Circomedia, Circus City festival; 15th October 2017
In 2014, Renu Ghalan Tamang and Aman Tamang appeared in the UK for the first time with contemporary circus production Swagatam at Glastonbury Festival. Their work prior to forming Circus Kathmandu with a group of peers had also been in a country foreign to their native Nepal, but as child slaves in Indian circus. Now, they have combined these influences and joined forces with refugee performer Loan TP Hoang, writer and director Sverre Waage (Circus Xanti), and producer Ali Williams (formerly of NoFit State) to create As A Tiger In The Jungle, a moving tapestry of fantasy and autobiography that tells of childhoods sold to the circus.
A girl (Hoang) sits huddled inside an aerial cage, a sphere suspended in space, tethered to the figure of Aman Tamang, glittering in the darkness behind a sail-like rigging structure, which combines with three further struts that form a teepee shape over the stage. A more traditional cage of cord-lashed bamboo lurks stage right, the bed of Renu Ghalan Tamang. Rag rugs and tattered silk curtains gamely try to uphold a sense of glamour. Paper flowers hang in forgotten garlands, pink, and orange, and gold, and green.
Hoang is our storyteller host, presenting us wth the twins played by Aman Tamang and Renu Ghalan Tamang. At five years old, their mother sacrificed herself to a tiger to save her children. They did not know, then, that human traffickers were called tigers. The weaving together of past experiences, present identity, and a love/hate relationship with circus as both saviour and oppressor has created a show that thrills us with a child’s fear, whilst keeping us safe in the comfort of a dreamlike fairytale. The three performers seem to be sticking a giant finger up at all the abuses they have suffered by refusing to stay broken, whilst acknowledging the damages they still carry with them. As A Tiger in the Jungle is a brave, sad, and beautifully staged production that shines with an inner fire.
Aerial hoop displays are performed with the tropically unhurried pace of daily routine, choreographed for pattern and intricacy of intertwining forms rather than flashy adrenaline bursts. Floor acrobatics add colour and energy, played with smiles of well-trained delight. An aerial straps routine from Aman Tamang allows us to see the internal, emotional self that’s otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Hoang’s physical embodiment of mystic narrator or childhood friend add to the sense of ritual that, according to ethnographer Paul Bouissac, is characteristic of Indian circus.
The music, composed by Per Zanussi and recorded with Harpreet Bansal and Sanskriti Shrestha is intoxicating. Gongs signal tension, storms and wild beasts roar; we smell real smoke, witness a crepe paper tiger and a midnight spell. I feel as I often do when watching youtube animations from other artistic and philosophical cultures – not fully understanding every moral, but tasting the salt of humanity’s tears and loves.
The understated splendour of this moving story, elegantly told, will shape us, as these performers – and hundreds of other lost children – have been shaped by tigers both real and metaphorical.