Get behind the smoke and mirrors of capitalism at CircusFest

Smoke & Mirrors. Picture: Paul Trachtman

Smoke & Mirrors. Picture: Paul Trachtman - Credit: Archant

Ahead of the show Smoke and Mirrors at Jacksons Lane, Cohdi Harrell from New Mexico-based duo Ricochet tells Bridget Galton about how they’re exploring the isolation evoked by American capitalism .

New Mexico-based Ricochet bring their show Smoke and Mirrors to Jacksons Lane, Highgate, as part of the festival.

Renowned for their lyrical, physical performances that explore the inner workings of humans, their show examines the isolation and yearning evoked by American capitalism. One half of the duo, Cohdi Harrell, talks about the project:

How was Ricochet formed and what sort of work do you put on?

Laura came to visit me in New Mexico when I was working on a show with my first creative partner, Alessandra Ogren.

We decided to add Laura into our duo show, as she was magnificent. Alessandra was making some choices that led her away from touring, so it was a very organic cross-fade. We started using Ricochet to see how it felt on that tour, it stuck, and by the end of it, it was just me and Laura. Our creative aspirations were probably pretty close to what they still are almost a decade later: to create work that is raw, honest, poetic and heartfelt.

Explain the title Smoke and Mirrors.

Most Read

A It’s a reference to illusion. In this case, the illusion of happiness in a capitalistic world. The show is really about what is going on underneath the polished presentation of humans in their pursuit of success.

What is the significance of undressing in the piece?

The idea is to strip away the external, the presentational. As clothes come off, the layers of vulnerability come more to the surface and become the featured presentation... a place of rawness. What is interesting is what is going on underneath the costuming of power.

For us, the more flesh we see offers the audience a deeper look into the cellular, muscular and energetic body, which is where the real stories live. We strive to work at a very high skill level yet not to have that be the poignancy of the show, but rather to create a space, a lens, where audiences’ senses and focal points magnify on the subtleties, rather than the extremities. It’s exciting and fascinating to watch nearly naked bodies move. As the show goes on, and more clothing is shed, what is seen is two humans, sometimes indistinguishable... and this is kind of the point. We are all here, doing our best to make sense and find connection in a world and culture doing its best to keep us fighting against each-other.

You’ve been called a company of brains and beauty. Do you start with the concept or the movement and is there a tension between looking incredible and expressing what you want?

Our creation is never a linear process. We collect ideas and imagery, research movement endlessly, and when it comes time to make, we draw from this collection. Concept informs movement and movement informs concept. Certainly there is tension in the creation process, but I wouldn’t say that we have to compromise the integrity of the show for aesthetic reasons. We don’t put things in that we don’t feel strongly about for the sake of making a point.

How does the piece explore capitalism and the pursuit of happiness?

We are really looking at what is happening for people underneath their guard.

We are all participating in, and are affected by, capitalism; and capitalism by design, creates isolation and yearning. For us, this show isn’t so much a show about capitalism, but more of a look inside the cells and experiences of humans participating in it and their pursuit of happiness and realness.

How does circus add to what you are trying to express and how you express it?

Using the human body in extreme physicality to express things that are real and poignant is one of the greatest gifts of circus. For us it’s less about the commitment to being ‘circus artists’, and more that this is a container and a skill set that supports dynamic theatre making. It takes it to the extreme, pushes it to the edge, keeps it entertaining and provides a constant challenge for us to continue to grow into and explore.

Can bodies be poetic?

I sure hope so! I suppose that’s in the eye of the beholder.... but I certainly haven’t committed my life to the presentation of technique.

Smoke and Mirrors runs April 19-23 at Jacksons Lane Highgate as part of CircusFest, which runs April 4-24. Visit