So, what sort of a mother are you? Raven, woodpecker or eagle?
Still Hungry’s collective of three artists – Anke van Engelshoven, Lena Ries and Romy Seibt – have come together to create innovative circus works that are ‘fresh, feminist, strong, and do not shy away from exploring personal themes that are not easily found in circus’. In Raven, they explore what it is to be a mother – and more specifically, what it is to be a circus artist mother.
The German Rabenmutter (Raven Mother) is a derogatory term that refers to absent mothers, who in extreme cases give up their children for adoption or neglect them, or in a more mundane example, are just ‘not there’ for their children. Maternal guilt, the desire to do the best for your children whilst retaining some sense of self, the eternal and oppressive nature of laundry, worrying about whether your body is up to it after childbirth, fielding the calls from agents that have no awareness that family life might mean that being on the road 200 days a year is not feasible – it’s all here in Raven. But expertly mixed and mulched in with top notch circus skills: these three have CVs that include appearances with Cirque du Demain (Paris), Montreal’s Les 7 Doigts, Cirque Eloize, and (inevitably) Cirque Du Soleil.
At the start of the piece, each woman, sporting a vest emblazoned with her name, introduces herself – physically, through her own chosen circus skill; then we hear her words, delivered in recorded voice-over, which she listens to attentively, looking out to the audience – a lovely touch. Through meeting them via their physical skill, then watching them listening to their own stories, we get a real sense of each woman’s uniqueness. We start with a fantastic corde lisse routine from Romy; then Lena, a brilliant contortionist; and finally Anka a thrilling straps artist. All three are mothers of two children apiece, ages ranging from 3 to 13.
The piece flows effortlessly from one scene to another. The laundry mountain sparks a brilliant dance and object manipulation vignette from Romy. There’s a fabulously funny birth scene, then a whole army of baby dolls take over the stage, as we hear stories of post-natal exhaustion, breastfeeding and trying to be all things to all people, always. A sofa is the centrepiece of the stage setting – a sofa to be clambered over and through, leapt over, laid upon. The complicity between the three women is tangible, and the integration of the circus work into the theatre narrative is commendable. Then, we step out of the domestic mire to witness a Berlin club scene, our Ravens delighted to have flown the nest for a while to smoke and dance and forget, just for a moment, that they have chicks in the nest.
Later in the piece, we get to meet the real-life offspring (on screen), who all seem wonderfully happy and well adjusted, not at all damaged by having mothers who sprout wings and fly from time to time.
Raven has been co-authored by the three performers. In the early stages of making the work, the company worked with Bryony Kimmings, who is credited with ‘creative support’ rather than named as director of the piece.
Edinburgh Fringe 2019 has seen a fantastic amount of excellent circus, much of it challenging the boundaries of the form. Even amongst this plethora of high quality circus-theatre, Raven stands out as an exceptional piece of work.
Raven is presented at the Edinburgh Fringe 2019 by Chamåleon Productions in association with Aurora Nova.
Featured image (Top): Stay Hungry: Raven. Photo by Daniel Porsdorf.