April 18, 2011
There was a time when 'running away with the circus' was a sign of restless impulsiveness, something crazy adolescents might do in a Victorian novel when they felt they didn't fit in with society, but for the performers in Circolumbia's, it's more like salvation from life on the dangerous streets of Cali in Western Columbia - something that's emphasised in the narrative of their show 'Urban'.
Featuring circus artists from the National School of Circo Para Todos (or, Circus for Everyone) Circolumbia: Urban is a brash, raucous and confrontational acrobatics show with a distinctly autobiographical feel for its members - all of whom have been plucked from the streets of Cali and transformed into world class performers, able to put on displays that elicit gasps from even the most jaded or circus goers. Following hot on the heels of a triumphant, sell out run during CircusFest at the Roundhouse last year, the troupe returned to the venue for a reworked version of the show.
Daubed with thick white grease paint, heavily dusted with chalk and dressed as if they'd been plucked from the slums this morning, the members of the troupe explode onto the (pretty much empty) stage with a jittery, rowdy energy flexing their muscles jerking their shoulders, hooting, howling and almost taunting the crowd before springing onto each others waiting arms and being catapulted into the air. Immediately, there's an air of danger that's simply not present in a traditional circus. Though the performers are clearly well rehearsed and extremely talented, there's a certain scrappiness to the way they perform - occasionally, trembling, losing their footing or missing their marks altogether - but somehow they use that to their advantage, whipping the audience up into a frenzy before trying again. Perhaps its part of the act? Either way, it works.
The troupe have a kind of magnetic charisma and underdog charm that turns an audience from mere spectators to nail-biting supporters willing them to nail every leap and landing. It's a charisma that transcends language barriers - during some points in the show, the performers address the audience directly in Spanish and even without the slightest idea of what they're saying, the audience still laugh in all the right places. And laughing is a welcome release of tension from the swooping aerial show, the tumbling teeter board act and the crotch punishing tight rope routine (I'm still shuddering).
In many ways, they provide an unruly, stuttering, gritty counterpoint to the remarkably disciplined, sleek and elegant gymnastics troupe Spelbound (who we recently booked for a gig in Madrid.) Circolumbia not only perform dazzling stage shows, but also provide team building exercises for corporate events - rest assured though, they're unlikely to try to teach your head of Marketing how to perform the famous "Frontal Perch" move (above) that serves as the centrepiece of the show.
What's most impressive about the show is its effect on the audience - the crowd leaves the Roundhouse fizzing with excitement, energised even after a poignant moment where the performers light candles for friends they have lost on the Streets of Cali. A typically unconventional end to an unconventional show and one that no one in attendance will forget any time soon.