Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Welcome to the Carnyville

“If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere,” the Joker-esque host declares.

‘Here’ is the old fire station and police station, complete with use of old cellblocks, on Silver Street, Bristol.

‘It’ is the Invisible Circus, the Bristol-based arts-community collective of street performers and circus acts. They bring the cabaret and the carnival; they all share origins in Victoriana and Vaudeville, and they all offer up the neo-burlesque and the gothic. And it is this collective which most definitely ‘happens’ to the once formal, regimental space, in a frenzy and thunder of chaotic performance, choreographed fire, fiery dance and aerial antics on a series of nights never to be repeated.

The air, the atmosphere, the evocation, alters between rooms and between tracks. In the cavernous fire station, rope artists wind themselves around colour-striped blackness, suspended only arm’s length above their audience, and in its back rooms, a photographer stages mock-peep-show-esque portraits.

Within the ground floor cells and offices of the police station, fortunes are told, costumes designed and funeral arrangements made.

All the while, above them, on the cellblock balconies protruding overhead, prisoners are led between flame-wielding poi dancers, and welders shower the crowds below with sparks.

In the forecourt itself, the gothic is infused with the romantic as a light misty rain descends out from the skirts of two ghosts treading the walls of the police station at 90 degrees.

The mood returns to the anarchic when an insane trapeze artists throws herself into impossible knots heart-stoppingly far above the crowd.

But while everyone’s attention is on the activity happening in the night sky high above their heads, Pan’s creatures of the underworld are free to roam undetected, manhandling and molesting their unsuspecting victims and generally making nuisances of themselves.

Carnyville was meant to be a series of irreverent, re-appropriative, creatively explosive, audacious, romantic, and even dangerous nights.

But in the wet misty rain that filled the space and distorted the light collecting in the open spaces between the old cellblocks and the fire station, it’s the ethereal memory of the ghosts which still prevails, as if their descent down the building’s face towards us was a defiant, emotive escape from the building's past. It was this ‘haunting’ which lasted longest.

“If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere,” might be the opening declaration of the Carnyville, but for some reason this is a very ‘Bristol’ event, and I’ve never heard of the like happening anywhere else.

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