SANTA MADERA by Cie MPTA – London International Mime Festival

In Circus, London theatre, Opinion, Reviews, Touring by Katharine KavanaghLeave a Comment

Shoreditch Town Hall, London International Mime Festival – reviewed 12 January 2018

Compagnie MPTA are a regularly returning company to the London International Mime Festival with their forward-thinking and beautifully presented contemporary circus, which creates parallel universes where everything is a bit more magical and a bit less fathomable than in our day to day world. Santa Madera has been conceived and performed by Juan Ignacio Tula and Stefan Kinsman, who only graduated from CNAC in 2015, but have already proved themselves masters of Cyr wheel manipulation with this, their second show together.

A centrally marked square of floor is a wide black space between the four sides of audience seating. Neighbouring piles of shining chrome buckets and rich brown earth contrast each other’s texture, and foreshadow the relationship of cold metal to organic humanity that will follow in the dance between the two men and their Cyr.

A ring of soil is marked out, invoking our ancient sense of ritual. It keeps us feeling safe – though never isolated or apart – from the dynamic relationships played out in the centre. We hear every creak, feel every pass of air, catch the steady gazes of Tula and Kinsman as they exchange roles of subject and subjector , manipulating the man-sized wheel through the spaces around them.

A mix of diagetic and non-diagetic sounds enhance the drama in Gildas Céleste’s impossibly perfect surround-sound. Soft breaths, the scrape of a wheel dragged on the floor, or hearty calls are all echoed and emphasised in the air around us, wafting through our ears as the currents caused by the circling movements waft in our faces.

Stefan Kinsman and Juan Ignacio Tula in ‘Santa Madera’ IMAGE: Christophe Raynaud de Lage

Vignettes of relationship pass in and out of each other as the men pass in and out of the giant hoop. All three, at times, become the dominant force, leaving the other bodies inert to trust the sequence set in motion. I think about the relationship we have to the earth and the environment. I wonder about the relationship of these two men, a George and Lennie, a Didi and Gogo, a Samwise and Frodo… with no specific narrative running through the show, we are free to make our own archetypal or personal associations.

The three come together, Tula and Kinsman walking in harmony with the wheel, one organism. Cosmic guitar sounds are overtaken by storms and beats, and the mood breaks open into a playful game of passing and spinning. The weighty wheel has a power of fascination, and there is wonder in the precision with which it’s set spiralling around the stage, coming to rest at last perfectly over the fragile, stationary human bodies.

Juan Ignacio Tula and Stefan Kinsman in ‘Santa Madera’ IMAGE: Christophe Raynaud de Lage

Santa Madera is not a comic piece, but it does contain lightness and moments of humour. The seating arrangement allows us to benefit from audience reactions across and around from us, noting a gentle giggle or a collectively held breath. Every time the wheel crashes to the ground I jump.

Bullfight energy, swirls of flying dust and DIY strobe effects all build to a visually stunning conclusion that softens to leave Tula gently circling the metal ring around his hand as lightly as it were a hula hoop. Kudos to Jeremie Cusenier for the lighting design magic. Just when I think the show has reached maximum beauty, it pulls out one final stop and we are awed all over again.

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Katharine Kavanagh on FacebookKatharine Kavanagh on InstagramKatharine Kavanagh on RssKatharine Kavanagh on TwitterKatharine Kavanagh on Youtube
Katharine Kavanagh
Katharine is a circus writer based in the Midlands, a handy travel hub for getting out and about to new and smaller-scale work. From a background as a performer, theatre-maker and circus volunteer, Katharine took part in the EU-funded 'Unpack the Arts' circus residency, set up The Circus Diaries website, and now dedicates herself to sharing the intricacies of circus art with the world.

She says: "Circus is an area of performing arts where few people have the vocabulary and understanding to write balanced critical appraisal. This tends to result in wishy-washy 'reviews' that all sound the same and say very little about the relative quality of the show.

"As the circus arts grow in popularity and engagement across the UK, it's important for critical voices to reflect this to increasingly discerning audiences. That's where I come in."
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Katharine Kavanagh on FacebookKatharine Kavanagh on InstagramKatharine Kavanagh on RssKatharine Kavanagh on TwitterKatharine Kavanagh on Youtube
Katharine Kavanagh
Katharine is a circus writer based in the Midlands, a handy travel hub for getting out and about to new and smaller-scale work. From a background as a performer, theatre-maker and circus volunteer, Katharine took part in the EU-funded 'Unpack the Arts' circus residency, set up The Circus Diaries website, and now dedicates herself to sharing the intricacies of circus art with the world.

She says: "Circus is an area of performing arts where few people have the vocabulary and understanding to write balanced critical appraisal. This tends to result in wishy-washy 'reviews' that all sound the same and say very little about the relative quality of the show.

"As the circus arts grow in popularity and engagement across the UK, it's important for critical voices to reflect this to increasingly discerning audiences. That's where I come in."

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