This week sees the start of Circus City, a new biennial circus festival for Bristol.
From October 8-31, a host of venues including Circomedia, Bristol Old Vic, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Arnolfini, M Shed and Trinity as well as outdoor spaces will be hosting an eclectic mix of live circus performance, talks, masterclasses, have-a-go sessions and workshops, including a half-term programme of shows for families.
The festival will mix circus with dance, theatre, comedy and puppetry, featuring home-grown talent amidst award winning European shows including one world premiere by a Bristol artists and two UK premieres.
Here’s festival co-producer Lina B Frank to tell us more.
Tell us how Circus City came about.
The first Bristol Circus Festival happened in 2013 at Creative Common, curated by The Invisible Circus. Since then the Bristol Circus Forum (Theatre Bristol, Circomedia, Bristol City Council, Invisible Circus, Ausform, Cirque Bijou and The Island) have joined forces to transform the festival, responding to George Ferguson’s ambition that Bristol become a City of Circus.
Is there a difference (in style, mood, theme) between most people’s idea of ‘circus’, and much of the most exciting work being made in the medium?
Circus City is a contemporary circus festival aiming to show Bristol what circus can look like in all shapes and forms. So yes, some shows absolutely are different in mood, style and theme to what most people would term ‘circus’. Not everything is different in every way, though. We have shows that are progressive in narrative or form, but not in skills. Or shows that are progressive in skills and form, but not in theme!
Pick out a couple of shows that best sum up the ethos of Circus City.
Clockwork, on the first weekend, sets the barometer for the rest of the month: it’s edgy, cool, highly skilled – and accessible for a huge range of audience to enjoy circus in a way they haven’t seen before. Swedish company Sisters swap the traditional brass band for live-looping electronics and sequins for tracksuit bottoms to display the most jaw-dropping of skills on Chinese pole, slackrope and acrobatics.
L’Enfant Qui (The Child Who) in Bristol Old Vic’s 18th-century auditorium will also feel very special. Belgians Theatre d’Un Jour will mix puppetry, group acrobatics and live cello music, which that auditorium was built for. This is an epic mission on our behalf to create this bespoke performance for two nights only.
Another show I am personally extremely excited to bring to the city is L’Homme de Boue (Mud Man). Nathan Israël combines dance with juggling and has half a tonne of clay on stage which he uses to create a beautiful dark intimate landscape like moving images. It’s a feast for the eyes and something completely out of the ordinary. No one in the UK makes circus shows anything like this.
How is the gender balance in contemporary circus?
Personally I wouldn’t say Circus is dominated by men or male performers. What we are seeing as programmers is an abundance of touring work with all-male performers, or large ensembles with only one female. We wanted to put a spotlight on work created by women, and have instigated a debate around this through the VOLT: Women in Circus event produced by Ausform in partnership with Circomedia.
What sort of picture of women in circus does the festival provide?
Tanter is an awesome new company from Scandinavia – strong women in both senses of the word. Their show Vixen asks, ‘What is a strong woman and what makes her break?’ via an explosion of spoken word, synchronised dancing as well as swinging trapeze, corde lisse and contortion.
Circus as an artform is very equal, there are no taboos and there is nothing that men can do and women can’t – or vice versa. We believe that the performers you will see, male and female, make brilliant examples of what human beings are capable of.
One show, He Ain’t Heavy, “explores the relationship between a girl and her autistic brother using swinging trapeze and puppetry.” Can circus be as emotionally articulate as other forms of theatre – not just a display of technical wizardry?
Absolutely, circus is performance and performance has the ability to communicate emotion. Here in the UK we are becoming stronger at telling stories which mix circus skills, humour and emotion. Shows like Bromance, Bedtime Stories, The King of Tiny Things, GAME and Hogwallops. The trick is to figure out what you can say when: for example it’s harder to talk whilst on a trapeze than on the ground, but it’s easier to open up the imagination to expand a theme visually through a circus skill than via words.
Theatre has always been brilliant at telling stories – now different performance forms, theatre, dance, multimedia are borrowing from each other. If you’re someone who finds drama a bit boring, the thrill and risk of circus may add an extra element of excitement.
Circus City takes place from Thursday, October 8 to Saturday, October 31 at various venues around town. For more information, visit www.bristolcircuscity.com