A strange thing happened to me on Saturday. 

I had been excommunicated from the house.  The girls were having afternoon tea, fifties style, and I peered over my shoulder at the array of sandwiches, scones, cupcakes and a dozen other delicious things as I left the ladies to it for the afternoon.

Outside was overcast.  My satchel weighed heavily across my back, loaded as it was with a long novel, my netbook, an umbrella and a sandwich.  They were to entertain me for the next six hours or so.

I took a trip to the town centre, hoping to catch a few hours of solitude-amongst-others in the Peace Gardens.  I’d only read five pages before a Sheffield City ambassador in a brightly coloured vest asked me to get up from the bench and leave.

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I’d been prepared to unleash maybe 30 or 40 percent of my wrath at this rude and unexplained order, when my eyes met the strangest sight.

Moving slowly along the circumference of the Garden was a group of young men and women, single-filed and expressionless.  A Chinese boy with a short ponytail; a guy who could have been a young Hugh Jackman; two or three ladies with a quiet grace; a young woman with close-cropped blonde hair, looking pale and elegant in a slim sequinned dress and ballet pumps; and strangest of all, a petite character perfectly normal but for the masked face, which bore the sculpted likeness of a ferocious bear.

realising that I’d been swept up in some weirdness, I gathered my things and moved aside.  I perched on a step a few yards away and watched the serene dada-esque performance that began in and amongst the Saturday crowd.

It seemed it waas a sequence of mini set-pieces, strung together with dreamlike fluency.  In one, two girls performed a solemn dance astride a bench.  They entangled themselves with one another, in one moment lovers, in another locked in struggle, the first compelling the second to assume a different position each second. 

Meanwhile, the pale ballerina tip-toed across the low wall behind them, the most elegant of wraiths, almost unnoticed.

The girls leapt aside.  Two young men swooped onto the bench and performed a surreal tango with the legs, supporting themselves with their hands, all the while staring impassively ahead.

The ballerina described a gentle arc around the edge of the Garden, deep into the crowd, almost forgotten.

Occasionally one of these individuals acknowledged a member of the audience.  A number of times the bystanders were required to step aside as the performers mounted the elevated grass platform or followed the line of the narrow streams of chlorinated water that form the spokes of this wheel-shaped Garden.  They would crack a smile at the young mother who was bemused to find herself enmeshed in this faceted performance.  As an elderly gent walked through the performance area, unaware that a troupe of dancers were turning circles behind him, the petite bear-headed form took his arm and led him away, prancing.

The troupe lined up by the stream.  It was only when one of the young men bent at the waist to scoop something out of the water did we observers realise that a huge chunk of ice had been floating in it for some time.  The man lifted it dripping from the illuminated stream and brought it, like a newborn baby, to his chest.

Carefully, oh so carefully, he passed it to his partner, who cradled it in her arms for a moment.  So it went down the line, passed from embrace to embrace, blue-white and dripping.  Then the performers suddenly took their heels and strode through the crowd, out of the Garden and onto the street, leaving the performance area.

But the performance wasn’t over.  Some of the more engaged members of their audience realised this and followed; I emerged from the opposite side to witness clusters of men, women and children trailing after these departing surrealists. 

The ice left dark spots on the paving outside the City Hall.  I ran alongside the fleeing dancers, taking the high road in front of the Hall’s gates, and rejoining them at the corner of a side-street sixty yards away.  The crowd had thinned, perhaps losing sight of this strange troupe.  The ice was still being passed between them, safely as though it were a precious glass sculpture. 

Then they alighted some steps and vanished from sight.  I looked up to find myself outside the Montgomery Theatre, a local community arts space.

As engrossed as I had been in this sudden and surreal show, it hadn’t escaped my notice that a man with a video camera had been recording as much of this as possible.  At least two men with SLRs also looked too serious to be there by happenstance, and captured the other elements of the entertainment that occurred away from whoever held the floor at that point in time: the handsome wandering ballerina, or the bear-headed mascot who mimed silent enjoyment at all the proceedings from the sidelines.

I got the feeling that this hadn’t meant to be recorded, but to merely be experienced: a show that would be put on record, if the crowd made it possible, so that it might last longer than the eight or nine minutes it took to enact.  I have no doubt that the performers will be studying the results for a little while.  Certainly they seemed pleased – and tired – by the time the doors of the Montgomery Theatre swung shut on them.  There were more than a few hugs and grins.  They seemed pleased with the engagement of the audience – at one point an unknown chap in a cap decided to join them for a sombre dance – and to warm themselves after the cool proximity of their frozen prop.

I wasn’t able to catch any photos myself, but if anyone happens to have any, or know who these young entertainers might be or the name of their troupe, please drop me a line so that we can praise them together by name for their guts and imagination.

—db

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