Dedicated to Carlos who cannot join us for last leg of the tour! x Image

Squidged inbetween the bottom step of Assi Ghat, the Holy river Mother Ganga, the huge bonfire pile for Holi Play the next day, the dogs, the Puja, the Sadhus, the tourists, the chai stalls, and the candle selling children, there was a full-on stage for the Asha Deep Vidyashram’s annual performance. Until about 10 years ago it was taboo for the community of Nagwa to come into the Ghat area because of their lower caste, so the school performing here every year is a huge progression and a big thing for everyone involved!

There was flashing lights and a huge sound system! Whirring with technology, the beauty of the billowing curtains anchors the space and reminds us we are doing an outdoor show open to the elements of the world.

Abi, Andy, Anke, Carlos, Chez (me), Livi, Paul and Simon; we scrape together our cleanest and smartest clothes, splash on the glitter and excitedly make our way down to Assi Ghat. The bamboo structured stage totally changes the space, it all suddenly feels very official, professional and proper.  Armed with our bags of props and costumes the children run and greet us.  There is a joyous and exciting atmosphere that whips us up ready for the show.  In true Indian style the show lasts FIVE HOURS!! Has two breaks for Puja, which is the daily prayer ritual for the Goddess Ganges and despite the booming music continues as normal. A surreal and dreamlike evening. Full on traditional Khatak dance, Bollywood inspired dance, singing, poetry, jokes, a theatre play about gender roles (there is a big emphasis on this issue all over India at the moment), and of course the PWB magic filled acts.

I genuinely couldn’t have felt prouder of all the hard work from the young people involved and the PWB team energy to create the variety of acts.  As PWB has worked with this school for four years before, the skill level is very high; we found this very stimulating as we discovered ways to respond to their  unique skills.  A vast mix of ideas culminated in some energy filled moments, some poetic movement, some crazy images and loads of smiles!

During the show there was definitely some tingly arm hair as we see the kids fully embracing what we have spent weeks developing and rehearsing.  They all go for it!  Anke’s Ribbon dancing girls smiled so wide as they moved around the stage and the big group dance was full power – they owned that space with their strong attitude!  Interspersed with the dance was Andy’s adorable Spinning Plate children and those children who Paul had worked with to develop ninja Yo-Yo moves.  Simon’s juggling boys were so sweet with their concentration faces, they had some slick tricks too.  Simon also worked with some boys to create a Hip-Hop-coolio dance to a live beatbox soundtrack.  They can seriously move!!  Andy’s Diablo act was amazing to watch! All over the stage, jumping on and off the front – everyone was having so much fun, the music was banging and the strobe light was vibrantly intense.  Livi’s hula hoop act was so well choreographed, it was so visual (especially after the late night sparkly hoop taping) and empowered the girls big time!  I worked with a group of boys using flower sticks, (a prop I know very little about), it was great to approach it differently.  They wanted to be horses, bikes, rowers and diggers, so together we choreographed a very sweet little number to Spike Milligan’s Ning Nang Nong.  Dressed up in sashes and wooly dicky bow ties they were very playful with the music and really came out of themselves in front of the audience.  I also worked with a group to make a clowning number so as to give them the opportunity to perform without hiding behind a prop.  Having spend hours making papier-mache red noses and pom-poms for neck ruffs they look great and have a really beautiful time with the music and following their instincts.  Once they are on the stage it reminds us as  facilitators we have done our job, and now they enjoy the moment with the watching eyes of the audience.

Then came the long awaited fire show that Abi, Carlos, Paul, Andy and Livi worked really hard with individuals to develop their technique and confidence.  Some performed for the first time with fire, bringing that elemental raw energy that spinning fire does.  Some more experienced fire spinners shone like fireflies as the hundreds of people watching from the ghat applauded and cheered as they were impressed and mesmerised by the patterns.  One young girl overcame a big issue of performing with fire staff, the boys didn’t want her to perform with them, the girls were jealous that she had practiced this prop.  Despite all this, she did an amazing show and we were all totally proud of her standing up for what she wanted! Girl power!  THIS SHOW WAS EPIC!

Coming in as a Theatre Practitioner has been very interesting for me.  There is burning question in me of how can you use the circus skill to say something or do something more than demonstrating skill?  In this context of Asha Deep the beginnings of this enquiry have begun to be explored.  Developing performing skills to complement the trick based skill supports the participants to grow in confidence and self esteem even more. With this project it would be great to continue to support them in developing this strand of performance work.

It was a lovely round circle once again with this second project in Varanasi as we performed our PWB show for the last time, this time in the Nagwa district.  All the kids that we have built relationships with were around helping us set up and getting more of their friends from the area to come form our audience outside the local Mosque.  It felt very special performing to the smiling faces we have got to know, and to see the intrigue from passer bys who cycle over to watch the show – biketastic Nagwa!  As the sky darkens we enter the last phase of the show and prepare the fire props.  This was possibly the most spectacular moment in Varanasi for me.  The sky flicked with lightning in the distance as two of the older lads, Manish and Gopal, spin their duo poi in incredible timing with the music and each other.  Feeling the brewing of an ending, we finished the show and said goodbye to the children.  As we began cycling home laden down with all the show kit on, in and around the bikes, the biggest storm hit the area, the rain pummelled down, the lightning forked and sheeted, creating an intense and charged energy.  In between the buffalo, the cows, the motorbikes, the chai shops, the material stalls, the hiding dogs, the beeping scooters, the honking cycle rickshaws, the puddles, the ditch and the sky we exist with a mixture of nostalgia and the pure enigmatic joys of living!

Onwards up the mountains we rise, to continue our circus adventure to Darjeeling.

Up, up, up, up, up, up and away…..

Happy smile on my face,

Francesca ‘Chez’ Dunford.

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Jaya in the Fire show on Assi Ghat!!

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The crowd watching the show on Assi Ghat!!

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The lovely clown act, Directed by Chez DunfordImage

The talented Juggler Act, Directed by Simon Abel.

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Pre-show entertainment to warm up the crowd.

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The gorgeous smile of Veejay! He was in Yo-Yos, Flower sticks and Juggling – TALENT!!

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