Circus began as very specific entertainment. 250 years later, the genre has been taken apart, stripped and stretched to the edge, and will undoubtedly keep moving as society dictates. NoFit State Circus was born of political distress under Thatcher in Wales and has been a leading innovator in today’s contemporary circus since. Contemporary circus is always anxious to evolve. In some ways, this relentless forward push of form and style can feel exhausting. There is beauty in looking back, stopping for a while, dreaming, poring over archives and reflecting – a beauty perfectly realised by Lexicon.
Director Firenza Guidi honours the birth of circus in the 360 degree intimacy afforded by NoFit’s gorgeous silver bigtop. Circus is the ultimate vehicle for activating joy through memory and play. It explores lived experience through a bodily practice and therefore this show can do no wrong – it is a precious reminder to continue living with a child’s energy.
The colours are warm and the air is dusty, full of paper, flying people and objects as students learn to break the rules. The first half of the show ambles through a loose journey of growing up, with cheeky young characters in tweed, braces and spats. A dreamy boy soars over school desks on straps and we begin to see the custom rigging system used to create real-life magic. The live band are the heartbeat of the whole show, rollicking fun and definitely from another world, or maybe a collective cultural unconscious, singing in languages real and imagined. They really shine in moments of simple accompaniment as well as the big numbers. The timing and flow is a notable strength, some acts are so fleeting that just the image appears and is gone – such is the way with memories and dreams.
It is the second half when the magic really hits. You may not remember the last time you actually held your breath for a performer – you will. There is a flawless ropes-as-tissu act, and a riotous swinging trapeze that transports the whole tent, maybe to a memory of the best night of your life. Later, a woman kneels on the floor with a harmonium. She howls with it and releases sound to the sky, like she’s claiming the earth or her own artistry on a dark night of the soul. She stands and the entire ensemble sings a finale with her.
Lexicon feels a lot like a reminder of community and sharing. We are not alone; the people of the past, present and future wish us joy and live within us.