Perhaps Hope uses skilled circus performance to explore one of the most pressing issues facing modern society – global warming. Having won the Original New Circus Award in its premiere season at the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival, the show (by experienced circus performers Company Here and Now) draws on inspiration from chaos theory and biomimicry to examine the stark reality of climate change and leave viewers with renewed optimism for what humanity can achieve.
I speak to co-founder Vincent van Berkel about the troupe’s inspiration and what we can expect from the rather unusual genre of ‘eco-apocalyptic circus’.
Tell us about Perhaps Hope?
It’s a circus show that is almost anti-circus in its presentation. We’ve made something sparse and unapologetic, away from presentational feats of bravery and skill. For 50 minutes, we investigate what it means to be alive in a time where the world is changing irreparably. As ecosystems are being destroyed, we as humans have a feeling in the pit of our stomachs that something terrible is happening but we’re almost helpless to stop it. The only thing that will keep us on some sort of path to betterment is hope, so we use that as somewhat of an anchor throughout the show.
Tell us about your creative process: how do you go about fusing difficult topics (like climate change) with performance? And how do you decide on the issues you explore?
When it comes to making circus topical, there are many ways to approach making and presenting work. The sliding scale from quite literal to entirely abstract is available, and we’re somewhere near the more abstract end of the scale. We’ve utilised the approach of creating images, textures and relationships onstage, rather than shove a message down the audience’s throat at the expense of the scene or show. The issues we explored are personal ones: feelings of dread and distraction, the repetition of past mistakes, the undeniable nature of humans to squabble and seek power rather than collectively solve problems. These are the things which are close to us as normal people facing such an enormous global crisis.
What attracted you to circus performance originally?
Initially it was the freedom in acrobatics. Then it was the freedom in performance that kept me hooked.
Your show clearly takes a lot of physical skill: how long does it take to devise a piece? And how do you keep yourselves agile between shows?
We made the show last year in a 5 week period, toured it a little and then, prior to Edinburgh Fringe, we had another month of part-time reworking to create some new material and work on the finer details. It’s still very much alive and changing from performance to performance, which can only be a good thing.
Now that we’re no longer 17 years old, some yoga and a warm bath goes a long way to keeping the body relaxed. Getting enough sleep helps too.
How do you think circus art differs from other types of performance?
I think contemporary circus is something that is still in its infancy as an art form, and practitioners are realising in different ways how they can create value and sometimes even meaning from essentially meaningless movement. It’s a beautiful thing when it succeeds. More and more, we’re seeing amazing examples of the conjoining of ideas and acrobatics. It could become similar to dance in a way: it can be an expression of self, an exploration of a movement style, a texture… a dancer’s pirouette doesn’t have to be anything but a body turning in space, but it can be infinite things in the right context.
Who inspires in you in circus arts? Who are your favourite performers/companies?
Acrobat, a legendary Australian circus company. Casus taught me so much in the past 2 years as a performer and person. Gravity And Other Myths with their insatiable joy and lust for acrobatics. BMT for the same reason. There are also so many cabaret performers who I admire for their bravery and versatility, and their ability to politicise just about anything to great effect and impact.
What are you most looking forward to seeing (not your own show) at this year’s Fringe?
I’m seeing Monumental tonight which I’m very much looking forward to.
Describe Perhaps Hope in three words?
Perhaps Hope plays at Underbelly Circus Hub until 22nd August, 2016. Click here to buy tickets.