BY CHANTELLE SYMESTER // PHOTOS BY JAMIE ORLANDO SMITH
Ever felt tempted to run away with the circus? Well our Zipsters across the pond have unearthed a school where you could learn to do just that. London’s National Centre for Circus Arts (formerly Circus Space) is firmly flying the flag for circus arts and acrobatic performance, so why not venture down there if you’re planning a trip to the city?
Housed in a revamped power station, London’s National Centre for Circus Arts has all the high-energy help and gear an aspiring acrobat could need. (Just leave your fear of heights at home.)
The school began life way back in 1989 by performer and pioneer Jonathan P. Graham. His vision to launch an original program that offered both support and education to fellow performers is still at the core of what the school is all about today. Now in its 10th year at its trendy east London location, the National Centre for Circus Arts has evolved into a leading creative home for professional artists and circus performers, as well as a place for people who just want try their hand at juggling, tightrope or even learn some impressive tricks on the trapeze.
CIRCUS AND THE CITY
Degree student Michael Standen sums up most people’s reaction when they visit this unique space, “I decided to go to circus school and came here and my mind was blown.” Discreetly housed in the Grade II-listed old Victorian electric power station in the heart of fashionable Hoxton Square, you’d never imagine the hidden hub of spectacle and skill that exists behind the aging historical walls.
Colorful hoops and loops adorn the walls of the reclaimed industrial space, while a juggler in training keeps his eye on the ball.
The appeal of the place isn’t just that it offers a wide range of courses and workshops for kids and adults who are curious and brave enough to want to scale the heights of a trapeze or try their hand at some acrobatic balancing. It’s also the only place to offer accredited BA (Hons) and Postgraduate programs in Circus Arts in the UK.
The building itself is something quite special; the vast and impressive expanses of the two main rehearsal halls are the most striking elements of this airy industrial space. This delicate balance of old and new delivers equal measures of grandeur and surrealism.
There’s no denying the facilities here are second to none, but there’s also an essence of charm that just wouldn’t be present in another location. Nestled in amongst the now gentrified east London landscape, the bustling activity of this area means it has become a mecca for creative types seeking out kindred spirits, a fitting home for a place like the National Centre for Circus Arts.
A talented acrobat gives the Centre a thumbs (err, hands) up.
Schools of this kind are a rare find in the UK. Other European countries like France host a number of schools of this kind, making the National Centre for Circus Arts such an interesting and novel discovery. It boasts alumni who have gone on to work for Cirque du Soleil and Les 7 Doigts de la Mains, and prides itself on turning out some of the best performers in Europe. But the space also offers guided tours for local schoolchildren and youth groups and visitors can sense that this is more than just a place of learning.
Everyone here shares a tight-knit connection. “It is nice to have a central hub for everyone to join and participate because it does feel like a family and everyone does know and like each other,” Michael confirms. The casual, relaxed-vibe is infectious and when you walk the halls and corridors, expect to see a flurry of friendly faces.
A performer makes his oversized hoop dreams come true.
But everyone at the National Centre for Circus Arts is committed to giving their all too. Michael’s own experience illustrates that. “It’s a different experience to practicing gymnastics because in gymnastics there’s one way only. Coming to this school, they notice what your strengths and weaknesses are and they push you and guide you. You explore yourself and it defines you as an artist, rather than being a generic performer.”
I decided to go to circus school and came here and my mind was blown.
When it comes down to it, there are no stage school melodramatics or big egos to contend with. Everybody at the space also has equal input into its development and programs. “We always get quite a nice mix of people, which is good because when we give feedback that’s how the courses progress, we’ve got loads of different backgrounds helping us push it further” Michael explains. At the end of the day, everyone at the school is just striving to do their best and most importantly have fun, whether a newbie or a seasoned pro.