Bianco takes place in a Big Top on London’s Southbank, but that’s where the similarities with traditional circuses end.
There are no lions or elephants, no painted clowns, no cheesy ringmaster. There aren’t even any seats: the audience is herded around by punky-looking ushers, which was a bit annoying at first, but does mean you are breathtakingly close to the action.
The troupe are also a punky, wild-looking bunch, who take the Big Top by storm. They dance, holler, juggle and perform aerial acrobatics with an anarchic, steamy energy that soon heats up the tent. A band supply the pumping soundtrack, sliding between blues and punk rock.
The acts ranged from the silly to the mesmerising. Of the comic numbers, my favourites were tightrope walker Francois Bouvier who combined tongue-in-cheek stripping with balletic backflips, and a contortionist who balanced full wine glasses on her hands and feet while her body revolved. (Incidentally, kids are allowed but this is really one for grownups.)
Ella Rose in Bianco (photos by Tristram Kenton)
But the real showstoppers were when the hollering stopped and the audience could simply lose themselves in the poetry of the acrobatics: dinky Delia Ceruti coiling up a rope like a snake, Enni Lymi coiling faster and faster round a trapeze. The finale is spellbinding: the very buff Augusts Dakteris ripples up and down a rope while snow flutters from the rafters.
Instead of motors, they use a human pulley system, which was also rather poetic to watch: each acrobat has a human counterweight, who dives as they soar and vice versa.
This is the third and final instalment of Bianco from NoFit State Circus, a Welsh troupe that turned 30 this year. They’ve been at the vanguard of the circus renaissance, shaking up a genre that had become deeply unfashionable. Unlike most thoroughly modern circuses though, NoFit State sticks to the traditional way of life: travelling together, living as a village and erecting the Big Top en masse.
Despite its anarchic demeanour, Bianco does brilliantly what circus has always aimed to do: amaze and delight. To my surprise, it soon had me giggling and gasping like a seven-year-old.
Oh, and the refreshments are a cut above usual fairground offering. The “Refreshingly Welsh Bar” did indeed have a refreshing selection of Welsh beverages, including ales, whisky and potent Black Dragon cider.
Bianco is at the Southbank Centre until 22 January