Sunday, March 30, 2008

Circo del Sombra circle The Abbey

It had to happen. There have been so many 'new circus' companies through Ireland lately, eventually somebody was going to think up the daring wheeze of calling their company a 'traditional' circus. And that is exactly what next month's visitors to the Abbey, Circo de la Sombra have done. Around these parts, of course, you have to be pretty precise about what you call "traditional". Don't look for any bears here.

"Circus arts are expanding really fast since the past 20 years," says Johnny Torres. "Today we can find all kind of types of shows involving circus skills. Every circus has his own magic, from the most little and simple to the most complex. Our desire is to build a bridge between traditional and contemporary circus. An homage to the travelling women and men bringing illusion everywhere."

Although Torres sees Circo de la Sombra as following in the line of The Traditional Circus, founded by Philip Astely, in England in the 18th century, Sombra's style uses strictly human performers, displaying some of the traditional techniques of the game, from acrobatics and trapeze, to rolla-bola (in which a somebody balances on a board which is balancing on cylinder), and the German wheel (a big wheel shaped frame, which one or more people can get inside and spin across the floor).

Circo de la Sombra was formed three years ago from several smaller outfits who had been plying their trades around Europe. "We met in Geneva and Madrid training at the circus schools. We were basically three very different and particular duets at the same level of understanding, the same tune. We spent a year and a half meeting and doing acrobatics, then decided to jump together into the ring."

What the company has to offer, according to Torres, is an approach to making performances which is very intimate and human scaled. It is a style which evokes a golden age that perhaps never quite was, but which people are feeling a lack. The best term to describe that might be, then, nostalgic.

"Yes, we call our show nostalgic. We think we can make people fall in love with traditional circus, with the charm of hand-made and simple things..."

While the company avoid the narratives that have became common in "new circus" as a way to give coherence to a group of disparate acts, Torres and his fellow performers have given themselves a storytelling crutch to lean on, involving a mysterious character called Alejandro Sombra, from whom the company "inherit" his collection of sets and props.

"We have to bring it to life again," says Torres. "The thread is to make it possible, to entertain people with everything we find around. The starting point of the narrative is the doubt, the accident, the fall. It is an exercise for the audience and for us, we evolve together to the final act."

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