Zoo Venues, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 9th August 2016
It is a 50 minute solo show about handstands. Throughout the show, Natalie Reckert will explain and demonstrate in various ways how handstands work: scientifically, physically and in her personal life. Her technique in handstands is of a very high level, she holds a handstand with the ease that normal people stand on two feet – as she explain in the show, she started hand-standing at an early age. Her ease with this technique shines throughout all the piece. Being in a handstand is a big part of what defines her as a person, as she cleverly explains in the show.
The performance starts in an unusual way (I will not give a description of what happens, so I will not ruin the show for those who haven’t seen it yet), with which Natalie establishes from the beginning a show that directly addresses the audience. The fourth wall is broken from the very start and stays like this till the end of the performance; the audience is not participative but is actively addressed with a lecture, TEDtalk style, that I enjoy a lot. The combination of seeing high circus skills and learning new knowledge is a structure that is becoming of use in new styles of theatre and circus, and has been more popular in the last few years in performative arts; the subject of the piece becomes a predominant feature in the dramaturgy of the show.
Reckert holds the show for 50 minutes, alternating handstands routines to electro german music (I am sure german audience will be delighted by the musical score) with explanatory discussion about hand-standing, to finish off with a very pleasing visual effect, this time to crowd pleaser Purple Rain by Prince.
Natalie is a friend of mine, so I am very privileged to get to talk to her, learn a bit more about the ‘backstage of the Fringe’ and share some time together after the show; but actually the time is not much because, after the performance, Natalie – in real Fringe Festival style – has to flyer for her show. After that, she will be part of two (not one, but two!) cabarets during the evening, one at 9.45pm and another one at 12.45am; her working day goes from 2pm till probably 1.30am, nearly a 12 hour shift. We can say she loves her job and, as she admits, there are good days and days where she just is very tired and sees the day in terms of percentages, counting how long she has till she gets through it.
As a fellow performer – and I do not do something as physically challenging as handstands – I know how demanding and exhausting it is to have three shows in one day, so my admiration is immense for all the Fringe performers, especially the, lets say, less privileged; the ones that take a show to the Fringe with little or no economic support, no pay, no external production that provides them a fixed wage, just because they believe in their show and in what they do.
Yesterday we had a meeting with another woman from the circus world, ex-performer, Dea Birkett. This lady has a mission: she wants to bridge the gab between traditional circus and new circus developments in the UK; she has different plans on how to do this (See Circus250, Ed.) but is puzzled by this divide, and trying to understand what could be the common place for these two sides of the same story to come together. It is not an easy answer but, yesterday, speaking with Natalie, I got what I think could be a glimpse of a common ground between new and old. It is not form. It cannot be. Circus, like other art forms, needs to constantly evolve its ways of presentation, adapting to changes in society and new technologies.
What can bring new and old together is the soul, the profound love for what a circus performer does. It is not easy life, people often see just the glamour, not the hours of dedication, the commitment. Circus is a life style, still nowadays (maybe even a bit lonelier today – at least before, in traditional circus, we went around in groups. Now mainly we travel alone and reunite in festivals, theatres and streets busking.)
We believe in what we do, we sacrifice security, ease, relationships, because we love what we do.
I admire Natalie Reckert for her artistic integrity – it is not easy to be a performer and not sell your soul to the devil; she certainly hasn’t. One of the main features of circus is taking risk and this show certainly does. This is what a show at the Fringe should be, you can like it or not, but this you will have to see for yourself.