A poetic play is the springboard for acrobatics at Circusfest


circusfest - Credit: Archant

The Roundhouse’s annual Circusfest is the UK’s foremost festival of contemporary circus, staged in the uniquely appropriate circular auditorium of the former engine shed.

Running from March 26 until April 27, this year’s offering includes the UK premiere of French acrobatic troupe Compagnie La Meute’s La Meute (the wolf pack) which blends madcap, idiosyncratic humour with daring skill to exhilarating effect. The show includes the seldom seen Masters of Russian Swing where six performers use a giant swing to launch themselves 10m aloft, trusting their comrades will catch them as they fall.

Puffball features an LGBTQ cast of performers who have devised a heart-breaking, devastating and joyful show based on their personal tales of sexual and gender questioning that fuses storytelling with a live score and circus performance.

And She Would Walk The Sky is a UK premiere by Company 2. Based on a play by Finegan Kruckemeyer, it imagines a small ornate box containing a book written in an unknown language which must be translated by the world-class acrobats and aerialists who include performers from La Clique and Circus Oz. Here director Chelsea McGuffin explains how she came to love circus and to create the show.

How did you come to get involved in circus?

“Circus only came into my life by accident. I never had the desire to run away with the circus. I had always danced from a young age and thought this is what I would continue to do. In my 20s, I started aerial classes in Sydney just as something a little different to train. The class was full of an amazing group of female artists and an inspirational teacher who changed my life and thinking. Next thing I knew, I was working in circus and have never looked back.”

Why do you find it an exciting medium?

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“Circus is on the edge. It is such a great skill to use in storytelling as it is full of risk, danger, vulnerability, strength and beauty. You don’t need to layer it with narrative, you just need to do the skills honestly and they say so much.”

As a director, how do you incorporate the various circus feats into a theme?

“Narrative is something I usually avoid. I use strong themes but a loose narrative because I like to create work that lets the skills and artist speak for themselves. She Would Walk the Sky has been a very different process. It has been based on a script and story written for us – my first time working with a writer. Usually my work is created with an ensemble of acrobats but this time we have a concept, characters and narrative. It has been challenging but has taken our work into a new exciting place. Lucky for us, Finegan has worked with and around us and managed to be flexible with the script development to work with the technical elements of circus, which sometime can make narrative hard to flow. His beautiful poetic work gave us the platform from which to build the show. The process has has pushed us beyond our own imaginations and pushed the idea of circus and storytelling. The show is constantly surprising me and challenging us to find new ways of expression.”

There’s an anarchic edge to circus that encourages playfulness, weirdness and experimentation are those energies you enjoy?

“Exactly what I love about it. Circus skill happens only in that moment and, in that one moment, it is always a risk that something could not work out. The tension is real and I love that.”

Tell us more about She Would Walk The Sky.

This is a new work commissioned for The World Theatre Festival in Australia in February for the unique space of the Brisbane Powerhouse. We are performing in an open area and have closed it in to create a performance space. The ideal space for this show is a venue like the Roundhouse. Its sparseness will suit the show to a T.”

Your last show Cantina was a big success and included what one reviewer called “a melancholy… take on relationships between women and men”. Is gender a theme in the company’s work?

“Gender is not something we have set out to make any statements on, but I think it is often inherent in circus. I like to work with performers with inner strength, add that to a strong physical female performer and people get really engaged with that.”

Is there a growing appetite for contemporary circus?

“I think contemporary circus has a great following and has become a real art form with a very diverse audience base. Australia has a very strong circus community and some great contemporary circus companies touring.”

At the Roundhouse, NW1. Tickets 0844 4828008. roundhouse.org.uk.