This summer Wales based circus collective Syrcas Cimera worked with Syzmon Mamys, fire performer and producer behind the Bring the Fire Project. Here Syrcas Cimera Director Thomasine Tomkins reports back on developing the collectives work with Syzmon through a two day workshop, which was supported by an Articulture professional development bursary.
Last year myself and 3 of our directors/performers from Syrcas Cimera CBC attended the Awen School Dark Arts Training for Ar Waith Ar Daith with Walk the Plank. We learnt valuable skills in event production, willow lantern making and parades, fire drawings, pyro technics and fire dancing choreography and performance. It was amazing being part of such an ambitious production, pushing boundaries (whether personal or for the Arts in North Wales), and having the opportunity to work with such experienced practitioners. The skills we learnt were extremely helpful in the development of projects we had started in our local area and gave us a hunger to develop more.
Iago Morgan Jones and Jay Ellis(Cimera) and Szymon Mamys and Hugo Maciel fire dancing, choreography by Thomasine Ar Waith Ar Daith 2015
On the course we were delighted to meet Szymon Mamys who is based in Liverpool. Szymon is a fire performer, he also runs fire dancing classes and organises a Fire Arts Festival in Liverpool and is the main driving force behind Bring the Fire Project.
A group of us from Cimera and Cimera Youth went to Liverpool last May to watch his Fire Arts Festival (below). We came away totally amazed and inspired, with a burning desire to find a way to collaborate.
We felt Szymon was the most talented fire performer we had met and the best person to help us develop what we had started. After the Ar Waith Ar Daith course we agreed that we needed to find a way of working together. Szymon runs weekly fire dancing classes in Liverpool but unfortunately logistically and due to the expense we cant attend.
We have about 12 performers including some new younger trainees aged between 17-20 who are all of different abilities but are all super keen. In this last 2 years we have had a few local bookings for community events and local events around Gwynedd and at festivals such as Ymuno in Conwy and The Northern Green Gathering in Derbyshire, performing fire or Glo-juggling. This has increased confidence in the young and new trainees and motivated them to want to develop a performance beyond appearing in small groups and free styling.
Cimera spent last winter meeting weekly, polishing flow skills, learning and sharing new tricks with all the Cimera Youth showing a total commitment. Some of us attended a ‘Devising Aerial’ course with Olkhams Razor and a ‘Dance, Movement and Mask ‘ with James Doyle Roberts from Citrus Arts, and ‘Teaching Circus’ with NoFitState, which showed us the potential for creating shows, but also highlighted the need for some greater expertise to help us with choreographic direction, specialised skills and fire safety.
Cimera were booked by Ymuno Festival to perform a fireshow on the closing night of the festival. During the weeks leading up to the festival we just about managed to choreograph a skeleton of a show with the Youth helping to devise the performance. Since then we have had numerous enquiries for local bookings. Szymon had kindly advised us on how to write proposals considering time and length of performances, how to price shows and comprehensive fire safety. (Georgia Williams and Jay Ellis at Ymuno fire performance below)
On receiving the Articulture bursary to develop and share skills, Szymon agreed on a date to come to Wales for 2 days to work with us on developing and devising a fireshow. We were so pleased we had found a way to collaborate with the friend we had made on Ar Waith Ar Daith and bring his skills to North Wales. So we discussed with Szymon that the main points we felt we needed help with were choreographing, choosing pieces of music that lent themselves to fire performance, styling our performers with costumes that were safe, and comprehensive fire safety training.
We made plans for Szymon to come to Wales, through an online group discussion ‘Fire Spinners’ where we have also started sharing advice, potential bookings and music. Szymon had agreed to come for 2 days and nights intensive training, so he stayed with us in Llanberis having his first taste of Welsh life and sustainable living. We made plans to train and devise in the day and spin fire in the evening in the Lagoons, weather allowing. We were able to use Y Festri, the new Community Arts Theatre that Cimera is helping to open in Llanberis. Many of Cimera took time out of paid work or college to come to the training. The turn out was fantastic, there was 12 of us in all.
Once Szymon had observed our level of skill as we free-styled, he started by giving us a workshop in advanced poi and staff moves to put us through our paces and see what level we were at. Everyone agreed they learnt new moves, particularly isolations and ones that took the prop around or behind the body.
It seemed natural to split the group into 2 basic groups, depending on our favourite props, which naturally fell into poi or staff, and we then worked on each group devising a short routine using our new found moves. Szymon filmed us and we watched what we had done, so quite quickly we could see ideas turned into reality and be able to self correct.
By the end of the first day, we realised the wet weather was not going to allow playing with fire outside but it gave us an opportunity to work inside on developing the 2 new routines and show Szymon the skeleton of the shows we had developed ourselves. Szymon got us to consider entrances, stances, body movement and choreography, so in fact it proved more valuable that we had stayed indoors. At the end of the evening we felt we had good foundations of 2 pieces that then needed music, and we chose one of our pieces ‘Crystalise’ that could be strengthened with Szymons help. To finish day one, Szymon treated us to a display with an LED pixelated programmable Levi-stick.
Our homework was to find music for the new pieces, and although we had worked intensively through the day and into the evening, and for some of the youth, it was the first time they had been through devising techniques and such intensive training, an amazing eclectic amount of music was brought in the next day. Everything from Asian Dub, Drum and Bass, ambient electronic, and theme music from films were poured into the pot. Day 2 started with poi and staff group workshops by Szymon, taking us on a yoga like journey to warm us up.
The groups then had to finalise their choices of music and Szymon showed the group how to break down the music visually and drop bits of the routine into the sections, then creat a story with the routine that began slowly and built up to show the best moves at the end and play with certain moves matching the breaks.
It seemed at this point our capabilities ecelarated and what had been seeds of ideas, began to germinate and grow into truly beautiful pieces, which me and Szymon could see had huge potential.
The dynamics of each group took on their own life and two very different new acts were born, and our 3rd piece, a grande finale celebrating all that we do with fire. Though I thought that at the beginning maybe we had been too adventurous to create 2-3 pieces in 2 days, but you could feel the excitement and that everyone was totally committed to the challenge. By the end of the day we had 3 pieces we had filmed, corrected and rehearsed, we were nearly ready for fire.
We covered fire safety and then shared experiences ‘when things nearly or did go wrong’. Some of the RAs we have to produce for events all seem like common sense but we all agreed it is good to re-read RAs and be reminded. It was good to compare what measures you can take, from checking equipment every time you use it and double check when performing in public, how and where to set up a dipping and putting out station, being aware of weather particularly wind direction, and having different coloured wet towels for putting props or people out. We agreed that certain materials like heavy cotton or leather were better for costume, no undone sweatshirts or clothing with big pockets, no tights or stockings or leggings, and the closer fitting the better. A few of us have long hair or dreadlocks and were concerned about safety, Szymon said he uses a water spray for his students. What we all then realised was we needed was a proper burns first aid kit with an eye-bath, to cover very eventuality. We discussed the style we wanted to portray, which is a mixture of evening wear, suit jackets, evening dresses, a little bit of leopard print, but contrasted with Vikings inspired make up and agreed that we would source more leather and tight fitting costume.
So we gathered at the pontoon at the lagoons in Llanberis and decided immediately it was too windy so went to the other end to a more sheltered spot. We found an area which allowed for a safety area to be set up, and a suitable background for filming. We dipped the props early and learnt about the best way to prolong the life of your wicks by putting props out before they go out or when they go blue, and re-dipping after doing fire. We were then joined by Ray Wood, a professional climbing photographer from Llanberis, who I’d been working on another project with and he was super keen to see if he could capture what we had created.
We went through the 3 pieces as Szymon filmed. It was so good to see all the creative work coming together in a final piece, and yes there were a few mistakes with timing but here together we had created something far more sophisticated and professional than we could have without help.
We learnt just how using fire effected the speed and ability to perform some moves, with the added pressure of having a light wind, and we learnt just how early you need to pre-empt lighting up and that you definitely don’t wear clothing with hoods either.
Later that night we all watched Szymons films of the pieces we made and there was a real joy and excitement and the level we had taken it to and the diversity of the pieces, from light heartednes to seriousness, to empowerment and spectacular. We noticed how people’s characters were coming out in the moves and as people’s confidence grew they used their bodies more to make beautiful shapes, creating a more dance inspired performance. Everyone loved what we had done and felt we had a really strong framework to build on, and it basically needed practice and rehearsing. Szymon had done his job and the rest would be up to us. Immediately we have started making plans to have a regular rehearsal night and monthly fire gatherings, and open up a group to encourage new fire performers, as there had been requests from keen newcomers we had to knock back this time.
Szymon will edit the film he took and send it to us soon. Ray Wood said he will pass on any good stills and wanted to talk more about staging some shots after talking to Szymon about the best way to photograph fire. So we thank Articulture for funding this opportunity for us to develop Fire Arts and bringing Szymon and the Fire Project to North Wales. It’s been a huge success and Szymon would one day love to collaborate with us to produce a show, in the meantime we are negotiating with him for a potential gig on the Wirral.
For Cimera Youth, this project has instilled a new confidence in them and given them a sense of professionalism as well as giving them valuable new circus tricks and devising skills. For the older performers, they have said they too have learnt new skills and tricks, where they had previously exhausted the skills base locally and it has really motivated them and given them new passion to perform.