Rhiannon Lowe's picture

 Seventh Wave Bianco, NoFit State Circus. Image: Seventh Wave

Fancy running away with the circus? Best catch up quick, as NoFit State's big top show Bianco concludes its short run in Cardiff and sets off for Europe later this week. Rhiannon Lowe swivels her neck to keep up with the action.

I am so not happy that I have worn silly heels. Nor is my lovely friend who has to carry them, while I shame-facedly hobble the wet streets home later. I should have remembered that the last time I went to the circus I also stood for a couple of hours; but that was 20 years ago and I was protesting about elephants and donkeys being shackled and beaten. Tonight we are at the NoFit State big top to see the spectacle that is Bianco. There s not a beast in sight - well, save for us spectators, who are herded hither and thither to accommodate movement of scaffold and wires and ladders, as the central performance arena shifts and morphs to suit the drama that unfolds before us, above us, behind us. But as beasts we are all the more in awe of the sheer human effort on show.

NoFit State: the circus-cum-theatre-cum-performance group, which was started in 1985 by a bunch of jugglers who reckoned they could perform their hurling and catching skills while learning wire-walking, cycling, aerial acrobatics, trapeze, ropes... True, they did bring in specialists to help train, educate, demonstrate and work alongside them; but now NoFit is 30 years old, and the ever growing and changing community, bound by common passion and collective creative drive, has forged a bond within a company that effuses a unique spirit. NoFit is a happy band, an association of performers born of trust, skill and friendship. Theirs is a substantive world made of reliance upon each other and a created one of meshing between the real, possible, imagined and impossible - a poetry of movement and design, sound and visual.

While at times caught within a small wave of shuffling, ushered by a team of urgent circus guardians, we are also free to move around the central arena space. The series of featured performances run into one another, helped and accompanied not only by the live band but also by the participation of the rest of the multi-skilled performers: while each has a specialism, all are involved on the boundaries of the whole event. Towers of scaffold are wheeled and tipped; counter weights are manoeuvered, fellow performers are hoisted high into position; theatrical backdrops of movement and costumes, groups and impromptu choirs create settings for the star acts - individuals for whom the body has become a flexible and honed core of balanced, toned muscle and focused, mental strength.

My favourites are the man seemingly bound with-in, but then with-out, a huge metal wheel, carting himself around the pit; the pair of beautifully-in-tune aerial workers, folding themselves around one another, creating, to my eyes, impossible gravity-defying stretched-tight poses, hanging and hurling themselves, displaying unnerving levels of trust in one another; the debauched and apparently intoxicated juggler, tucking batons where one might imagine they should impede ordinary movement and concentration, while keeping eyes on the many others up above her; and the rope walker determined to perfect a flip of sorts, regaining balance from improbable over-reached shapes. And that s not to mention the landscape swathe of immense white dress topped by a tiny, seemingly delicate, but undoubtedly strong, figure, lifted high, red petals spinning and twirling down; the hula-hoopers who, not content with one perilously circling hoop around a desperate belly, as I would be, have about four perfect ones on the go at extremes of limbs as well as one spinning dead even on a super-flat tum; and of course the acrobats at once rolled and knotted, then seemingly free-falling, within streams of silk, catching themselves, rising up, appearing to dance amongst and with the flowingmaterial.

There are pauses in the action, points at which my friend whispers there is a little too muchjiggling about . These are the down times between the core acts, which seem sometimes rather a mess of chaotic movement. Of course they are tightly choreographed, creating a party and, I suppose, human atmosphere, whipping up a display of bonhomie, a playful portrayal by performers who clearly know one another well, reflecting the close-knit relationship of them as a travelling troupe. Perhaps however, they become more like a musical run-a-round, dancing a little too close to a diverting distraction, and giving opportunity for the audience to relax and take too many breaths. The firework sparks of the majority of the individual set performances are so enthralling, so mesmerising, catching the audience up with their startling movement and action, that the intervals between go on a touch too long. The scenes need to be set, admittedly; shapes and positions have to be formed and costumes changed, and as NoFit proudly says, the skeleton that holds the whole performance together is on show and revealed for us all, breaking the boundaries between performer, performance and audience. However, a little lessjiggling might have stopped at least one person from thinking too much about his own previous school-ground ability at leg-swinging. The spirit and vision of a created other-world of both physical and mental prowess cracked, maybe just a bit.

And yet, a central part of what NoFit does is show itself as only human, and let the rest of us in. Its members train, they engage, they invite and collaborate; they offer teaching, classes, workshops. Their performance is accessible not only by revealing its physical bones and structure, but also by encouraging others, like the beasts referred to earlier, to learn and experience how it is all done, and start to explore the possibilities of their own bodies. I am sure some of us will take them up on the offer too.

NoFit State is off on tour after this brief set of Cardiff appearances, travelling to Europe and next year to New York. Bianco has been updated, reworked, revised. CCQ last year went to Green Man Festival to photograph NoFit doing 10-second guerrilla performances, some by the less than delightful toilets. For our next issue we have asked Tara McInerney to do some illustrations of the rehearsals for Bianco. We look forward to what she has come up with and how she managed to confine her drawings to the page, not let them leap up, off, out and away with the circus.

Bianco is on in Cardiff Until 27 June www.nofitstate.org