Bianco, a circus show based on the late Portuguese writer Jose Saramago’s book The Elephant’s Journey (2008), about the epic hike between Lisbon and Vienna undertaken by an elephant being offered as a wedding gift, opens at London’s Roundhouse today. Here Leila Jones, a circus producer at the Roundhouse, selects her top five circus acts from around the world.
The French contemporary circus Archaos were true punks, pushing circus skills to the extreme. They were angry, sexy and dangerous: crash helmets replaced red noses; topless trapeze artists swung from forklift trucks and huge cranes. The circus, founded in 1986 by Pierrot Bidon, folded in the 1990s when their tent blew away in Ireland – a fittingly punk ending for a company that needed to go out with a bang to maintain their myth.
In Britain circus acts are still seen as novelty acts and we tend to feel inferior to European circuses, particularly those in France and Belgium where there are more festivals and venues that put contemporary circus at the forefront of their programmes. But Gandinis, a six-strong British juggling troupe, have performed around the world in over 4,000 shows in the past 20 years. Although the troupe’s performers are classically trained, their shows incorporate contemporary dance and theatre. Their latest show, Smashed, is based on the choreography of Pina Bausch. It culminates with the joyful destruction of everything on stage – it is so enticing you wish you could join in.
3. Collectif Acrobatique de Tanger
The story goes that the French circus director Aurélien Bory was walking along the beach on a holiday in Morocco when he spotted a family performing acrobatics on the beach. He got talking to them and discovered that, for more than 100 years, members of the same family had performed on the same spot. Inspired, he worked with them to create Tauob, a show that is rooted in the traditions and culture of North Africa but uses circus to explore the ideas of family and the role of women in society. The company is still touring and creating new shows which push the boundaries of new circus.
4. Cirque Ici
Although there are 10 people in Cirque Ici, only one man, Johann Le Guillerm, the company’s founder, performs on stage. With the help of his boiler suit-wearing assistants, he creates elaborate structures and illusions exploring the intersections between madness, obsession and creation.
Many of this troupe’s 14 performers, who are aged between 17 and 23, grew up on the streets of Cali in western Colombia, where they attended the National School of Circo Para Todos (“Circus For All”). They were given their break by former Archaos performer Felicity Simpson and her Colombian partner Hector Fabio, who set up the company with the help of a £250,000 grant from the National Lottery in 1997. Circolombia often works with kids growing up in favelas, believing that teaching circus skills is a good way to develop confidence, strength and trust.
NoFit State Circus will present ‘Bianco’ at the Roundhouse from April 6-27; www.nofitstate.org