A raven mother, in German, is a neglectful one. One who values her own life, her own ability to fly, over that of her children’s. It’s a charge the three performers who created Raven with director Bryony Kimmings are deeply familiar with. After all, how could they possibly even want to continue their careers as circus artists after having children? Can they maintain the physique? Tour? Train at all?
An excellent hour of circus, physical theatre, and dance digging into what the performers gave up, and what they refuse to let go of.
All of these are real questions that have dogged Lena Ries, Romy Seibt, and Anke van Engelshoven – the members of Berlin-based company Still Hungry – since the births of their children (each has two, ages three to twelve). However, the three women have found their own way of answering through this excellent hour of circus, physical theatre, and dance digging into what they gave up to be mothers, and what they refuse to let go of.
Featuring vertical rope, juggling, contortion, and straps acts, the three women demonstrate their undeniable capacity to continue performing world class circus before they delve into their personal lives. There is no awkward covering for transitions at this circus – costume and apparatus changes happen onstage while focus is drawn to another act, lending a rare fluidity to the show as a whole. Physical theatre featuring all three performers highlight the judgement mothers face from their peers and overwhelm that having a baby can bring, especially when trying to maintain a physical regimen most of us could only dream of.
None of the acts are played for sympathy, but all elicit it – from nostalgia for the all-night, carefree partying that pervades the circus world to a touching contortion routine from Ries that brought tears to my eyes, so tender was its portrayal of the unfamiliarity and insecurity of the post-partum body. Particularly clever was a juggling act by Siebt featuring meteors (long ropes with weighted ends) disguised amongst a huge pile of laundry.
Ultimately, there is no solution for the dilemma these three women face: they are unapologetic about their dedication to their careers in the face of age (they’re in their late thirties to mid-forties), discrimination, and the everyday difficulties of being away from home touring for most of the year. We can all be grateful, however, that they have persevered and created this beautiful show.