Underbelly Festival, London – until 7 June 2017
I head to meet Hyena after a long day of busy brain work and high stress organising for the first #Circus250 partnerships meeting (which went very well, thanks for asking!). I’ve seen excerpts of the show at Canvas and online, and am hoping for something to soothe my flittering mind. The three women of Alula Cyr and their four eponymous wheels do not disappoint.
Beautiful singing from Lil Rice and the compositions of Ollie Clark, which warm us with percussion-conjured cicadas, bullfrogs and buried tribal memories, are as enveloping as I remember. The shapes that appear between bodies and metal bands are as lushly developed, precisely positioned and technically impressive as I’d hoped. The love that emanates from Rice and her Cyr sisters, Jessica Ladley and Fiona Thornhill, comes at me with a power that surprises.
Direction from Rosamond Martin demonstrates a great visual attention. There are so many satisfying moments – when choreography slides into perfect synchronicity; when image after image is composed with photo-perfect balance and spirit; in the smiles that glow from within; in the recurring re-styling of hair that is both practical and symbolic, seemingly pedestrian but deeply touching in its familiarity.
Repeated calls of ‘ready’ are heavy-handed (hitting their mark most effectively when Ladley plays with them in genuine enjoyment), and elements of imposed theatricality are – as so often with young circus companies – naive. However, whilst this usually bugs the life out of me, I’m not put off this evening. The three performers are so earnest and natural that this raw quality comes across as just another facet of their humanity.
Relationships of competition and care, isolation and union, reveal themselves between the three, and through their different sizes and skillsets. Ladley’s longer limbs leave her to play the peacemaker or piggy-in-the-middle as the other two share manipulations of a smaller Cyr; Rice balances as easily on heads and shoulders as she does atop her wheel; Thornhill’s movement is laced with gymnastic springs and walk-overs, picking up her wheel on the way or landing through it’s centre.
Is this what it means to see female stories on stage? It’s not the dramas, the clashes, the trials and joys, but the normal details of life so rarely represented in which we recognise ourselves. I can breathe more freely, I can feel myself expanding.
Hyena shows us that power does not have to come with capital letters and force, but can be gently delivered and full of grace. The show’s provocative tagline – ‘join the pack, smash the patriarchy’ – gave me doubts before the show. My brand of feminism is not an angry confrontational one. Neither, it turns out, is theirs. What is smashed is our expectation that men even need to be involved in the story. Women here can exist simply as themselves, not in any relation to fathers, brothers, children, employers, or lovers. This is radicalism I can get behind.