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Festival Circolo pushes boundaries between art and tricks - BNG prize for handstand talent Nolan

The difference between tricks and art is the transformation. From a two-dimensional canvas into a form with three dimensions, from moving air into emotional music, on a stage from man into woman or vice versa and from a handstand into a liquid abstraction. Transformation where you are live, so it can be done very well in the circus, I experienced last week in Tilburg during Festival Circolo.

The BNG Circus Award, an incentive prize from the Bank Nederlandse Gemeenten for up-and-coming Dutch circus talent, went quite rightly to Melody Nolan, who has taken the art of walking on hands to great heights at Codarts' Rotterdam circus school.


Experiencing transformation live is magical, because you don't know exactly what you see and yet you know that what you see is not impossible. That takes a lot of skill, and since we have had professional training for circus performers in the Netherlands for a few years, we are becoming aware that circus is not something for foreign mega-productions like Cirque du Soleil or closer to home clown Flappie at the neighbourhood party for the little ones. Melody Nolan seemingly effortlessly managed to make the transition from the feats of strength that standing on your hands entails to a dance-like fluidity of movement that simultaneously looked unimaginably intricate and was moving.

At Festival Circolo - for many years now - you get to see circus art that is often young, investigative and usually groundbreaking. Not really meant for the very young, nor full of crowdpleasers who have made getting applause their life's goal. It previously featured Lucho Smit, whose entire one-and-a-half-hour performance was dedicated to asking what was actually new in circus art. On Sunday, it was the French collective Contrabande's turn, with its performance Willy Wolf, to raise the issue of how far people dare to go to please the audience.

Without a safety net

The Willy Wolf of the title was a Polish dockworker who moonlighted as an aerial acrobat in the French city of Nantes, becoming so good at it that he made it his profession. After a few years there, because safety nets were for sissies, he found himself dead, in the face of a cheering crowd. The seven performers play with the fear of heights we all feel and create death-defying acts at great heights, without safety nets. The extraordinarily cleverly conceived dramaturgy has them watching themselves on TV, and that eventually becomes fatal to one of them. That final image is heartbreakingly beautiful, and arises from their timing technique that is breakneck sharp.

Transformation played a role here, too, and our existing judgements were brought to heel. References to Amy Whitehouse suddenly emerged when the company's wife was a talent show winner, mooching on a 10-metre diving board from staggering.

The mattress ten metres below her, size solid auping from the furniture shop, proved capable of miraculous rescues.

Circus is art. That tastes like more.

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Seen: Festival Circolo in Tilburg.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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