New wave circus performance

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Forget red-nosed clowns or couples standing on ponies. Time Out meets the pioneers of circus‘s more profound new wave

  • New wave circus performance

    The Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus

  • The Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus is a little different to the ones you used to visit as a kid. The opener involves a ‘Horror Clown’ in a straitjacket, strung up by a flaming rope, and being bullwhipped by a 6'6" giant, then chased around the stage by a chainsaw-wielding circus showgirl from hell (appropriately called Luci Fire). So far, so madcap. But their idea of audience participation sees unlucky folk – unless they’re a little sadistic, in which case very lucky folk – hammer four-inch nails into Luci Fire’s head, while the Horror Clown might pull a condom out of his arse and floss his nose with it.

    ‘We’re new circus,’ says Horror Clown, aka Dave Fire Tusk. ‘We’re alternative circus’s most rock ’n’ roll act.’

    The Roundhouse launches its biennial Circus Front season this week. Four international contemporary circus companies (France’s Collectif AOC, Morocco’s Collectif Acrobatique de Tangier, Australia’s Acrobat and the UK’s Nofit State Circus) will be joined by stranger performers – such as the Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus – doing late night shows, plus sideshow installations, films and talks until early August.

    Have the Pain Proof performers noticed the increasing number of performers incorporating circus skills into their shows? ‘That’s something we’ve talked about among ourselves,’ says Luci Fire. ‘You can’t go to the toilet now without tripping over five burlesque girls. It’s pretty saturated. The spin-off from the burlesque wave, though, is that there is now a bigger scale for cabaret than there was before, and it’s allowed the skills and variety of performance genres back into entertainment.’

    Luci Fire’s started her performing career as one of London’s original angle grinders (you remember – the girls who would send showers of sparks over the audience thanks to a sturdy pair of steel knickers and some heavy duty power tools), but her quest for ever more exciting things took her into the world of sideshow. Which is what, exactly?

    ‘Oh, hammering nails into my head, broken glass, all that kind of malarky.’

    At the other end of the new circus spectrum is Nofit State Circus, who are adapting their show ‘Immortal’ for the space.

    ‘Circus is about spectacle, certainly,’ says NSC’s Firenza Guidi, writer, director and designer of their show at the Roundhouse, ‘but there’s also a darker element, possibly an emotional content. It’s not so much a case of “watch what I can do,” as of “through this skill I am talking to you.” It’s a piece of physical text.’

    ‘The central impulse of “Immortal” remains the same,’ says Guidi, ‘that people after death have an interim time to resolve unfinished business, which could be to find joy, get over a fear, or do something that they had always wanted to do but couldn’t. They’ve got a last chance and only then can they move on to immortality.’

    This isn’t glossy, synchronised theatre, however. ‘Immortal’ is more like a beautifully unpredictable last-chance saloon, with 16 tumblers, tightrope walkers and trapeze artists moving above, below and about the audience. ‘We use the term “fucked-up” a lot,’ says Guidi. ‘We want to get away from the idea of circus performers always having to show their jolly side and being technically perfect, instead revealing vulnerability and the loss of control. That’s what makes you different. It’s more exciting to see a 40-year-old while she’s talking to the audience from five metres off the ground than a 12-year-old bending backwards. These are people who have really lived, and that shows in their performances.’

    Circus Front at the Roundhouse starts this Thursday. Nofit State Circus’s ‘Immortal’ runs from July 24-August 5. The Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus’s ‘All The Fun Of The Fear’ is on July 27.

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