Edinburgh's Garden Party
August, 2000

As animal circuses decline in popularity on grounds of cruelty, it may seem odd that no-one bats an eyelid at Colombian Maria Fernanda Cardoso training her charges by tying them in wire harnesses and putting them in small glass tubes so that they concuss themselves whenever they try to do anything other than walk on all sixes. But then, Cardoso's charges are fleas.

This is not a Michael Bentine-style arrangement of special effects on a miniature stage; Cardoso is a pulicologist, and the little critters' stunts are projected in extreme video close-up on a brace of screens flanking the stage of the Little Top in Princes Street Gardens. We see flea wire-walkers, flea trapeze artists, huma— er, flea cannonballs and so forth, and are discreetly enlightened about the creatures' habits and capabilities; Cardoso points out, for instance, that the model locomotive being pulled along by the strongflea is around 160,000 times its body weight.

She rewards her acts by letting them feed on her blood... but, as she points out, she lives off them as well. Her English-language patter seems assured, but her earnestness as she delivers it makes for a slightly odd combination. Oh, and one other oddity: as the trapeze fleas embrace, Cardoso announces, "This is the nature of love." Yet, even though one of them may be called Dmitri, the professor has earlier explained to us that she uses only females. So where's the Wee Free picket line in outraged protest at this sapphic insect deviancy, then?

Written for the Financial Times Web site,

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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