Circus has long been a beloved popular entertainment in the United States (and in many other places around the globe). From P.T. Barnum's early acts to New York's very own Big Apple Circus, a day at the big top brings up many different associations: balancing elephants, high-flying trapeze artists, the smell of peanuts and popcorn in the air. NoFit State Circus, a collective of circus performers from Wales, presents its own modern take on this classic performance form with its latest touring show, Bianco, pitching its tent just outside St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. .
Accented by über-hip (and sexy) costumes and energized live music, the performers take center stage with their various acts: tightrope, aerial hoops, juggling, handstands, trampolines, and more. In director Firenza Guidi's Bianco, audiences can expect thrilling tricks, silly laughs, and an ever-shifting performance space that will keep audiences literally on their feet.
Formed in 1986 during a time of economic recession, the NoFit collective travels, lives and creates art together. In such close quarters, it is inevitable that artists develop bonds with one another. The tight nature of the ensemble is made obvious by watching the performers, who communicate wordlessly and always seem to have one another’s backs. Even the music (directed by David Murray) is woven seamlessly into the fabric of the performance and may be Bianco’s greatest strength. Eerie at times and downright rock-and-roll at others, the music ebbs and flows to match the physical feats of the performers and create truly holistic moments of awe.
The entire ensemble of performers is talented and professional. Blaze Tarsha spins gorgeously through the air in her elegant aerial hoop work. Delia Ceruti presents a vision of surrealist beauty as she is showered with blood-red rose petals in a massive white drop-away skirt (designed by Rhiannon Matthews). Anne Fay-Johnston’s physical humor is irresistible in her impressive handstand routine. Overall, the cast not only performs awe-inspiring feats but looks like they are having a lot of fun in the process.
Even the weight-bearing act of suspending performers in the air appears fun and carefree, as Bianco employs a brilliantly rudimentary set of ropes and pulleys—exposing the usually invisible mechanism of suspension. Visible riggers climb and drop from scaffolded pillars to raise and lower the performers as they enact their tricks. Overall, this simple (and quite Brechtian) device creates a nostalgia for an era when “technology” meant ropes and pulleys, rather than modems and projections. Indeed, the abundance of rope in Bianco’s design aesthetic harks back to the days of Houdini and his sleight-of-hand magic. At every juncture, the ensemble seems to revel in their talent and flow..
Unfortunately, it is ever-so-slightly less fun to be an audience member at Bianco. The 6:30 p.m. audience consists mostly of families (hence the early start time) and young thrill-seeking city dwellers. Younger audiences certainly take great pleasure in NoFit’s impressive tricks and visuals; their awe is admittedly infectious. However, for spatially conscious adults, the area inside the dark big top may feel crowded and hectic, especially during Bianco’s many act transitions. Indeed, a certain anxiety may ensue as sandbag weights come whizzing down from the rafters and entire scaffolding systems are toppled over precariously to be reformulated for the next act. Meanwhile, the audience is constantly being barked at by ushers to make space, back up, or shuffle around. This shuffling detracts considerably from the experience, especially because the entire show is meant to be enjoyed while standing.
Of course, the whole point is that NoFit Circus seems to embrace a far more do-it-yourself aesthetic than Barnum & Bailey’s highly polished “Greatest Show on Earth.” This creates a certain feeling of being “backstage” at a ragtag circus, but it has its drawbacks during the hectic transitions. Expect to be entertained by the talented acrobats, designers, and musicians at NoFit State Circus’s Bianco, but also be prepared to do some fancy—and irritating—footwork of your own during the production’s many scenic transitions.
The Bianco tent will be across New Dock Street from the new St. Ann’s Warehouse (45 Water St., in DUMBO, Brooklyn) through May 29. Bianco runs at 7 p.m. May 17-20 and 24-27; at 6:30 p.m. May 14, 21 and 28; and at 2:30 and 8:30 p.m. on May 15, 22 and 29. Running time is two hours, including an intermission. Tickets are $35-40 and may be purchased at www.stannswarehouse.org or by calling (718) 254-8779 or (866) 811-4111.