Review: Company 18

An evening of astonishing circus and variety

By Leeor Adar

I was lucky to bear witness to last year’s National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) showcase, and the astonishing talent left me breathless. I am always absolutely thrilled by circus arts, so I was a little surprised to see that the focus this year became more of a variety show of occasionally awkward (albeit sometimes spot on) jokes from Jan Van De Stool, and a closing song by Queenie Van De Zandt that could rival Eurovision without the fire and lasers. What a pandemonium…

Aside from the variety elements, and the occasional focus on theatre over circus for some acts, I was still impressed with the talented group. These amazing circus artists are elite-level athletes with three years of training behind them. Company 18 benefited from a new NICA initiative that provided individual artistic consultation sessions. Aside from the excellent networking opportunities this provided, Company 18 also had the benefit of discussing and honing their preferred skills with those at the top of their field.

The opening act of Jordan Hensley-Twartz performing diablo was certainly a jaw-dropping beginning. Hensley-Twartz’s ability and concentration was a very strong start to the night. It’s always difficult as the first act, as it sets the tone of the night – and on this occasion the bar was set high. As the night progressed, performers told stories through their bodies and choice of song. Notably, the joyous folk-hop as Hayley Mills circled the stage in her Roue Cyr was followed by a startling and dark performance by Ellen Henry on loop straps. I really began to enjoy the variety provided on the night.

As the night progressed, some real standouts emerged. Poppy Fairbairn and Zion Martyn were mesmerising with pointe adagio and risley. The choice of costumes by the pair and their play on the marionette made for incredible entertainment and a showcase of their skill. I could barely look when Fairbairn on one pointe balanced herself on Martyn. One would think the following act would struggle to keep up after such a crowd favourite, but Adam Malone absolutely smashed it with his hula hoop act. Malone’s blend of meditative dance and use of lighting made for an excellent alternate experience to the previous act.

For something a little different, the audience loved Shay Bowskill who had a large focus on comedy and physical theatre, which was less circus-focused. I was also delighted by Georgia Deguara on her aerial chair with the showgirl feel she injected as she performed to Rolling on a River.

Post-interval began with death-defying ferocity as Karla Scott tantalised on a swinging trapeze. I was delighted to see Elanor Nunn follow on tissu, which was absolutely gorgeous to watch; Nunn was able to stand between the soft materials in an incredible feat I did not think physically possible. This segment also brought something out of the ordinary in Zoë Marshall’s contortion carpet spinning. Marhshall’s performance was completely beautiful, and showcased both her poise and unique skill. Brooke Duckworth and Lyndon Johnson performed together in an endearing set of acrobatics, which they undertook with an ease that might tempt audiences to perform at home (don’t). An ethereal and powerful Emily Chilvers (on rope) and an elegant Liam Dummer (on straps) were in perfect form as they scaled incredible heights in their individual acts, representing in my opinion, circus excellence.

As Company 18 awkwardly smiled through the final sing-song, I have high hopes for next year’s talent, which given the excellence of NICA and its pupils, should remain more circus, and less variety show.

Company 18 was performed 19 – 22 September at the National Institute of Circus Arts. See here for more information.

Photographs: Aaron Walker