We hear from a band leader, hand-balancer and contortionist about life in a travelling circus-cabaret, as their show LIMBO stops in Auckland for the Arts Festival.
Sxip Shirey, Danik Abishev and Aurelien Oudot spill the beans to Dione Joseph.
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Want to know about funding programmes run by the Russian government for children in the circus, or what it means when fathers and sons don’t quite see eye-to-eye regarding career choices? Then read on. These LIMBO artists don’t hesitate to get down with what happens behind the scenes in their lives as part of one of the world’s most famous circus cabarets.
As a toy musician Sxip Shirey was flown out to Melbourne 10 years ago for a solo performance by Scott Maidment and they’ve been working together ever since, leading to a collaboration over the last three years where this band leader’s music became the energy that Maidment chose to get behind LIMBO.
“I was the first person to get hired,” says Shirey, “And over the past 10 years working as an experimental/novelty composer I’m still here – doing stuff with sound that you’ve never seen before .”
Stale is not a word in LIMBO’s vocabulary.
Danik Abishev is one of the world’s finest hand-balancers but his childhood growing up as part of the circus in Moscow is thrilling enough to become a blockbuster.
“Unlike some of the other LIMBO artists I didn’t choose to join the circus,” he smiles. “But that’s because I grew up in one! We spent a lot of time travelling around Europe and back in the day (1990s) the Russian government used to offer extra financial support if parents chose to have their children perform in the circus.”
In response to collective stunned silences Abishev continued: “But that’s not all, the more dangerous the act the more money you would get so my dad wouldn’t put a safety harness on me so he’d get paid more.”
Amidst shrieks of laughter (and comments on child abuse) its agreed that considering Abishev still continues to perform without a harness, his father’s training certainly didn’t seem to stop him reaching the daredevil heights to which he’s accustomed.
But sometimes fathers and sons (like any DH Lawrence novel) don’t always seem to be in agreement and contortionist Aurelien Oudot, the newest member of the group, recalls it was only relatively recently that his father actually came to see him perform.
“My father is an engineer and my mother is a lecturer at the Sorbonne and when I told them that I wanted to join the circus I had a big fight with my father and we didn’t talk for two years.”
Happily, things have improved partly due to the fact that Oudot’s mother plays “peace-keeper” and although Oudot’s father was “too proud to say I’m proud of you son” the contortionist continues to be gracious as he describes this new opportunity to “bring his own personality and energy to the stage” in a production where there is never any compulsion to fill someone else’s shoes.
It’s tempting (and quite likely irritating for circus performers) to be thought of in terms of the clichéd ‘circus family’ and or even as a comparable theatre form, but both Abishev and Shirey are quick to point out some of the not-so-obvious points of difference.
“We travelled with a lot of bears and I have a lot of childhood memories,” says Abishev.
“The days of the traditional animal oriented circus are dying. If you want to see them go to a zoo or go on a safari but the circus is changing and we’re part of that change.”
LIMBO (like many other contemporary forms of circus) has no animals involved and its cohesion comes from an integral cohesion that is woven together through sound, physicality and form.
“Unlike those working in conventional dramatic theatre, circus performers are one third artist, one third jock and one-third technician,” says Shirey. “In circus you don’t need a stage manager you’re hyper aware of the surroundings and you’re ready to go because if you fall you could die.”
Toying with death, near failure and simultaneously debunking the myths associated with the circus is exactly what urges and excites Shirey, Abishev and Oudot.
As part of the magnificent team under the direction of Scott Maidment, LIMBO promises to unleash a night of spectacular feats of physical and mental strength of agility and artistry. But more than that it offers a promise to believe that we all have a choice – not just to fly but to soar on the winds of our own anticipation and promise.
It is their last week as part of AAF. So get up close and personal. As close as you can get anyhow because they might just sell out.