As if to compensate for cloud cover replacing patches of red sky, Inferno, a fire display show from Kinsale-based PassePartout Circus, lit up Elizabeth Fort, off Barrack Street, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Elizabeth Fort, built as a defensive fortification in the 17th century, has had various roles since, including that of a former garda barracks. But it could have been tailor-made for a show like Inferno.
The expansive space was well-used, with the three fire performers entertaining an audience of 300, most of whom sat on sheets of fabric. This free show started with a soundtrack suggesting the sea, with the squawks of seagulls adding to the crashing of the waves. A woman lit up barrels, creating swirls of smoke. Suddenly, there was percussive sound as the torches were used like drum sticks on the fire-emitting barrels.
The woman, Sue Hamilton, was joined by the other two performers, Guillaume Cousson and Will Flanagan. Their show was simple — fire displays that combined circus skills, physical theatre and pyromania.
This fire show, as standard, included fire eating and the tossing of lit torches, deftly caught by the performers. Stand-out displays included Hamilton wiggling a hoop, lit at five points, around her waist and upper body. She executed this precarious act with a sense of fun.
The audience clapped exuberantly at various points, including for a sequence where one of the men balanced a flaming torch on his forehead, with his head thrown back. While this was impressive, everything you see in fire shows has been done already.
More play acting, as in the geisha scene where Hamilton served the men cups of tea (presumably), marked this show out. It ended on a high note with a star-burst display.
Rudolf von Laban (1879-1958), an important figure in dance, developed a concept known as ‘the movement choir’. Laura Murphy, dancer in residence at Cork’s Firkin Crane, and composer, Irene Buckley, drew on this for their striking work at the Cork Midsummer Festival.
A Dance Concerto combined professional dancers and musicians, trainees, and members of the public in a fascinating performance. Food cans were the key, used for movement, sound, rhythm, and visual expression. Musicians squatted at low platforms, creating an atavistic beat from cans rattled, thumped, and tapped. Dancers (above) marched, swirled and twisted, lifting and placing rows of cans across the floor, gradually developing to dizzying speed as they moved, never once knocking over a can nor cannoning into one another. Then, slowly, slowly, it slackened pace, both dancers and musicians drifted from the space, until, at last, one lone figure lowered her arms and placed the last two cans silently on the floor, before also drifting away. Only then was the spell broken.
As a community project, this was a success even before it premiered, since it drew in members of the public who might never have thought of dance before, let alone participated in a performance.
The capacity audience also testified to that success. Lively toddlers lay, chins on hands, watching every movement with delight. Older watchers were fascinated by the ways in which sound could be drawn from such basic, everyday objects. A violin bow evoked a strange wail; multiple, soft tapping was a ground base that echoed a pulse beat. The cans weren’t just a quirky idea, says Laura Murphy. They emphasised food, the need for it, the lack of it.
An important aspect of the show was the use of tins of food as exchange for tickets. In the foyer beforehand, the trolleys piled high with offerings showed that the public had taken to this with delight. All the barter goods will be donated to Cork Penny Dinners, incidentally — another strong community link. Here is one arts project genuinely reaching out to the people.