For London’s circus fans, this is certainly a winter of content. Olivier Award winners La Soirée have pitched up in Leicester Square for another season, Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna is opening soon in the Royal Albert Hall and NoFitState are bringing their brilliant Bianco to London’s Southbank Centre almost four years after it was seen at the Roundhouse.
For Bianco, audiences and apparatus both move around inside their tent to create a dynamic and distinctive environment. The Cardiff-based crew behind the show have been going for thirty years and always strive to produce innovative and exciting circus. I asked NoFitState’s Artistic Director Tom Rack why we should go to see their latest show and where it all went right for his company.
We’re very much looking forward to seeing the new and improved Bianco. For those like me who last saw it in the Roundhouse, how would you say that Bianco has changed? And where has that change come from?
If we don’t change the show every year, we will get tired of it. And if we are tired of it, then that’s not good for the public. Every season a few people come and go in the natural way of things, new people bring a different energy and new acts and we get to shake everything up to keep it all fresh and exciting for both ourselves and the audience.
Bianco at the Roundhouse was nearly four years ago and, since the very beginning of this show’s journey, it has evolved a lot, new music, new acts, new people but it still has the same spirit and the same structure. It’s still Bianco but grown and matured with age and a lot of hard work.
NoFit State has reached the grand old age of 30. What would you say were the turning points for yourselves as a company? Were they down more to circumstances, strokes of luck or new ideas?
In 1995, we did our first promenade show Autogeddon and this was the first time we worked with director Firenza Guidi. It was a big but low-budget circus show in a warehouse which gave us both lots of ideas and food for thought for when we came back together in 2004 for our first touring show ImMortal.
It was the beginning of the long and close collaboration that has got us where we are today. Having said that, we also owe a debt to Mrs Thatcher and Mr Tebbit who created the enterprise allowance scheme; it allowed us to get young people off the dole figures. In those days there were no circus schools, we learnt our craft on the streets and, without their help, we wouldn’t have survived.
NoFit State’s works have been described for over a decade as “no ordinary circus”. That makes for a sexy tagline but is it something that forces you to think more out of the box when it comes to devising productions?
I think when you surround yourself with extraordinary people, the only thing that is impossible is to be ordinary.
It’s not possible to keep circus people in any kind of box and everyone we work with inspires us to do something a bit different and to push at what’s possible. In these circumstances, innovation and originality are inevitable. The day we become ordinary is the day we fail.
Bianco has many forward-thinking concepts, not least being a dynamic promenade experience with a live band playing an original score. How are the core concepts formulated for each show? Is it wholly collaborative or does one person take the lead? Has that process changed over time?
For Bianco, the initial concepts come from Firenza who will first propose a scrapbook of ideas and images, concepts and pretexts. Then the creative team all joins in to interpret them and propose different ways they can be developed and realised.
From there, the designs and manifestations are developed and delivered and the individual artists become involved. Firenza will give them impulses or problems that they use to create the dramaturgy and chorography of their act.
Firenza very much takes the lead but it is a massive combined effort that gets it all into place.
We live in austere times so why should people go out of their way to see a circus show now of all times?
Even the Romans believed in this: “two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.”
We like to think there is something for everybody in our work, it can be enjoyed and appreciated on every level by everybody. Circus can gives you thrills, lifts your spirits and make your heart race, make you feel alive. But done right it can also touch your soul and let you escape. And who doesn’t need that?
Please settle a bet. Is the name of your company a play on words along the lines of Moscow State Circus or something to do with the condition of the circus artists in the company?
The honest answer is both. Thirty years ago, it was about street performing, festivals and clubs and everything that went along with that. Late one night, we were trying to come up with our name and we looked at other circus names. There was Moscow State, Chinese State and the Netherlands State all working the circuit and the idea of being NoFit State made us giggle and it stuck. These days, though, the culture of the company is very different and I still like to think we are Not in a Fit State to be mainstream and our anarchist spirit is still alive and gets out now and again.
Bianco continues until 22 January 2017 on the South Bank. Tickets are £25-£39.50. More information can be found on the Southbank Centre website.
Cast pictures: Tristram Kenton