Of feats and folk tunes

FOOT-TAPPING NOTES Paul Sartin and Benji Kirkpatrick   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: R. RAGU

Days 4 and 5 of The Other Festival - A new age circus and English folk songs take centre stage

Interesting things are happening under the Big Top these days. If people like Jerry Snell and James Tanabe have their way, the circus as we know it is in for a major transformation. Thanks to them, the circus is re-inventing itself and changing the essence of our notion of entertainment by bringing aesthetics into performance, together with extremely physical forms of acrobatics. This approach is gaining footage for circus-style theatrics alongside established performing arts such as drama and dance. Jerry Snell's bold new creative vision was on exhibit at the Other Festival on Day 4. The evening began with a video screening of acrobatics by the National Theatre of Taiwan directed by Snell. Next, local artistes, working with them for a mere five hours, performed gymnastics and kalari-style acrobatics to Snell's accomplished guitar work. The scene-stealer, however, was Tanabe's gymnastics of balancing bricks, which took him three years to perfect.Snell fuses diverse cultures and mediums, and encourages local artistes to watch and train with him. As he says, "You have to be more visual in the modern market, it's all about physical communication." He is uniquely qualified to lead this transition with his origins as a street performer, and as an experienced composer, musician, singer and circus director.

Folksy ballads

Day 5 of The Other Festival featured two talented lads from England - Paul Sartin and Benji Kirkpatrick who are part of a new generation of musicians, intent on keeping the folk music of their ancestors alive. Sartin says, "The English folk song tradition, mostly oral and anonymous, was in danger of extinction by the 1900s when collectors began to realise this and started to record them." Accompanied by the violin, guitar and oboe, they performed a range of ballads, which were punctuated with wry, humorous anecdotes about their antecedents. Heart warming tales of soldiers going off to war, knights meeting peasants in fields, highwaymen in love, pirates sailing the high seas all combined enchantingly in their repertoire. So did foot tapping and vibrant tunes in the barn-dance style that conjured up images of girls in flounced skirts, bodices and bonnets kicking up their heels as they drove men in knickerbockers crazy in the village square. The quaint lyrics, sung in perfect harmony by the duo, evoked nostalgia of an age gone by, as in the tale of a knight, who sees a poor man tilling the fields and questions him about his life, his reply is "Sometimes I reap, sometimes I mow, that's how I get my living - from the sweat of my brow. Or about Jack Williams- the Bosen whose unrequited love leads him to jail : I sent a letter to my love, some comfort for to find / she said, "now that you have made your bed, down on it you must lie!" A song of the pirate John Ward is immortalised in the lyrics on his reactions to a ship sent out to capture him "Your smoke well pleases me/ and if this battle should go on, your master I shall be!" The virtuosity on display signifies that the future of English folk is in young and gifted hands.