Street cred: a Mexican free-wheeler and flexible friends wow Dublin crowds

The Street Performance World Championships at Merrion Square showcased the thrills – and inherent risks – of the form

Alakazam, Irish Times Critic’s Choice winner, at the Street Performance World Championships in Dublin at the weekend. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Alakazam, Irish Times Critic’s Choice winner, at the Street Performance World Championships in Dublin at the weekend. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Tue, Jul 16, 2013, 01:00

The adjective that best sums up street performance is “unpredictable”. From the variability of the environment, the weather and audience, there are a whole range of elements that will either come together or conspire against those brave enough to test their talents in an informal public setting.

At Dublin’s Merrion Square at the weekend, 16 of the world’s most diverse and entertaining purveyors of pavement performance gathered for the Laya Healthcare Street Performance World Championship, but away from the main stages there were several informal street performers nestled in the trees in the park.

Many of the performances involved audience participation, which ranged from the mild (a volunteer blindfolding a knife-thrower) to the extreme (two men were recruited as scaffolding for variety artist Miss Behave).

Although the acts varied in content from the gymnastic to the gyrational, the defining quality that united them was their dependence on the audience’s energy to make their performances work.

Japanese juggler Senmaru was probably not expecting the strong heat to be matched by a stiff breeze when he performed his act on one of the street stages at Merrion Square. His was among the more understated acts. It began with a slow robing in Japanese ritual dress, until he gradually added in more traditional elements: tea cups that formed a tower on his head and a beautiful wicker basket for catching his juggling balls in.

Possibility of failure
The best street performers ensure that they write the possibility of failure into their acts, because there is so much that can go wrong – the intervention of a wandering toddler, the conspiracy of a breeze – and Senmaru was sanguine about each disappointment.

“It’s a warm-up!” he joked as he tried each trick again. Although his set lacked the wow factor, his humility and humour remained entertaining until the end, and he was surely relieved that the rotating programme would allow him to perform on different stages throughout the day; hopefully he had better luck in one of the more sheltered forums inside the park.

Miss Behave’s show proved a rude awakening after the Zen-like performance of Senmaru. This was a cabaret-style performance and she had dressed for the occasion in a gold-sequinned jumpsuit and impossibly high heels. Miss Behave mixes stand-up comedy with circus tricks, a little bit of acrobatics and a lot of attitude.

Insulting the audience is not always the best way to get them onside but the grand finale, in which she slices a cucumber and swallows a sword, converted even the offended. Miss Behave’s act is probably more suited to a late-night adult audience than picnicking families and, although she tailored it accordingly, you couldn’t help feel that she was holding the best part of her routine back for the sake of decorum.

Mexican maverick
Pancho Libre knew better how to work the crowd and even had volunteers doing a physical warm-up with him. This Mexican performer specialises in the Cyr Wheel, a large hoop that he spins, jumps into and manipulates while rotating. The speed and grace of the wheel’s motion is mesmerising but Pancho Libre’s simultaneously performed gymnastic feats lifted his performance from good to great. His Chinese pole routine, where he transformed himself into a human flag, was almost as impressive.

For physical feats, there was no beating contortionist Alakazam, who squeezed his body through two squash rackets at the same time, while keeping up a comfortable dialogue with the audience, drawing attention to all the sensitive areas of his body. His manipulation of the racket over his nipple piercings drew sharp intakes of breath from the audience. Alakazam was probably the best at working the crowd, soliciting cheers in a fake shout-off with an invisible contender and pitting different sides of the audience against each other. Not that he needed such tricks; his remarkable flexibility was enough.

There were equally extravagant numbers from heavy-metal magician Nigel Blackstorm, with a loud soundtrack of hard rock; high antics from The Chairmen, who transformed basic patio furniture into brilliant entertainment; breakdancing from B-Xtreme; and fire and knife work from The Red Trouser Show. Not everyone needed to be flamboyant to get a crowd. There was stunningly simple mime from Rob Torres, and an incredible human tree, Woody Woodman, who had a crowd of children enthralled in a sylvan alcove.

Irish Times Critic’s Choice Winner: Alakazam
Showmanship trumps subtlety every time on the street, and Alakazam’s physical feats brought a sense of fun to his flexible freak show. A must-see (with eyes half-closed).

The Laya Healthcare Street Performance World Championship is in Cork this weekend,

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