It seems odd that a show created to celebrate the opening of Bangor’s Pontio arts complex should premiere more than four months after it actually opened. But then, Pontio isn’t known for its punctuality – the £49m venue finally threw open its doors to the public in October 2015, 12 months later than first planned.
But better late than never, and the same goes for There is a Place, the brainchild of NoFit State Circus’s artistic director Firenza Guidi, who has put together a truly mesmerising and magical show which brings together the Bangor community by including local schoolchildren and young performers on the bill.
The art of circus is a growing sector in the arts community, and it is NoFit State’s intention to develop a regional base for circus skills at Pontio. Indeed, much of Pontio’s inaugural programme has been circus-based, such as Ockham’s Razor’s Tipping Point and Citrus Arts’ forthcoming A Savage Hart.
But what’s so special about There is a Place is that it involves the community. The atmosphere at Pontio on Sunday afternoon was charged with excitement and, best of all, fun. There were people there of all ages, from wide-eyed toddlers to thrill-seeking teenagers, from proud mums and dads to gobsmacked grandparents. Young people from Ysgolion Glanadda, Glancegin, Hirael and Friars joined those from Canolfan Addysg y Bont to take part in a show which was all about entertainment and awe. It’s difficult to describe circus in words because it’s an art form which demands you see it to appreciate it, to fully grasp the spectacle, the grandeur and the sheer heart-in-mouth danger of it all.
The NoFit State performers are death-defyingly talented, but they also bring an exuberance and energy that goes beyond somersaults and trapeze tricks. They make watching the show both awe-inspiring and fun as they exchange looks and smiles with audience members, waving at random observers, creating an inclusiveness which is delightfully heart-warming. When you’ve got people spinning 25ft in the air without harnesses, balancing precariously on high-wires, and dangling from ropes by their ankles, it’s good to feel that the performers have the audience’s enjoyment in mind at all times.
It’s also important that the music is provided by a live band, adding to the immediacy of the show as a whole. The fact the cast of performers is so sickeningly multi-skilled that you get guitarist Elia Conti strapping on a harness to fly up on wires, and acrobat Blaze Tarsha providing soulful backing vocals, only confirms just how gifted a cast NoFit State boasts.
But aside from the flying acrobatics of Jani Foldi and Lyndall Merry, the tightrope-walking thrills of Angelique Ross, and the truly eye-popping Cyr wheel work of Fred Rendell, at the heart of There is a Place is the local contribution. The audience demographic was so varied because they’d all turned out to see and admire the community talent on display – it was lovely to see the little ones frolicking in the fake snow (the girls in their Victorian night-dresses and the boys in their flat caps), while the burgeoning talents of the teenagers were most evident in a routine involving clever film projection and some highly effective gymnastic movements.
All in all this was a triumph for Pontio, NoFit State and the Bangor community. Combining all three to come up with There is a Place proves that community arts projects can be viably commercial as well as fundamentally inspirational for those taking part and watching. I hope NoFit State does something similar again, because involving communities in shows like this is a dependable way of making sure the arts is sustained and flourishes for future generations.