Circa Tsuica: Balance and Brass

Circa Tsuica: Balance and Brass

by Jenni Taylor Swain (Walton Arts Center, Arkansas)

I’ve spent the past three nights watching a musician-acrobat-band-of clowns ensemble from France called Circa Tsuica, which has me asking, why go back to America? I’m ready to pull out my kazoo or, better yet, my ukulele, put on my polka-dotted Adidas tracky and join the wacky world of Circa Tsuica, currently performing the show Opus 7 around the UK under Crying Out Loud’s ground breaking project Circus Evolution.

Crying Out Loud launched Circus Evolution three years ago in an effort to build and diversify audiences for contemporary circus and to create a framework to bring amazing work from around the world to the UK; which is a whole lot more complicated than you could ever imagine. Enter Circa Tsuica—their show Opus 7 blends Balkan brass band hoopla, American marching band and a Dixie-ish jazz second line with elements of circus and modern music. Whoa!

Wake up! The circus has come to town and you don’t want to miss what’s happening—more and more extraordinary groups of artists coming out of circus schools have sprouted all over Europe, Australia, the Nordic countries and Canada over the past 20 years. A bouquet of performers who share a common language of what it means to be living in a modern and crazy world has blossomed. If you haven’t seen a current circus show, get out and start living! You have a few more chances to catch Circa Tsuica.

Contemporary circus is where new art, new ideas, new fusions and new formats are happening. Crying Out Loud’s Circa Evolution opens the window to this amazing world where you might see a performer play a clarinet one moment and then balance on a set of shoulders the next, or better yet, all at once. In contemporary circus, old ideas take new forms and it is downright fun to watch and be a part of.

Circa Tsuica invites you into to their zany world of back flips, balancing and blowing of horns. As my theatre seat neighbor said, “I’m here tonight because I was looking for something funky, wide-ranging and downright barking (which was a new term to this American gal). Barking it was. Hands down to the team at Crying Out Loud, who are committed to bringing the artistic voices of new contemporary circus to a network of smaller, yet oh so sophisticated, venues around the UK.

So, what’s a gal from Arkansas following a circus group from France around the UK? You could ask the same question to Circa Tsuica—what’s a hodge-podge, mixed-bag of artists doing zig-zagging around the UK? Let me tell you, it’s all about the circus, the contemporary circus.

Circa Tsuica (BTW, the T is silent and it’s pronounced sweeka) is familiar, yet, strangely new and altogether different. The ensemble is made up of a dozen or so performers who met at circus school in France and then formed a group based on their friendship, passion for the collective over the individual, their ability to live in a wee, hidden French village and for their love of Romanian brandy (google Tsuica and you’ll understand). Each member of the troupe brings a unique personality to the show and they are ALL very likable. I couldn’t decide whether I liked the green Adidas shorts, or the red knee-high socks, the marching band hats, or the pregnant trumpet playing, gun-slinging maverick the most. I loved it all and wanted to jump on stage and join the happy caravan.

What makes Circa Tsuica so much fun is that in some way, you see yourself as part of the group. That’s one of the things that makes contemporary circus so powerful—it connects and engages you in the arts, invites you to be part of the ensemble and demands you live in the now. You see it happen before your eyes, yet it’s so subtle and magical that you don’t know it happening, you simply feel it and want to be part of it. And that’s what makes contemporary circus and a group like Circa Tsuica so damn fun to watch. They take the simple and the familiar and turn it inside out and upside down.

How often do you go to an arts event and when it’s over you hope to be invited to take part? That’s what an evening with Circus Tsuica does. In fact, they actively invite the community in. They do so first by coming to town and working with a local brass band. The night begins when the locals play and set the tone for the night. You arrive at the theatre, and whether it’s decorated with bunting from the local party shop or filled with the aroma of popcorn or candy floss in the air—the sound of brass pulls you in and lets you know that the night will be special.

Circa Tsuica uses a musical technique called Soundpainting when working with the local brass groups. Soundpainting is a live-composing sign language made up of over 1,200 gestures developed in the early 70s by the American composer Walter Thompson. It makes for perfect pairing with circus arts for the playfulness and odd movements of the conductor—who takes on a clown-like persona in the execution of the conducting. On top of the real-time, improvisational nature of Soundpainting, coupled with the Balkan brass and Dixieland music, the odd mix makes for a modern day take on music, movement and circus. And when the conductor invites the audience to join the music-making, everyone intuitively belts out some sort of noise and takes part in the final improvisational piece.

The show is not only a metaphor for risk taking, it actually practises risk taking every night. Risk taking with acrobatic skills, risk taking with improvisational music and risk taking with using a local brass brand for each show, making each performance a different experience. That’s one of the things I love about circus, they practice what they preach; every show is a risk and after seeing Opus 7 three times, I’m reminded that life itself is a risk. Contemporary circus is the only live art where you can really feel that and it connects and makes you a part of our ever-disjointed world. Who know that balancing and brass would make for such a barking good time? Bravo Crying Out Loud… Keep the Circus coming to town!

By Jenni Taylor Swain, Walton Arts Center, Arkansas.

Thanks to the Association Performing Arts Presenter’s Cultural Exchange Fund supported by the The Andrew W. Mellow Foundation, I’ve had the opportunity to come to the UK and explore international work.