Unpredictable buskers just the tonic

CHRISTOPHER MOORE
Last updated 12:46 31/01/2014
World Buskers Festival
John Kirk-Anderson/Fairfax NZ

BUSKER HEAVEN: "A small city with a reputation for unadventurous Anglo-Saxon conservatism finds itself hosting a cast of maniac guests, a noisy, outrageous mob."

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World Buskers Festival

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OPINION: On Monday morning, I was one of many Cantabrians who awoke to a cultural hangover. It was a pounding, monumental buskover accompanied by a wistful dream of running away and joining the circus. I had uttered those very words as I left the 2014 World Buskers Festival final great hurrah the previous night. I was still razzle-dazzled. The new week's realities had arrived too soon for this middle- aged child.

The World Buskers Festival is not simply just another event. For Christchurch it is THE event. But pause and consider the implausible nature of this passionate affair.

A small city somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean with a reputation for unadventurous Anglo-Saxon conservatism finds itself hosting a cast of maniac guests, a noisy, outrageous mob who frequently display an utter disregard for good taste. Some are eccentric. Others are marvellously deranged.

Witness the old familiar story of how opposites attract to create wondrous things. Who would have ever thought that a tentful of solid Cantabrians from all ages and backgrounds would rise in a cheering, whooping, foot- stamping ecstatic mass to salute their unlikely heroes? If the buskers need the public, we need the buskers to pump that heady drug called unadulterated happiness into our lives.

Whether it is the place, the people or the atmosphere can be endlessly debated - perhaps it is a mix of all three - but whatever the catalyst, this annual celebration of what is arguably the oldest form of popular theatre is remarkable.

There is nothing profoundly intellectual about busking but that is not what it is about. These tumblers, jugglers, comedians, clowns, magicians, assorted wandering minstrels and others whose performances defy any definition give us a much-needed sense of unpredictable adventure.

Busking is always a wild ride. You will never know where it will go. It is bawdy, irreverent, exuberant and well over the top - all those things most of us secretly aspire to.

This is a refreshing tonic. There is no script to busking. It is simply not required. This what buskers have always done. In Laurent Tiraud's 2007 film, Moliere, we are introduced to the icon of French haute culture as an impecunious street entertainer, spoofing, improvising and thumbing his nose at the pomposities of the establishment much to the raucous delight of his audience on the streets of Paris. There is every reason to suppose that Shakespeare frequently introduced busking into his plays. European cities have always been filled with its noise and exuberance.

Today's generation of buskers have simply inherited this artistic DNA and reshaped it for the 21st century.

Busking flies on a wing and a prayer but there's always that delicious apprehension about what will happen next, especially when there is a good chance that that you will become part of the performance. Being hauled on stage is part of the edgy excitement. Part of you wants to shrink into the ground when it happens but deep within all of us lies a desire to join the circus and become a performer.

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The World Buskers Festival also faces major challenges. The past three years have denied it a rightful and proper place on the streets of Christchurch. Performing in a tent or enclosed space in front of a seated audience somehow clips the wings of these free spirits. It reduces the essential element of surprise which comes with the unexpected discovery around the next corner.

One day, the buskers and their festival must return to Cathedral Square and the surrounding streets.

There is also the ever-present risk that projects which attract such heady popularity and attention can lose their essential soul, as the public relations and marketing specialists morph them into that strange contemporary creature, the blockbuster event. Look no further than World of WearableArt. From small impromptu beginnings it has evolved into something which is painstakingly and professionally choreographed but runs a risk of being polished into a soulless over-marketed limbo.

The buskers' festival should resist any temptation to tread down the same path. Hopefully the freewheeling disrespectful spirits who inhabit its world will resist in their own inimitable way.

This is a regular weekly column by Press arts commentator Chris Moore.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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