Circo Circolo festival, Netherlands; 23rd October 2014
Stadium lights on tall poles mark the three edges of Magmanus‘ stage, which is scattered with teeterboards, wooden blocks and crashmats. The functional aesthetic suggests that Attached is going to lean towards the ‘sporty’ side of circus performance, while the trumpet covers of Abba hits playing in the background as we take our seats keep the mood light-hearted.
The Magmanus duo are based in Sweden, and began working together in 2009. Norwegian juggler Magnus Bjøru and French handstand/teeterboard artist Manu Tiger trained at the same school but, with their separate disciplines, hadn’t collaborated until a chance encounter generated the impromptu idea to make a show together. The initial Magmanus Show was an outdoor performance and, with their second production, they wanted to see what would happen if they bought the work indoors, whilst retaining the street theatre feel of connection to the crowd. In Attached, everything is connected, and that includes us.
Bjøru and Tiger show off each new piece of kit, from velcro fly suits to a great curve of metal that rocks like a pirate ship ride. Do we like it? Look at all the things it does! They confound expectations of what a teeterboard or a juggling act can be time and time again.
The theme that runs through each element of the show is that of contact. The human contact between the performers and the audience as we assist in the onstage demonstrations. The contact between bodies as they fly and fall away from each other. The contact between surfaces that creates splendid rhythms of sound and visuals.
The work on the show began from exploring the basic principles of how to fly and how to land. The production makes its play with balance and gravity overt, reminding us that our bodies are subject to the laws of physics as much as any other prop objects. Bjøru and Tiger are building blocks just as the wooden boxes dragged around the stage are. An audience assistant is enlisted to crowbar Tiger away from a velcro wall, and they work out together where force must be applied.
Suddenly I see the disciplines of juggling and teeterboard acrobatics as intimately connected in the mysterious and hidden mathematical formulae that make each trick possible. Later, I ask which comes first, the physical experiment, or the scientific formula. Bjøru explains that they learn it all with their bodies, rather than planning through equations: ‘Some people really have that way of thinking, me, I don’t.’ As the two began working on the show, they started to notice the theme of connection and relation in their flying, and then started seeing it in all technique. Physical objects have to have an impact on each other, and human bodies are physical objects.
One of the most memorable sequences was the use of three miniature teeterboards, to launch white juggling balls as they would bodies, creating a fascinating pattern of exchange as Tiger and Bjøru move around the table as part of the machine. The notion of playing with scale, which is such a satisfying part of Attached, arose by chance when a set model of another show was discovered in a rehearsal room one day, leading to the typical experimental play of circus artists and objects.
Attached is co-directed by Jay Gilligan, but the material has come from Magmanus. Gilligan’s expertise has been used to hone the structure of the show, which does a great job of building all its pieces into one final chain reaction that utilises each and every element we’ve already been introduced to – ourselves included – in an elaborate domino run. An early idea to include sensors and tension pads that would make the lighting equally interactive with the physical connections onstage had to be scrapped due to logistical limitations, but the grey vests that the two performers wear are made of a heat sensitive fabric that visually displays another kind of physical impact. Watching the show, I had assumed that the unexpected and ever changing patterns were from sweat alone, so it was interesting to discover the further levels of detail being explored.
With precise skill, and a twinkle in the eye behind the bearded earnestness, Magmanus have produced a highly entertaining circus show that gets beneath the patina of classical presentation to the underlying science, the biology and the physics, of an amazing reality.