by Rebecca JS Nice
The Circus Sampler at Somerset House, two weekends of events focusing on circus with an emphasis on introducing skills to first timers, opens with a demonstration of hula-hoop skills and an opportunity to try it out with the Majorettes. Far From the Norm perform Union Black, a hip-hop battle incorporating two Chinese poles, a tight rope and a cyr wheel, on the first weekend. A lack-lustre exhibition inside Somerset House, under researched and cheaply displayed, gives a snapshot of different circus styles and companies over time. Gandini Juggling Company bring the week of community events and performances to a close with a site responsive choreography, sophisticated in form and silly in performance.
Cascade responds to the historical surroundings of Neoclassical architecture by bringing twenty plus performers dressed in puritanical black with pointy white collars into a subverted court jester-inspired ambush. The courtyard provides an ideal, huge space for performances, wonderfully intimate and sheltered from the busy city. Gandini Juggling bring a brass band including a horn, trombone and tuba, and at least 50 balls, into a choreography of 55 fountains that change pattern and height on command.
The performers range from teenagers, to contemporary dancers to Sean Gandini himself, united through tableaux, games and group juggling phrases. A meandering snake made of around 15 people quivers with juggling ball tentacles through a choreography in cannon. A trio of contemporary dancers integrate their balls so that they follow three-dimensional pathways around their bodies with a steady, fluid dynamic. A line of weaving figures join and leave trajectories of the balls as performers swap places, and regal tableaux are animated by static and thrown balls. Cascade is perfectly timed with the plumes of the fountains and the live brass band leaving just enough time to play with the water, race through the fountains, to drop a ball and draw out phrases to the last
second. The responsive, playful relationship between the performers and the band is epitomised in the musical groan of disappointment when a high cascade falls to the floor. Musicians even brave the water by racing and chasing the jugglers and blowing balls out of their horns.
The best part of this performance is the sheer joy of the performers as they frolic in the cold water is the midday sun, Sean Gandini sprinting with the tuba player, frantically juggling with empty hands and jumping through the cold water. Cascade feels like a courtly game from beginning to end, rolling red beach balls and perching juggling balls on top of plumes of water animates the cool grey stonework surrounding it. Jugglers of all ages have endless fun in the water in the sweltering sun whilst throwing in some great juggling, too.
Circus Sampler runs through 5 August.
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