Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ken Fanning's Circus(es)

Isn't it about time you knew your silks from your corde lisse? Your Chinese pole from your Danish one? With every other week seeming to bring a circus crossover act to town (check out for a hint at the range of current circus activity in Ireland) a little familiarity with the terminology is bound to help.

Or is it? As a new show suggests, it's the emotional power of the circus skills that matter, not the techniques.

This week Barabbas open their new latest theatre piece, Circus, made in collaboration with the founders of the Tumble Circus, Tina Segner, from Sweden, and Balbriggan's own, Ken Fanning.

Fanning and Segner has been running their circus company since the Spring day in 1997 when the two met, accidentally, like the pair in John Kearney's film, Once, while busking on Grafton Street.

"I knew Tina was a juggler because I could see juggling clubs sticking out of her bag, and literally within 5 minutes we were passing clubs on South Anne street," says Ken.

Together the pair formed Tumble Circus, one of the very few "new" circus troupes in Ireland. Perhaps the only one. While they have so far specialised in street shows, they are now moving indoors for their collaboration with Raymond Keane and Barabbas, a love story loosely based on the one in director, Fellini's cinematic hymn to the rough life of Italian travelling performers, La Strada.

"As a company, we have a lot in common with Barabbas whose work is based in clown," says Ken. "Although I think that, for instance, that Raymond is interested in the beauty of the clown, whereas we use the slapstick element more."

The intention in Circus is to use the skills of the Tumble Circus pair to tell a story without even resorting to words. This is possible, Ken suggest, because the skills of the circus always carry with them distinct emotional charges.

"Each act has a different emotional layer to it. For example, when we are doing a trapeze scene, for instance, it's very floating and slow, but quite dangerous. And it really evokes falling in love."

And while Barabbas show is one place to use those skills, as soon as the production finishes, Tumble Circus will be back to work. And to the tricky question of what the company growing profile should mean for its future.

"Right now, Tumble Circus is about the right size," says Ken. "You look at those companies like Cirque De Soleil, with 14 shows running around the world, and doing the same thing they've been doing since they started -- they're just soulless corporations. Who would want to become one of those?"

"All the big companies are just basing their ideas on what they find in the smaller companies anyway. The smaller companies are where the real innovations are coming from. That where the real creativity is. That's where we want to be."

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Monday, May 18, 1998

The Whiteheaded Boy (Andrews Lane Theatre, Dublin)

The most surprising aspect of Barabbas' success is that the company has made its reputation performing deeply lighthearted slapstick comedy, often while wearing clip-on red noses, on an Irish theatre scene still enamoured with the theatre of the word.

With The Whiteheaded Boy, the company founders -- Veronica Coburn, Raymond Keane and Mikel Murfi -- offer a substantial nod to that literary, Abbey version of Irish theatre, while at the same time shredding its pretensions and creating their most consistently satisfying work yet.

Lennox Robinson's comedy (first performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1916) of one Irish family and its blinkered response to the bad habits of its favourite son, gives ample scope for the indefatigably elastic Barabbas threesome (with Louis Lovett) to work their brand of theatrical magic.

The production's return to Dublin offers Irish audience's a last chance to catch the company before they open the show in London, to what will undoubtedly -- given the current vogue for Irish theatre -- be widespread acclaim.

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