Circus troupe Circolombia draw on talents of Colombian street kids for new show Acelere


Circolombia - Credit: Archant

Circolombia’s raw, exciting dynamic has been hailed the perfect antidote to the sleekly expensive productions of Cirque du Soleil, writes Bridget Galton.

Its performers are drawn from Colombia’s Circo Para Todos (“circus for all”) a school co-founded in 1997 by British unicyclist Felicity Simpson to exploit the untapped talents of Cali’s street kids.

The troupe’s visceral energy and pulsing rhythms reflect their often precarious upbringing in shanty towns where poverty, gangs and drugs are endemic.

These tough lives of vulnerable boys in their teens and early 20s have been transformed by a rigorous physical training that has turned them into international performers.

URBAN was feted when it came to the Roundhouse in 2011, now Acelere, which mixes dance, spectacular feats such as the aerial strap act, and an original soundtrack, returns with the same infectious energy.

Leila Jones, the Roundhouse’s Circus producer says: “The company has been hugely influential in the ground breaking and deeply effective way it engages with hard to reach young people – helping them to become artists at the very top of their game. We conceived our own Street Circus Programme based on its model and ethos, and will have 100s of young breakers, acrobats and aerialists who can’t wait to train with them.”

We caught up with Circolombia’s Artistic Director and Creative Producer Felicity Simpson to ask:

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How has Circolombia developed since it was last at the Roundhouse?

URBAN went round the world twice, and back in Colombia we have been extremely busy. Circo Para Todos, now the National Circus School for All, has extended from Cali to Bogota, where we’ve launched the most innovative cultural project “ArteViva La Sabana” in the old central railway station in partnership with Teatro Colon and the Ministry of Culture, oh and we have a beautiful state of the art Big Top to house our two poles of activity; education and diffusion of shows.Acelere was made in Bogota at our new site.

Can you explain the title and what has influenced it?

Colombia has a real dynamic force propelling it forward, that force is human. Living a year in Bogota, where daily life is really accelerated, has influenced our questioning of what we wanted to explore. And the artists’ positions in today’s world. Are we third, first or the brave new World?

Can audiences expect a narrative underpinning the acts or a different performance style than for previous shows?

Yes and no, the Director Renato Rocha didn’t want to be super explicit with the narrative. In some ways the style is different, and in some ways it’s not. It is more poetic and there is meaning within each move for the artists. Colombia being a country of extreme contrasts is also reflected in the show: between contemporary meditation and crazy free-flying acrobatics jumping for life, love and laughter.

Your performers are famously drawn from at risk young people how does that influence the energy and direction of your work?

By the time the young people become professional artists after four years sweating, dedication and really hard work at the school they are artists, period. Circus is a truly inspirational art form which celebrates diversity. Circolombia provokes real emotion as you witness extraordinary feats performed live. A magical world which our artists are fully dedicated to. Allowing the audience to believe in the impossible,and perceive seamless acts performed with breathtaking prowess, but really that magic behind the circus is sheer hard work, determination and courage.

How does honing circus skills help vulnerable young people to overcome their difficulties and does it work for everyone?

Of course it doesn’t work with everyone to a professional level.

However well run workshops are really successful all over the globe. Circus provides just the right mix of achievability and challenge to make it exciting for everyone to try and keep trying. Whilst playing with circus (if you put enough hours in) certain values are picked up in a physical way - values such as solidarity, collaboration, trust in yourself, trust in others and cooperation. These values are the key requirements for a circus to function. What is really exciting is when you can see the benefits starting to feed into other areas of the young people’s lives.

Where did you get your passion for the circus and what gives you job satisfaction these days?

I was a circus artist with my Colombian partner last century.. we had a brilliant career, touring, travelling, creating and sharing. Today, uniting youth and celebrating their achievements in excellent and innovative productions which go out into the world gives a whole heap of job satisfaction, as is helping young people start their own journeys of self-discovery and development.

How do you anticipate the contemporary circus will develop in the next decade?

I anticipate nonstop development. The world needs to believe in the impossible.... to see and feel ALIVE.

Circolombia’s Acelere is at the Roundhouse from 14th April to May 3. / 0300 6789 222