Battersea Circus Garden – Wandsworth Arts Fringe
Reviewed – 11th May 2018
“What initially appears chaotic comes into sharp focus, culminating in a moving climax”
In 1768, on an abandoned patch of land near London’s Waterloo, showman, entrepreneur and equestrian rider Philip Astley drew out a circle in the ground, filled it with astounding physical acts – jugglers, acrobats, clowns, strong men and bareback riders – and what we now know as “circus” was born. As part of the celebrations marking the 250th anniversary of the invention of this art-form, the ‘Circus Garden’ has transformed a small park tucked away behind Clapham Junction into a circus festival. As part of this mini festival, young company ‘Esprit Concrete’ bring their performance piece, “Grit”, to the Battersea Big Top for two nights only.
It is an intriguing act, and not strictly ‘circus’. Esprit Concrete comprise, under the tutelage of founder Kasturi Torchia, two extraordinary female artists who delve into issues of personal struggle with their unique combination of physical theatre, dance and Parkour. The emphasis is on the word ‘unique’, as this show is quite an eye-opener, and not at all what it seems at first. A lone figure, Georgia Munroe, wanders onto the sparse stage, tentatively inspecting the two wooden Parkour vaulting blocks and a cube of scaffolding for strength. She appears apprehensive and what ensues is a routine of rudimentary and repetitive movement that feels, at first, like an open rehearsal. When she is joined by Louiseanne Wong the steps become more cohesive, but we are still a little unsure. The promotional material has supplied you with a brief synopsis of the story these steps are telling, but it is best to pay no heed to these. Midway into the show, something suddenly clicks and what the audience feels is far more emotive.
Munroe and Wong are using their bodies to mirror their thoughts and their fears. Their movements alone allow us to almost read their minds, such is the skill and dedication of these two girls. What initially appears chaotic comes into sharp focus, culminating in a moving climax where Munroe repeats the same movements, but this time with joyous and confident dexterity. Against the pounding back-beat of the dance anthem ‘I Feel So Alive’ she has total control over the stage as she performs some gravity defying moves. The obstacles have become instruments, and instrumental to reaching this point are the guiding steps of Wong’s more subtle yet classical dance movements.
Torchia’s background is as a counselling psychologist, but these three formidable women in no way let the entertainment be clouded by heavy handed discourse. They let the audience take what they can from the piece. Like with music, no words are needed here to convey the emotions. Whether or not we fully understand these is debatable, but we have grasped the essence; which is what Esprit Concrete aim to do.
The show explores people’s relationships with fear, and moreover – in the context of the Parkour – with the importance of not being afraid to fall. Their energised performance is worth a shelf full of self-help books. Running at just under an hour, and for two nights only, we are left wanting more. I can say, without fear, that we will definitely see more of them in the future.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Aaron Crowley
Wandsworth Arts Fringe