Harking back to the 1920s silent movie aesthetic, Cantina London is a timeless experience. Hosted by London Wonderground at the Southbank Centre, the show brings together circus, physical theatre, cabaret and comedy. Conceived of (and enacted by) a cast of seven, there is a strong sense of community and friendship on stage. Several members of the cast began their circus and dance training from a young age, the process of which has rendered them capable of extreme body endurance. The acts are musically talented too: each performance is accompanied by live music. The ensemble has performed all over the world, providing us with different dance styles influenced by various different nations – we really are seeing the best of the best.
Such performances, in their own time, were put on in travelling tents called Spiegeltents; Cantina London was performed under the roof of an original – only a handful of which remain in existence. Walking into the tent you have no choice but to immerse yourself in the authentic atmosphere. There is no overt narrative that runs through the performance, simply an honest (and beautiful) portrayal of the passion, violence and desire inherent in relationships. In Cantina’s interpretation of the famous Apache, we are witness to both the beauty and reality of gender politics played out in a wonderfully dark dance. The original Parisian setting of this dance is filtered through a contemporary London aesthetic. Tights were ripped, dresses were torn – the real beauty was in the movement.
Every movement is considered, right down to the fluttering of fingertips. But in the end it is the emotions these movements define that are so compelling. The dancers flirt with the notion of fantasy while never escaping the harshness of reality. We are offered the dualities of perfection/imperfection, light/darkness and violence/ tenderness. At one point in the show, a female performer walks a tightrope in stilettos – the perfect balance between the fantastical and the real.