descended from Mars - indoors in the High Bay area of the Culture Factory, the staggering specifications of this show will not allow for that.
Instead, the Big Top will be constructed alongside the factory, with the audience funnelled through the warehouse, where there will again be bars and food, music and art installations. Paul Foley of City of Culture explains this will “maximise the impact of the Big Top, which still be tied in to the Culture Factory and still have the full experience”.
City of Culture bosses did not want to alter or change the show and lessen its impact.
Central to Bianco is the use of counterweights; indeed the company claim to have developed the system. Effectively, for every person that shoots into the air, another in a harness drops to the floor.
“Watching the counter weighters is as exciting as the main performers,” says Guidi. “I do a lot of work with the counterweights, there is an ensemble feel to it in that we are all in here, there is no green room, everybody is chipping into this.-
“What is also magical, for me, is that every single bit of the show is revealed in front of your eyes, every single bit of rigging. There are no engines, no motors to take the performer up. If there is one person flying up, it means there is another human being coming down.”
Likewise the music plays the part of central character, and a live band tracks every move the performance makes. Chris Martin was so enamoured by the show and the music that he saw it twice, bringing Coldplay back the second time and hailing Bianco’s band as “one of the best ever”.
Incorporating folk, Gregorian chant, rock, metal, jazz and more, it acts as a catalyst for the various sequences that the show moves through.
“The show is the machinery, the music is the fuel,” says Firenza.
“The show is the engine, the motor, what makes you fly, but because there is no ringmaster or narrator, you can follow different routes. Children, adults, it appeals to different layers of reading.
“The music is an electrocardiogram, it is a heartbeat, from a really simple voice with just a piano to tribal drumming, to rock, it really takes people on a journey from east to west.
“There is an edge to it, an honesty. The performers are always required not to mimic something. They are here and give everything they have got and the same goes for the music.
Geraint Talfan Davies, chairman of the Welsh National Opera, happened to be in the audience for the Cardiff show, and told the Limerick Leader that the music was “terrific”.
“The show is fantastic, I think it is really innovative circus work, and it has really put Wales on the map,” he said.
“It is great that we can generate something that is so unexpected, it is all very well to do sort of traditional cultures, but you do have to break out and do something very different and very new. I think it is a great success.”
Of the performers, Augusts Dakteris steals the show. An aerialist using straps and no harness, he flies above the audience’s heads like Tarzan, a gymnast’s body held perfectly prone.
Chairman of No Fit State Yvette Vaughan-Jones explains that he “came to us as a person off the street”.
“A young man, slightly lost, didn’t know what he wanted do, and now he is a world class performer,” she explains.
“What is really exciting about this company is that it is rooted in the community. So you can be a person coming from the community to a workshop and end up as world class, but only if you put in the hours,” she adds.
Dakteris explains that he was “blown away” by No Fit State when he first saw it.
“The atmosphere, the music, the fact that it is promenade, you are moving around and getting so close to the action,” he says breathlessly, “it touches you more than sitting in a theatre and watching a performance. It is totally removing the fourth wall, you are there.”
This is promenade in its best form, allowing the audience into the heart of the performance and to leave feeling energised and touched by it.
Ms Vaughan-Jones says: “I think, come with an open mind and open heart and you will truly be transported. Our strap line is that it is the circus you want to run away with, so leave behind your inhibitions and preconceptions, run away with us and you will have a fantastic time.”
No Fit State Circus’ Bianco runs from June 14-22. See Limerick City of Culture for more.