No Fit State Circus
Parklife Pontardawe: For photo’s visit… http://nofitstate.org/parklife/?cat=10
Six Blogs by Writer in Residence, Peter Cox
Blog 1) Six Feet Under in Pontardawe
Views of the day: Saturday in Pontardawe
Parklife’s Open House afternoon brought talents galore and serious skill sharing between the NFS company and various community groups and individuals.
Themes for the day being explored with visitors: Creation and Destruction
We have been told:
The area where the show will be played is by the river. On the flood plain. Once there were
water meadows here. Fields of wildflowers and Irises. On nearby
hills there were slag heaps. Spoil heaps from the mines and industrial
workings. They were removed but the spoil had to go somewhere.
It was laid over the meadows to raise the flood plain.
The forgotten flowers lie six feet under.
Images of war come to mind. The Somme. The flower of youth.
Today the flower of South Wales youth came as sports acrobats and youth circus. Trampolinists came
from NFS community circus. Serious levels of skills and commitment on
Thrown sky high. Bouncing sky high. Free runners leaping over caravans. Globe walking kids. Home schooled kids on slack rope and tight wire.
Megan Jenkins came all the way from Painscastle in Radnorshire for a circus themed birthday picnic.
(We think she left her cardi’ – she was so pumped up with adrenaline and
achievement when she left she probably still hasn’t noticed.) She is now
twenty four and has never done any circus workshops before. Today she met
the trapeze and flew. Today she met the hoop and hooped.
Then there were the guerilla gardeners who thought the water meadows could be reclaimed by people ’seed
bombing’ the ground – six feet over where the sleeping irises and wildflowers
lie – six feet under.
There was talk of the destruction caused by the natural gas pipeline crossing Wales. Echoes of
BP in the Gulf of Mexico. Slag heaps left in the
unquenchable quest for energy… oil and natural gas… questions
marks over planning permission and deals with councils…
And photos of rock balance sculptures on beaches. Improbable and impossible feats of beauty.
All day human beings brought this place alive with improbable and impossible
balances and random acts of beautiful human sculptures – living, dynamic
bouncing off steel, cloud flying and inspiring visiting children to
Then two sides of one coin. One man tells me the best thing for the community was when Tesco
came. Voices from Carmarthen visiting for a family day out doing circus
stuff tell me the most destructive thing that has happened there was when Tesco
Then there were the new words we learned. The young street dancers who will be working with us
arrive tomorrow. We’ve been testing the new vocabulary that we’ll
need. There’s locking and popping and rippling and whacking and jacking
There’s been talk of the Mythical kingdom of Matalan where the glorious Queen Ikea reigns supreme.
There’s been site swap mathematics from the jugglers. And talk of walls
and the rules of the spectacular game Airball have been rewritten.
We were visited by four miniature shorthaired red Daschunds – Cissie and Tilly and Dylan and Woody.
And where the water meadows once were people now walk and cycle and watch otters and and kingfishers and dippers. They say the place is beautiful and it is.
Circles and cycles of creation and destruction.
And next Saturday, show day, young Ilana, one of our visiting young sports acrobats will be nine years
old. What a birthday treat. Performing live onstage in Parklife
with No Fit State.
Peter Cox. Writer in Residence. Parklife Pontardawe.
ps please send mozzy repellent – the midges are fierce
Blog 2) ‘We click our feet like Dorothy’
Once upon a time The Makers of Dance Energy left their homes and followed a road with not a yellow brick in sight.
They found a circus, but not in Kansas. They found another world in Pontardawe.
They shared their skills with the cloud flyers and the lungers and the gimballers and the grungers.
Their teacher told them to…
‘Remember, that all the middle part of you has been taken out.’
There was a barrage of instructions. ‘Boogaloo Five. Double, Point, Roll it in. Up, Cross, Down.
Step it back and the hand goes out.’ Then, red faced and breathless, ‘We
click our feet like Dorothy’.
One thing is sure. We don’t know what it is – but it’s not the Hokey Cokey.
The Makers of Dance Energy have represented Wales at the ‘World Street and Hip Hop Championships’ in Poland and
Germany. They will be onstage with NFS in Parklife on Saturday 14th.
Look out Pontardawe.
Today they tried ‘Crumping’ but the music wasn’t angry enough. (No one here, beside me, knows how their anger dance, ‘Crumping’, has a connection to this place – long before they were born.)
And I only know because people shared stories in the sun with, yours truly, the NFS Roving Reporter.
I was told the family had lived on the farm for 200 years. Then the official from the National Coal Board came with a
compulsory purchase order. One hundred acres gone. Broke the old
man’s heart. He’d left a request for when he died. To be buried
overlooking his valley. Only, when he was gone, the view was not what he
had planned. The view was Abernant. The colliery and the spoil, the
haulage and the gear. Cycles of creation and destruction. After it
closed in 1990 the ground was relaid. Orchids have begun to grow there
again. Too late for the old man.
I was told the tin-plate towers could have been saved. They were ‘chimleys’ really, not towers as such. The
‘chimleys’ could have told a story. There could have been a park around
them. The tin plate Works, though, held another tale. Munitions.
Material for shell cases made there. World War Two. Images of war
again. Creation and Destruction. Those ‘chimleys’ could have told a
Like the children used to do round here, playing ‘Crumping John’.
I was told that, once upon a time, this place was close to Equator. Honestly. There’s proof in a waterfall
up the road. They’ve put a path in and information and you can press a
button and hear voices and the water cutting back has revealed a story locked
in time and rock. There are special ferns here. And rare mosses.
Clues in the mystery reveal this place was once Equatorial Rainforest.
Seems a long way from today’s pole (fitness) dancers who taught us their Gemini Tricks and Gecko lifts.
More stories tumble through the day: there was a church on the hill since the 5th or 6th
century. Built on the site of a Pagan well. It had a Focus DIY job
done on it by The Normans, but the Norman Tower is a bit wonky now.
Flatpack church towers? Surely not! Then the Victorians improved it in
the way they did. But in the eighties the threat of the bulldozer
came. ‘Who needs this old thing? Let’s knock it down.’ Then
200 people said ‘no’. And a benefactor said ‘yes’ and bought the
place. It’s now a centre where all kinds of things can happen. But
not alcohol. Not marriages. No religious service of any
Llangiwg Church. A new well of human endeavour to be drawn from and drunk deeply. It’s lucky that the water diviners came and found the source.
And near Carmarthen two children planted a garden and grew huge cucumbers and spinach, tomatoes, potatoes and beans.
An act of creation: to plant seeds, to tend them, to watch things grow
then to pick them, then to eat them. Look out Tesco: two less
And as for ‘Crumping John’ meets Crumping Anger Dance?
Well, the old man, buried overlooking the pit, would have known the ‘Crumping John’ generation of children. Making
their own entertainment. Their own fun. Going from door to
door. Acting out stories. Getting ‘paid’ with drinks or sweets.
Whatever the story they acted out they called the whole adventure, ‘Crumping John’.
Just imagine it. On a dark and moonless night, down Abernant way… maybe the stamping sound you can hear is the
old man in his grave… anger dancing… tearing at his shroud… the
scream of drill in rock his anger music…
All these tales were told in the shadow of Elephant Rock.
And the lesson of the day: Remember that, ‘every field has a different identity’.
Blog 3) Flam, Flamadiddle and Rough
Or: Secret Languages from behind the fence.
Ignore the rain get on with job.
Saturday and Sunday were the Open House days. Public stories. Pontardawe Stories.
Today we go behind the fence. There’s a whole secret world here. Like a secret society with its own
language. In fact, more than one language. And so many names for
things? Every discipline has its secret words.
Come show time on Saturday night there are things that you might see from the lists below. There are things you
ust to get us to Saturday there are things I have heard from my privileged position here. No longer Roving
Reporter. Now, in amongst the wonder. Witnessing the pain behind
the magic. Being stirred in the alchemy of creation. Learning new
languages by the hour.
(By the way, ‘Flam, Flamadiddle and Rough’ are not the latest cute characters in a new Pixar movie! It’s the
secret language drummers speak, but only when teaching the drums. At
other times they may say… ‘the one that goes, duh duh de de de
But I digress.
Quiz time: (Want a clue before you start? Well, maybe there are clues in the questions.)
Question One: Who might bounce these words around?
“Triffus, Fliffus, Birani, Cat Twist and Kaboom?”
Question Two: Who might throw these words around?
“Burke’s Barrage, 5551 on triples, Slapbacks, Chinrolls, Pulldowns, Pancakes, Mills’ Mess, Rubenstein’s Revenge, Dancey’s Devilment’, Takeouts, Chops, Tomahawks and Thunder Shower.”
Question Three: Who might hang about using these words?
“Angel Lines, Meat Hook, Gallopette, Toe Hang, Heel Hang, Meat Hook trying to split it, ‘I’ve done it on a single’.”
Question Four: Who might direct these words to someone?
“It could be someone who is searching. The ‘chaser’ and the ‘chased’. The walls could become
personal barriers. Who is putting up the barrier? Themselves? It’s
a matrix moment. It’s about turning the emotional story into a
Question Five: Who might try and trick their way around these words?
“A barrier becomes a way to liberate yourself with movement. You can be as free as you want. It’s about pushing public acceptance.”
“Scoot. Valdez. Hypertwist. Parafuso.
“Corkscrew (Cork), Double Cork, Triple Cork, Hypercork. Kroc!” (Keep up dear reader. A ‘Kroc’ is only a ‘Cork’ done backwards! But you knew that really, didn’t you?)
“Cheat 7 Scoot Hypercork Missleg Full.”
“Hook Aerial Grandmasterswipe 4 Swing Triple Flash.”
“Cheat 9 Double Hook Sideswipe Raiz Shuriken Cork.”
Question Six: Who might be inspired the following ‘insane people’?
Vellu, Guthrie, Anis, Munks, Prodigy, Team Asura.
Question Seven: No clues for this one.
“If the drop is here, you jump forward and do a back somersault travelling forward in front of where you took off from and landing lower down.”
Question Eight, Question Nine, Question Ten: Who who who might…. Well, you get the gist…
“Rudi, Randy, Adolf, Miller, Killer, Thriller. (Hypothetically there’s a Spiller but it’s not been landed
yet. But it has been done on the Supertramp.) The Loser Flip, Kick
the Moon, Imploder, Exploder, Kong Vault, Quasimodo, Dwell Time, Boston Mess,
Siteswap 3, 42, 423, 441 (etc), Gatto’s Multiplex, Crashdive.
Fifteen Minutes – grab a cup of tea.”
Phew… and you thought your daily routine was a challenge!!
Answers: No Fit State Circus performers behind the fence including: Trampolinists,
Trickers, Free Runners, Jugglers, Aerialists and Parklife Director Orit
Azaz. And for Questions 8,9 & 10 – all of the above.)
Maybe I’ll talk the riggers down from their Skyhooks tomorrow and take you into their mysterious world of words!
In the meantime I’m heading for my tent and hoping everything inside hasn’t turned into a giant sponge.
Blog 4) Questions to ask your Granny
Tuesday dawned on Parklife – as wet as Monday. Everything was sodden.
By mid afternoon it was more like the Costa Del Pontardawe. Glorious blue sky. Hot sunshine. Spirits lifted above and beyond the mountain tops.
Tonight we begin with some questions you might hear behind the fence among the acrobats, the flyers, the carriers, the unicyclists and the fire artists.
(So if you have a Granny, ask her. If you are a Granny, ask a loved one.)
‘Can you Lunge?’
‘Can you do a Flying Angel?’ ‘Can you Bunny Hop?’ ‘Can you do a Buzzsaw?’
‘Can you do… a Butterfly, a Hyperloop, a Three Beat Weave, a Five Beat Weave, a Vertex?’ Granny…. ‘Can you do a Chinese Suicide???’ (‘Not since I had that bout of Sciatica, my love.’)
My Granny could do none of those things but she left school when she was twelve and went to work in a bakery.
And she made the best cakes ever for the rest of her life. And every Christmas
she’d make a bath full of trifle. Now to us, her beloved grand children we
thought the bath itself would be layered with deliciousness of all chemical
kinds, colours and wobbliness! What was really in the bath, keeping cool, was
little pot after pot after little dish of individual trifles.
My Granny knew how to make magical tastes from whatever was in the cupboard.
I feel a bit like my Granny here in Pontardawe. We are slowly putting together a recipe for our show – but at the
same time, very aware we are still exploring what ingredients are in the
Tonight the fence was breached by local writers. Never mind all these street dancers and sports acrobats coming
through with their new fangled fangledness! It was time to walk the stage and
talk with playwrights and theatre makers and to revel in the ancient timeless
power of story, story metaphor and meaning.
The sun was setting low over Pontardawe as they let their ideas and memories wander through the problems and possibilities
of creating a multi dimensional work of art in the corner of the recreation
ground in this famous valley.
I was told we are not the first to play here. The Grammar School was once over there beyond what used to be the rugby
pitch and where our flyers fly used to be the girls’ hockey pitch. Once a year
the girls played the boys at rugby and the girls played the boys at hockey. It
appears the boys were gentlemen really because they would hand the ball to the
girls. (Resisting the urge to scrimmage which, one assumes must have been
allowed to come out on a Saturday night!) Whereas during the hockey game, more
balls would be added to the game without people realising!
This was an exceedingly mild game compared to some they used to play locally.
One right of passage for 7 to 10 year olds demanded that they sqeeze through the terrifyingly narrow gap between Elephant
Rock and the Mountain. Once puberty kicked in, (and you ‘filled out’) – you
couldn’t squeeze through. I have a vision of an old woman trapped there… she
was halfway through when puberty was reached and that was that – no way forward
– no way back.
But that game was so much less terrifying than the rest. Once, within a spit of black dust of here was ‘the ugliest square mile on earth’.
You couldn’t graze cattle there. They died from the sulphurous fumes.
I was told, ‘games were played in The Acid Dust’.
I was told, ‘they used to go and play on The Pollution.’
But the really serious game involved walking around the rim (about six inches wide from the collective memory) of… (cue music… full of dread and danger…)
The Toxic Pool! (They clearly breed them tough in this glaciated valley.)
And as for The Moving Mountain… well, what’s a mountain that’s on the move when you’ve survived The Acid Dust, The Pollution and THE TOXIC POOL!!!
(Note for any would be tourists Googling Pontardawe as a possible holiday destination and wondering if there’s a swimming pool. IT’S VERY HERE DIFFERENT NOW.)
Creation from Destruction.
On a brighter note… ask your Granny about ‘The Monkey Parade’ that used to happen after church on a Sunday. Boys would walk down one side of the street and girls down the other!
(Now, mixing words from behind our Circus fence with the Monkey Parade, we could provide ‘A Keeper’. The line and harness
that an aerialist might use when testing a new ‘zip wire’. To keep them alive.
Can you imagine those Pontardawe kids of old needing a ‘Keeper’ before toddling
around the edge of The Toxic Pool?)
Which cues me in to another theme we’ve been exploring behind the fence. ‘Journeys.’
I was told about two hugely different journeys here today. One was during the Blitz when there was the three day fire in Swansea thousands of refugees came to town.
The other was when Adelina Patti, the greatest opera voice of her age, would come through town throwing coins to the children.
So when you’ve asked your Granny about who Miss Patti was here’s one last question for her.
‘Granny! What does Proprioception mean?’
And when she says she doesn’t know, you can tell her…
‘Nan. I know what it is… it’s the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body.
Unlike the exteroceptive senses by which we perceive the outside world.
And the interoceptive senses, by which we perceive the pain and movement of internal organs.
Proprioception is a third distinct sensory modality that provides feedback solely on the status of the body internally.
It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other.’
Then she’ll say…
‘Oh, you mean the invisible awareness thing that acrobats and flyers and gymnasts use to prevent themselves from splatting into the floor and ending up looking like a bath full of trifle.’
Blog 5) Thoughts from The Word Juggler’s Notebook
A writer’s notebook can be a fascinating thing to browse through… (ask any psychiatrist!)
During this Parklife Pontardawe Residency I’m never far from my notebook… (Or, for that matter, from my translucent plastic camping mug,
with screw top lid, filled with my tipple of choice – green tea and mint - the
colour of which makes it look like I’m carrying around a urine sample for a
very sick animal!)
As I look back through my notes and gear up for the last push towards creating the ‘spoken text’ script
pieces for the fast looming show I find that during the week I’ve interviewed
dozens of people locally including passers by, visitors to our open house
workshops, company members, dog walkers, small boys on bikes through the Heras
perimeter fencing etc…
Amazingly I find I have nearly one hundred pages of hand scribbled notes. Liberally scattered amongst them are scores of little sketches –
story-telling through the magical medium of stick people. (To be honest, some of the physical
exploratory work undertaken by Orit, our Director, and the Company this week
has defied description in words at speed.
A quick sketch has been the only way to get the dynamics and
inter-relationships down as an aide-memoire.)
Having written for many years for the screen as well as for the stage
I’m no stranger to this kind of visual storytelling. Most people don’t realise that film scripts are often 80%
description of pictures that tell story with the remaining 20% as
dialogue. (Which makes sense of Alfred
Hitchcock’s famous quote. “When the script is finished, and the dialogue added,
the film is ready to shoot.)
One section in my notebook really stands out. Being a writer and
watching all our other artists involved in creative exchanges with local
groups, I had the idea to try and set up an exchange with writers local to
Angie Dickinson from the Pontardawe Arts Centre magically set up a visit for Diana Griffiths, Carole
Hopkin and Derek Cobley who all came behind the scenes, watched us work, walked
the stage and discussed all manner of things – from local history and stories
to how to create emotion through spectacle in such a multi-layered performance
style and environment. Diana was even moved
when she got home to pen an extraordinary, oblique and poetic short playlet
called Up We Go– inspired by her visit.
It was a fantastic treat to then be visited by Stan Barstow, an author international renown who will be
known to many through his novel, A Kind of Loving, a book often studied as a
set text in school examinations. Due to
rain it wasn’t possible for Stan to see us working on the stage but he came
into the damp gloom of the Big Blue Tent and observed the development process –
making his own quiet observations as the company walked through various
sequences in a space a tenth of the size of the real ‘stage’ outside. Once again our conversations ranged from
parallels in classical Greek drama to the many and various hidden craft
techniques that writer’s use to mask the machinery of storytelling.
Unsurprisingly this meeting of minds with all the writer’s led to some more complex conceptual notes being scribbled down in my book…
I posed the question, ‘What will be left next week when the Circus is gone?’ Some snippets of thoughts included…
‘Everything that has ever existed, still exists. We just may no longer have the physical evidence of it.’
‘We are limited on a timeline’.
‘Why only think about past lives? Why not think that I’m going to be Cleopatra in a future life?’
‘Everything is a right of passage’.
‘It can be… you are like guerrilla gardeners, planting seeds’.
One other stand-out page in my notebook is altogether less cerebral or philosophical…
Still poetic in its own way, however, but very much down to earth.
Living communally ‘behind the fence’ places everyone under an obligation to be thoughtful, caring, good
company, tolerant and as aroma-free as washing facilities and access to hot
In the long days of tiredness, coldness and wetness a little good-natured banter can go a long way – seriously
lifting spirits and aiding morale. The
creation of ‘private languages’ is nothing new – pretty much every walk of life
has them. From Coal Miners to Ballet
Dancers, they become a way of including people, a form of tribal marking
through words or a membership of a secret society. As company members pass each other, busily intent on their work,
just one new addition to this collectively created fluid language can raise a
smile and become a spur to further invention.
It some ways it can be seen as a symbol of trust.
In scouring through my notebook for the most compelling notes that demand to be included in the spoken
text I find the scribbles related to the crew and company’s nick-names for each other that have begun to
evolve over the week. For some reason,
known only to my fevered left-field imagination, these nick-names found
themselves going down as a commentary on a fictional No Fit State style horse
race – loosely based on the Grand National.
I offer no further comment, apologies or excuses… herewith the evidence, m’lud!
“And they’re all safely over Becher’s Brook: it’s Major
Problem just a nose ahead of General Indifference. And Rambo on the rails, being edged out by Field Marshall
Fog. And here comes General Overview
just a nose ahead of Private Thoughts. And Private Dancer makes a move. And some fallers there. Private Parts has gone. And Private Wrong brought down The Crazy
Chef. And here comes General Tomfoolery
putting in a strong run. As we cross
the Melling Road here come some of the back markers: Major Ambition and Captain Basket Weaver neck and neck with
Colonel Calm and General Hospital… and Private Huge is a faller. Major Problem extends his lead but Martial
Law’s just getting into his stride and the crowd are going wild. Private For Your Eyes Only - just ahead of
Private And Confidential - just ahead by a nose from Private Members Bill and
Private No Parking.
And look at that… right back at the starting gate… General Indecision can’t quite decide whether the race has started or not yet!”
All efforts now focus on getting the show on the stage and getting the right spoken text honed and edited in time.
Wish us luck. (This is Private Dancer signing off. My next blog will be written after the show on Saturday – if I survive the fireshow!)
In the alchemy of memory and dreams – night becomes day, day becomes night.
All the rigging gear down.
The totems still stand, awaiting their next magic.
The Gimbal bows its head.
Breaths were held when August went ‘over the top’.
The Korean Cradle, now just a frame. Waiting.
Road Boxes parked where they were left a speed. Waiting.
One last flag hangs still, wet with dew. It’s 1.15am.
A cold mist rises from the river.
Slack-rope, tight-wire, high-wire – all now places for early morning birds to land.
There is something ‘henge-like’ about this structure.
The seven totems around the steel grill ‘O’, the Donut Stage.
The steel is cold tonight and wet. We are lucky the weather held. This is Wales in August! Autumn is coming early.
Behind me the big Blue Tent thumps to a bass beat. The adrenaline of performance slowly drowning in canned Strongbow and Guinness.
Dancing in muddy boots, in muddy wellies: the laughter ‘a release’.
We went on a journey.
We faced our fears.
We overcame the obstacles.
The Heras walls and the walls inside ourselves.
The cold steel inside all of us held firm.
A new day will bring a new dawn to Pontardawe. Like ‘Guerilla Gardeners’ we planted something here.
Guerilla Circus Artists, one step beyond.
Turning pain into exhilaration.
Turning commitment into dream.
This does not feel like work, yet it is the hardest work.
It feels like vocation.
People left saying, the show was ‘Brilliant. Awesome.’
What is ‘brilliant’, ‘awesome’… is the work that makes the show.
This is family. This is village. This is ethos and philosophy.
A way of life.
Meanwhile, high above me amongst the rig… in the cold blue light, against the cold night sky…
Sounding echoes of dreams.
Peter Cox: Writer in Residence. Parklife – Pontardawe. August 2010
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