Circomedia, Portland square, Bristol, 28th September 2018
Go see if: You want to see experimental circus.
Stay away if: You don’t want to think or be challenged.
[Non] Verbal Bodies is a double bill. Two circus shows for the price of one. Two shows placed together for their companionship on the outskirts of normal circus shows. As Murphy admitted in the artists Q&A that both her and Slingsby sit on the fringes of conventional circus and perfectly complement each other; Slingsby presenting a non-verbal work and Murphy presenting a text heavy performance.
Two-legged Animal by Ziggy Slingsby starts with a pre-show atmospherical setting. Solo violinist and Slingsby as the horizontal performer breathing with her pony skull. We slow our thoughts and energy to match the subtle progression of this character into life. Whilst we are never quite sure if she is actually a horse or just channeling the spirit of the horse her physicality and nuances are delicate and exacting. The set is clearly considered, yet alludes to many different facets. A dirt circle, fallen dead leaves, horses, circus. Fitting that this is the year of Astley’s 250 years of circus, which historically included many horses within the ring however the musical journey overlaid twinges of religious evocation. For me it reminded me of a pagan tradition still alive in North Yorkshire where they would raise the skull of a horse to parade around on new year, to kiss for good luck. The ritualistic celtic music moved to a more eastern european sound and ended with a sound that resembled church worship. The beauty is that perhaps this is all just the ‘archeology of improvisation’ as Slingsby stated in her Q&A, however as with many good conceptual art pieces it makes the audience member an active voyeur and not a passive recipient.
Slingsby held and drew the delicate atmosphere and motifs of movement she had created on the floor into the air with an exacting precision that only an aerial athlete could achieve. We are left in no doubt that what she demonstrates is not a display of tricks or skill but a use of skill and trick to display a conceptual state that language by-passes.
Opposing the atmosphere of ‘Two-legged Animal’ we are presented with Murphy and ‘Contra’. Murphy is all woman. We can see this quite clearly through her lack of clothes. She quite quickly normalises this and sets the scene for the theme of her narration with a brief sketch involving the rope on Eve and the snake and the concept of original sin.
The microphone and Murphy are one for the majority of the time when we are not witnessing her non-verbal inner monologue on the rope. Comically, tragically and truthfully we are offered a glimpse into Murphy’s contradictions, struggles and reality. It’s at times uncomfortable, thought provoking, entertaining and progressive. She leaves you with the final iconography of herself wrapped in plastic high in the air. Incredible moves that reinforce the skill, strength and stamina needed, that is unapologetic that she is not being the package that modern consumerism would like to make of the modern woman.
A highly insightful night exploring the boundaries of modern circus with two artists devoted to the exploration of their artform.