Circus with the warmth of a beating heart: Cirkus Cirkör in Limits

Nordic Matters Festival, Royal Festival Hall, London
August 14, 2017

Maggie Foyer

The plight of refugees may seem a long way from the tinselled glamour of the circus with its big top, high trapeze, ringmaster and more. Contemporary circus has also come a long way, while the acrobats and dancers still test their skills to the limit, the format has expanded to embrace theatre with a story-line and a message.

Cirkus Cirkör, with its distinctive flavour, is one of the new wave. It’s the antithesis of slick lycra-sheathed acts, with a touch of the chaotic, costumed in colourful, clownish gear and, for an art form that needs absolute precision, the presentation is daringly casual. In Limits, the plight of refugees, stories from those fleeing conflict, are woven into the fabric of the acts and strangely it all makes sense. When ‘normal’ is a world turned upside down, what could be more natural than swinging on the ceiling, finding your balance on a knife edge or achieving the miraculous?

LimitsPhoto Mats Backer
Photo Mats Backer

Some of the acts need complicated equipment but much of the skill is purely body based. Saara Ahola and Peter Åberg, hand to hand acrobats, work with heart-warming intimacy. The tricks are performed with minimum bravura and look disarmingly simple. However, this is not to be tried at home, particularly when she skims up a pole balanced on her partner’s forehead. Ahola, the flyer, explains how balance comes not from standing still but from constant tiny adjustments and in a wider context, how the movement of people helps to balance our world.

Åberg, proves to be a superb communicator and had the audience eating out of his hand. He performs a varied of juggling acts including an ingenuous number with three tubes that resonate with musical notes and combine with body slaps to became a percussion score with Reichian possibilities. Then, for something completely different, he opens the second act by unscrambling a Rubik cube blindfolded, while in the background, Qutaiba Aldahwa tells us of his life in Mosul. One minute he is working out at the gym and the next his Iraqi life explodes and he is adrift. In the West, our problems can seem like party tricks compared with migrants’ life-threatening daily crises. ‘Why’, Åberg asks ‘are our lives so different?’

Sarah Lett in Circus Cirkör's LimitsPhoto Einar Kling Odencrants
Sarah Lett in Circus Cirkör’s Limits
Photo Einar Kling Odencrants

Anton Graaf and Eiar Kling-Odencrants, both graduates from Cirkus Cirkör’s school and Stockholm’s University of Dance and Circus, thrilled with exhilarating jumps from the teeterboard and rebounds from the trampoline, exemplifying just letting go and living in the moment, and Sarah Lett proved a champion of the cyr wheel and much else beside.

Limits opens rather low key and takes a while to fully engage but while there are circuses that can offer more in technical brilliance, Cirkus Cirkör has the warmth of a beating heart and that is a big plus in the world of competitive one-upmanship. Their ethos locks in with the international circus movement. Many small charities promoting circus skills are playing a powerful healing role in refugee camps where youngsters are finding the thrill of challenging your body is replacing trauma with hope.

Limits continues to August 16 at the Royal Festival Hall. Click here for details.