For some years, a long time ago, I practically lived in a small independent theatre, where we always needed to economize for productions, which is why we needed to recreate some old things, to turn their lives around, reuse everything. Also, in the administrative office, we had an old printer, very basic, we had some very old computers and we spend a lot of time on fixing them. Back in the 2000 this independent theatre was freshly rebuilt (as a space) but needed constant budget cuts to survive. Years have passed and, when experiencing a theatre show, I will always look for the back-door, where the extra effort can be seen. This year in Mirabilia, besides urban theatre and dance, circus, I had the chance to reconnect with this 15 years old memories, about the need to transform the objects and to create, with basic means, dramatic set ups and theatre situations on stage.
Mirabilia is a contemporary circus and performing arts festival located in Piemonte region, my first encounter with the festival was in Fossano, another year they organised shows in Fossano and Savigliano. This year I had the pleasure to spend three full days of the festival in Cuneo. Fabrizio Gavosto, the founder and the artistic director of the festival, explained this need to move in different cities from Piemonte region in Italy, and to explore different urban places and cultural centre, to enrich the audience but also to involve many institutions, for this kind of mobility to make sense.
Circus is all about magic for the people from the streets, the majority of them street passers mostly, not theatre goers. The urban theatre and circus arts attract the common people giving them a chance to be amazed by the power of simple stories and the physical abilities of the performers.
To walk around three giant puppets with enormous lively coloured dresses (Transe Express, France) is not something one can experience every day, plus the dresses have opera singers attached on top and are accompanied by seven percussionists that not only accompany them, but they mix with the crowds and involve the audience into a crazy rhythm for dancing and interaction.
One of the percussionists, very clumsy all the time, the outsider, the last to enter the cues of the ensemble, is a good key to persuade the audience that this kind of street performance is more than the eyes can see, because, even without a story, the relationships happen in all levels and the company is putting much effort to coordinate the walking of the three puppets, the singing moments of the opera singers on top of their giant dresses, and the movement below, where the music ensemble interacts with the audience by means of percussion. Also, one can see this kind of coordination effort because these giant dresses are very close to the audience, sometimes children and adults feel the need to come closer and this becomes dangerous.
The above-mentioned harmony and total coordination from the technical staff and performers can also be found in the second show, the Spanish company Nueveuno Circo, held inside of a beautiful 19th century building, Teatro Toselli. Their show Sinergia 3.0 comprises juggling with white balls and white sticks, where the presence of another, the fourth participant has a different skill: object manipulation with some sort of puppet from wood sticks and a wheel as a head. In the end the jugglers came together to create a dream like atmosphere handling sticks in the air that also have lights on, being so special because circus used to have a special set up in the periphery of the ancient city, but now we could experience it sitting in comfortable red chairs in Teatro Toselli.
The theme of the outsider, of the person that was lost or left behind, appeared in several shows of Antilia company included in Mirabilia. The company was formed in 2021 by four circus artists and acrobats, the name of the company comes from a phantom island that during the 15th-century age of exploration, was believed to be situated in the Atlantic Ocean. For Mirabilia, Antilia company set up their special tent without a rooftop in a small isolated garden further from the city centre. Its walls were only some red curtains that could be opened and closed, the benches arranged in a semi-circle as the old circus tents, but the feeling of walking through something familiar, but in the past was there. The four different artists have different circus backgrounds (juggling, clowning, street theatre, aerial arts) and when they are not in the show they receive the audience, presenting the programme and helping with the lights and sound.
In the last two days of my presence in Mirabilia I was able to experience four of their shows, that besides the artistic skills of the performers were benefiting from this extra ingredient: the feeling of being present in somebody’s personal space. Their shows (from La Dama Demode, through Happy Hoop or Cuore Matto) include acrobatics, juggling, object manipulation and are able to transform the space into a magical playground because the common element is the ability to play with different objects or to use them to make music. Besides the acrobatic skills two of their shows Yes Land and Cuore Matto have again this extra layer of not being fit for the outside real world. Yes Land, a one man show performed by Giulio Lanzafame, is playing with the feeling of failure (missing a cue, mistakes, broken rhythm), a show that vividly reminds the audience also of the Charlie Chaplin figure transformed into an acrobat. Cuore Matto, a one woman show of Selvaggia Mezzapesa, aerial skills and trapeze artists, was about the loneliness of a woman losing the loved one, symbolized by a heart shaped balloon attached to her long hair.
These three days in Mirabilia were more about watching how contemporary circus and street theatre return to the basic display of skills combined with personal approach. They were also about watching the artists getting close to audience in a performing space, about bringing together creative solutions with well-developed circus techniques, and about seeing the scene (inside or outside) becoming a playground.