Lid lifted on circus Tabu secrets

By Angie Brown
BBC Scotland, Edinburgh and East reporter

  • Published
Tabu performer (Pic: Mark Robson)
Image caption,
Tabu is performed by members of the Nofit State Circus

The artistic director of a contemporary circus featured in the Edinburgh Fringe has lifted the lid on the meaning, themes and characters of her show.

Firenza Guidi said that Tabu, performed by the Nofit State Circus, was much more than the trapeze, tight-rope walking, clowns and acrobatics of a traditional circus.

There is still the "big top", which has been erected in Leith, but it is a far grittier, darker performance without the pomp and ceremony of long-established circus acts.

The two hour promenade show means that the audience is free to walk around the room and under the aerial displays going on over head.

For many, the sheer spectacle is enough, but Guidi says each display around the room has meaning using characters and themes from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One hundred Years of Solitude.

She said the opening of the show where there are shadows of suspended bodies cast against two huge white sheets display a low-energy world devoid of emotion.

Then the character, Amaranda, arrives and reinvigorates this new world and it all kick starts into life.

Amaranda flies high in the air and the audience is taken into a place where beliefs and metaphors become forms of fact, and where more ordinary facts become uncertain.

Guidi says like Marquez's book she has tried to create a realistic setting which has been invaded by something too strange to believe.

She says she created this effect by having the performers look "real". They are not dressed in leotards and they are gritty and down to earth. There is no build up to each performance, no drum roll or fanfare.

They appear to take it all in their stride and the audience are "woven" into the show.

Although the show is not an adaptation of One Hundred Years of Solitude, many of Marquez's characters are represented in the show.

Melquides, who represents the old type of circus performer, is puffing on his cigar, and brings ice in a pram. This comes from the scene in the book where a child is unsure whether the sensation of touching the ice is hot or cold.

There is also Remedios, who is similar to a clown in that she is "simple". She continually falls from the trapeze but in the end she is shown to master it by conquering her fear and the "power that comes from believing".

The trampolines erected high in the air and tipped on one side are walls protecting this strange world. When they are pulled down it symbolises the start of the collapse of the world or the city of Macondo as in Marquez's book.

'Skill machines'

The character, Ursula, who performs a routine in a large flowing skirt on a trapeze is married to Jose, who rides about the show on a penny farthing.

Aurelino, who hangs upside down from a trapeze catching many female performers represents the revolutionary Che Guevara, "who mothers want their daughter to have a child with" so that "more great heroes are born".

There is also Rebecca, who eats earth in the show, as does the orphan character who arrives in the village in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The rain and fire scene is Ursula purifying herself. The rain, as Guidi points out, also "closes the world" and reality begins to return.

Guidi told the BBC Scotland news website: "I borrow from the landscape in One Hundred Years of Solitude but it is not an adaptation of the book.

"There are references from the book, a parallel story line and we have abstracted it.

"We also explore fear, which we all carry, whether you are a circus performer or the audience.

"The book is a reservoir of ideas and emotions for the show and little things that come through."

She added: "The show is not just about the wow factor of circus. It is not just about skill machines, the performers are real people with pasts and wrinkles, they are not just super fit teenagers.

"I engage more when I'm watching real people rather than acrobats in for example green leotards and I think this is the new way forward for circus performance."

Liz O'Neill, 47, from Manchester, said: "I thought the show was excellent. They definitely earned their money. At first I thought they were good enough not to need to have the extra trick of doing a promenade show but by the end I thought it was a great thing for them to do."

Andrew Taylor, 22, from Leith, said: "I liked how everyone got an opportunity to be at the front of the show because as it went on people got bolder and they could push to the front.

"I thought it was fantastic and liked how the characters were inspired by One Hundred Years of Solitude."