I remember the first time I went to a circus performance; I was 5-6 years old. ‘Remember’, perhaps, is a strong word as I don’t recollect anything about the circus show except that it was in a tent. I might have fallen asleep during the show. What I do remember is that before we entered the show tent, my parents bought me a bar of chocolate.
This was still India in its early phases of liberalisation. You know what that means: there were only three brands of chocolate in the market – Cadbury, Nestle, and Amul. That’s right. Back in my day, Amul manufactured chocolate bars. (Are they still around?) They tasted like what I would describe now as ‘communist chocolate’ rations might have been in Soviet Russia. (“In Soviet Russia, the chocolate tastes you!”) Amul also sponsored an immensely popular / horrible show on DD Metro – the name of the show escapes me – where people sent in answers to stupid contests on ‘competition post-cards’ – which were exactly like normal post-cards but 5x more expensive and blue in colour. Young man, don’t insinuate that I didn’t have audience voting in my day. We did; it just took two weeks to find out the results.
I was young and foolish, I preferred Nestle’s milky chocolate over Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Bitter chocolate was hard to come by unless you could emotionally blackmail a relative “going to foreign”. (I bury my suaku origins in a very deep pit indeed.) Can you imagine that at one time in India, Ferrero Rocher chocolates were acceptably exotic souvenirs, instead of being found in every road-side convenience store? Hearty laugh!
All I remember about this circus show I attended as a kid is the chocolate bar, and that I chose not to eat it straight away. And that when I reached back home, the bar had been reduced to horrible melted goo. I never made the same mistake in my life ever again. When my parents came to Singapore in February and left a couple of Cadbury Bourneville bars, I (roped in my roommate too) finished all of them off on the same day. Fuck calorie counting. What was I supposed to do – just let them melt and become horrible goo?
I mourn the loss of ‘old-school’ circuses in the name of animal rights activism. I may never get to see a real-life Dumbo!
Do you know why I can say with confidence India is a fast-growing economy? Because you no longer find circuses in India* – or in Malaysia / Singapore, for that matter – while you do still find them in many other South/South-East Asian countries. Urban Indians have moved swiftly to sweep their suaku origins under a plush thick carpet, much like I have.
*Unless you’re part of two-thirds of India’s population that still lives in rural areas, in which case you can attend fapfests where impoverished Ukrainian immigrants (“Gorgeous Russian ladies!” on promotional posters) gyrate sadly to circus muzak.
And when do I think India will ‘get there’, speaking of its economy? When it gets to level of Singapore and has a renaissance in theatre-going culture where the bourgeois can watch nouveau cirque performances at a posh venue, say, like the opulent Marina Bay Sands resort.
Which is exactly what I was up to last weekend, thanks to a Groupon Singapore deal that gave half-off pricing for Canadian circus troupe Cirque Éloize‘s last show of iD in Singapore. This was such a uniquely different performance from any concept of ‘circus’ I have been used to, as a) it’s performed on a theatre stage (there are elements that break the fourth wall, though) b) it’s more like…a play. There are characters. There is a story. The circus acrobatics – if I may call them so – are so intricately a part of the plot. Unlike a play though, there are no spoken lines: it’s like a fusion of mime with hip-hop dancing with acrobatics with parkour. Interactive displays are used to create incredibly vivid and varying backdrops as the plot progresses too; so vivid that it’s hard to believe they are displays or projections at all.
That moment when you see a girl contorting herself into unbelievable positions and scuttering like a spider on the stage floor (and you flinch thinking of how much it would hurt if you tried the same), that moment when a guy riding a bicycle prances around on one wheel around a terrified member of the audience quite possibly praying that his nuts don’t get squashed, that moment when the projections on the trampoline-wall give an illusion of falling apart, that bass-heavy hip-hop track the performance is set to…are all hard to describe in written words.
All I can say is that the standing ovation the Cirque Éloize artists got was very well-deserved. Yes, they are artists, and not ‘circus performers’ – it was that good.
Sixteen artists on stage, thirteen circus disciplines, and the discovery of a world which is new to us, that of urban dances such as breakdance and hip-hop.
I imagined this show at the heart of a futuristic city, where the omnipresence of image causes us to lose our reference points. I sought to create an aesthetic at the crossroads of comic books, science-fiction movies and the rich universe of graffiti.
The decidedly rock, electronic and poetic music, coupled with the presence of video, highlight the show’s playful, energetic, youthful and urban aspects.
In the middle of this surreal megalopolis exists a public place. A public place, as a spot where one can seek refuge and escape anonymity, to express one’s individuality and affirm one’s identity, in order to reclaim possession of public space, and to dance the city…
An area for encounters, a site of passage, a hood where clans confront one another, where friendships are woven. Where love is created, and dissolved.
– Cirque Éloize founder Jeannot Painchaud on iD
“It was good. But musicals are so much better! You can buy CDs and listen to them afterwards.”
I’m not sure how someone from Marina Bay Sands, Cirque Éloize, or Groupon would react if they were ego-surfing for reviews and came across a rant on confectionery in post-liberalisation India, with the only ‘on-topic’ content being a promotional video they created, copypasta from the circus troupe site, and minimal commentary.
Man. I need to stop writing such long-ass blog post titles. Also, this is post number 1337 on my blog. Huh.