Kitted out in headphones, I am lead through the corridors of The Island, an old police station at the centre of Bristol now used for circus training. I am listening to typical circus music, and feel like I am approaching the ring, like I am about to perform. I am with one other audience member and a blonde-haired woman with a hat that reads FOLLOW ME on the back. As we walk, she holds up pictures that punctuate a short introduction in my headphones to Vito and Tito, circus children apparently born with moustaches who grew up to be daredevil trapeze artists. We are, in fact, being given our own backstory, as we two, me and my fellow participant, are about to step into the shoes of Vito and Tito.
We are left in a small tent, with a mirror; it feels like a dressing room. We are asked to wear a moustache and cape. We don our clumsy costumes and are directed to find and read a letter on the table; I think it’s to do with Vito and Tito’s mother, but the content washes over me. I am too preoccupied with the instructions, with this new environment and the knowledge that I’m going to be asked to do more. I am anxious and excited about what’s going to happen next.
People with video goggles ambush us. This technology is wrapped around my head and my vision is completely absorbed into a video screen. It all happens relatively painlessly, and as my eyes adjust to the screen I am asked to look back in the mirror. As I direct my body to the mirror my reflection is now that of a man, with a moustache, bare-chested in a silver and blue cape. I copy his actions to become synchronised, to sink into the idea that this is my reflection, this is me. Cora, a woman dressed as a circus performer, then appears to lead us out of the tent. I experience a strange meeting of virtual space and reality as I reach out to take Cora’s hand and touch a real one.
Wandering in space, guided by a hand and completely immersed into a video reality, it is difficult to overcome a sense of danger and allow yourself to let go. But the video plays through a series of encounters in the corridor, and the time this takes allows you to process the idea of moving through the virtual world and being dependent on these anonymous guiding hands.
Bits of narrative brush past me; this is Cora, and my brother and I are both in love with her. Something tragic happened to us; there are speculations that we were drunk and swinging from the chandeliers. I am hoisted into the air. It is exciting. I hold onto the rope for dear life. In my eyes are bright lights and my brother up ahead. I watch him swing. I take my own ropes and sit back on the trapeze. The floor is taken from my feet and I swing out into the air.
It is a blissful moment and after being so terrified I am ecstatically happy. In my ears birds are tweeting and before my eyes the clouds engulf me. Someone grabs my feet; it’s my brother Vito, catching me as we perform for a huge crowd.
I am hoisted back down to the ground. And take a bow.
The orchestration of this whole experience is complex and difficult to deliver. The need for us as audience members to give in to the virtual reality is also hard to come around to – but the reward when you swing out is so beautiful that you find yourself very forgiving.
I feel that the video experience is so full-on that less is more. The experiential aspects linger more than the costume, the history and the story – yet all these details do frame the experience in a context that allows suspense to build.
Once we’d de-goggled my partner and I were somewhat disorientated but chatted all the way downstairs about what we had experienced. My new brother, Vito. The Great Spavaldos engineers a meeting between you and a stranger as you wander blind into something magical for 25 minutes, experiencing the adrenaline and then the wonderful release of trapeze.