Pillars of support: a circus production promoting togetherness

Compagnie XY. Picture: David Levene

Compagnie XY. Picture: David Levene - Credit: David Levene

As Compagnie XY returns with more acrobats than ever, ZOE PASKETT talks to the Roundhouse circus producer about a 22 person balancing act

Circus arts are very important to the Roundhouse. Anyone who saw Fuerzabruta in 2006 when the venue reopened can attest to the level of skill and daring. This isn’t circus with ringmasters or clowns that give you nightmares.

“It’s a very broad art form and quite developing in the UK,” says Molly Nicholson, the Roundhouse’s circus producer. “It has roots in history and traditional circus, which is your classic family run, “run away with the circus”, living in caravans, touring all year round and that sense of home within a community. Then there’s more contemporary circus.”

Nicholson, who jointly produces the venue’s circus shows with Daniel Pitt, is currently working on the return of celebrated group, Compagnie XY, with It’s Not Yet Midnight…

The French company appeared at the Roundhouse with a production of Le Grand C in 2010, with a total of 17 performers on stage. This is their first return to the UK since and they’ve upped the stakes.

“It’s 22 people working together – they know each other inside out. They’re incredibly skilled; they’re some of the best acrobats in the circus world. They have a four high and it’s really rare to see a four high – when four people are stood on each other’s shoulders.”

Compagnie XY are known to be one of the world’s leading comtemporary circus companies, performing acrobatics that have a high level of difficulty with ease. But It’s Not Yet Midnight… is about more than strength and technical skill.

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“They’ve made a show which is really beautiful and thoughtful and joyful,” Nicholson says. “The real heart of the piece is togetherness and supporting each other. Where this show goes further is that it’s a call out to work together to rejoice in the moment. It’s also to protect each other. It’s a social commentary on the political changes that are happening across the world.

“You see a tower of four people stood with the rest of the 18 watching and they’re there to make sure that no one falls and to catch them if they do. There’s still that fragility – they could fall, but there’s a whole company of people to catch them.”

The Roundhouse’s artistic director Marcus Davey, who saw It’s Not Yet Midnight… in Paris soon after the attack on the Bataclan, speaks of the show as a “supreme act of resistance, a call to arms and a radical and poetic response to the problems our world is currently facing”.

Nicholson agrees on the communicative power that this type of movement possesses, which allows for global ease of understanding.

“Predominantly it’s about physicality and non-language and what that means for working with artists across different countries, about crossing borders, about that accessibility in terms of audiences.”

She has observed the increase in popularity and development of the UK’s circus scene over the last five to ten years and welcomes the existence of places such as the National Centre for Circus Arts in Shoreditch, which offers a degree in circus.

“There’s a remarkable element in allowing young people to train. It’s the quantifiable, being able to have measurable achievements – to say: ‘ok, so today I did a back flip.’ Being able to build that is really good in terms of supporting mental health, allowing the space to feel like there are achievements.”

As a circus producer, Nicholson has worked with multiple companies, but has never tried her own hand at circus arts.

“I don’t want to be on stage but in terms of the thrill of circus and being able to play around with skills, I’d love to do flying trapeze. But I definitely want to try it with harnesses!”

Compagnie XY’s It’s Not Yet Midnight… runs April 10 - 23, roundhouse.org.uk