Feature: Inflight from Home - diversifying circus with Wac Arts

Monday 18 July 2016 by Vicki Amedume

Vicki Amedume in rehearsals at Wac Arts. Photo: Chris Andreou.

This weekend (Sat 23 July) a new, site-specific aerial performance explores the multiple rooms and spaces at Hampstead’s historic Town Hall. InFlight From Home has been created in collaboration with aerial circus and theatre companies Upswing and Scarabeus – with performers drawn from Wac Arts’ InFlight professional development project for people already involved in physical sports or art forms who want to expand their skill base with aerial work. Vicki Amedume, Artistic Director and founder of Upswing tells us about this unique programme….

InFlight From Home is the performance outcome of the InFlight course; a part-time professional aerial training programme provided by Wac Arts in collaboration with Scarabeus and Upswing. Wac Arts celebrates inclusivity and diversity and students recruited to the Inflight were selected because they aspired to train in aerial but lacked opportunities, due to their personal circumstances. One of the big barriers to a more diverse aerial community is the cost of training and we wanted to address that. InFlight From Home is directed by Leo Kay of Unfinished Business and devised in collaboration with these emerging artists and the project partners.

The Inflight group is made up of 17 emerging artists many of whom are either first or second generation immigrants to the UK. The topic of the nature of migration, intentional or forced, were very immediate themes for them. Leo has drawn on both researched work and the personal experiences of the performers to make the show, which will be an unusual mix, from small moments of intimate interaction to large-scale multi-sensory spectacle. The struggles in the forced movement of large groups of people as we are seeing now, is what is being explored by the students through a common understanding of fear, displacement, confusion and isolation. It’s interesting to recognise that circus history also contains a lot of stories immigrants, stories of minorities and marginalised people.

I trained originally as a scientist but I discovered circus towards the end of my degree with a company called Exponential. It was like falling in love and anyone who has tried aerial will probably understand what I mean. At the time I was struggling with the idea of working in a research lab for the next five to ten years and the excitement and risk of ‘running away’ with the circus was too much to resist. In truth, being in circus involves a huge amount of hard work, commitment and discipline but circus helped me find my creative voice and my independent spirit.

There is an understanding with art forms like dance that they contain a huge spectrum styles and forms; we understand when we say ‘ballet’ or ‘hip hop’ we are talking about specific areas of dance, rather than defining the whole form. At the moment there is less understanding in the broader arts sector and with audiences that the word ‘circus’ describes a diverse and expansive range of forms and styles but it feels like we are moving to a point where the wider arts community needs and wants a broader dialogue about circus – what it is, who it is for and what it can do and say.

One of the many things I love about circus is that at its simplest it is about physics and forces. Things go up and they come down again, with well-timed interference we can create moments where it feels like we can manipulate the immutable forces that otherwise direct us. When you use these simple inherent qualities to illuminate an idea that connects with the human experience it can affect an audience intuitively, in a way that doesn’t have any required reading or pre-knowledge. Within my circus practice I find that I begin with a concept or question that influences the movement and skills I use but the skills and movement themselves can be used as a starting point to inform a concept.

In the last few years we have seen an huge increase in the popularity of circus and this has had an impact on the diversity within the industry. When I first began my training I was one of only two or three other non-white artists in the UK and I felt particularly visible as circus was a relatively small sector. Even though there are now a more diverse range of artists we are far behind the wider arts community and we are still missing the directors, producers and leaders that would bring a range of voices to the table.

It is also important to say when I think about diversity, I think about it in its broadest sense, meaning more than only cultural diversity. Across the whole of the arts we see a prevalence of people from wealthier backgrounds who can afford to take the risks inherent in a career with no guarantees of long term financial stability. With circus, you have a form that requires years of expensive training to be able to have a career; so it’s not hard to see why we are where we are. I hope the schemes that Upswing has been running for the last seven years, like Inflight, have and will continue to contribute to that change as I firmly believe that for an art form to grow it must be relevant and meaningful to the society it exists within – and how can it be if it is missing the voices of those present with it.

2pm, 5pm, 8pm, 23rd July

Wac Arts
The Old Town Hall, 213 Haverstock Hill, NW3 4QP
Buy tickets – £5
Check out details of summer programmes and other opportunities:

Photo: Chris Andreou

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