You know how circus acts can sometimes be a bit creepy? Clowns, especially. Well, Cirque Mandingue’s Foté Foré, the opening act of the month-long CircusFest, had a touch of that, even as it also entertained, amused and amazed. The title means “white black”, and the framing story – a Frenchman travels to west Africa, where he befriends some talented locals – echoes the company history: it was formed in Guinea by visiting French director Luc Richard. Regis Truchy plays the Frenchman as a gauche, half-witted innocent who overdoes his Eurodisco, coyly wobbles his belly fat and wears a permanently goofy expression above his rictus grin. A clown, basically. In contrast, the Africans – eight men and one woman – have easy smiles, washboard abs and are effortlessly exuberant dancers. Yet Truchy is actually a supremely skilled mover, his bodypopping and wave-dancing exceptionally controlled and articulate; so this constant clownface makes him look both ingratiating and duplicitous.
Abdoulaye Keita can also be painful to watch, for more straightforward reasons: he can lie on his front while his legs walk full circle around his head. He seems to dislocate every joint in his body, then ping back into shape. You wince, but it’s freaky, not creepy. Apart from a couple of atmospheric choreography numbers, the rest of the show is all boisterous spirits and astounding feats, set to a mix of popular music and sometimes backed by live drummers. The acrobats form human pyramids and precarious four-storey towers; they tumble and somersault with whiplash twists; and they even somehow manage to pogo feet first up a wobbly pole that’s held in place by a ring of nonchalantly bopping anchor-men – the top spot of a mixed evening.
For a more intimate and more transporting experience, though, I’d recommend one of the CircusFest sideshows, The Great Spavaldos by Il Pixel Rosso. You don headphones, goggles and a moustache, and embark on a mystery tour in which you will play a pivotal role, and end on a high.