Photo by Raphale Helle
Courtesy of Norfolk and Norwich Festival
The great thing about circus is that no matter how many shows you see you always get at least one thing that’s jaw-dropping amazing. Australian acrobat Chelsea McGuffin provided one of many such moments when I visited a performance by leading Aussie company Circa during the writing of Circus Mania. Midway through the show, Darcy Grant hooked his fingers in her mouth and, to the audible disbelief of the packed audience, dangled her from the trapeze by her teeth, like a fish on a line.
Last year I ran into Chelsea again when she was appearing in Cantina, a show she’d devised herself as the centerpiece of the five-month London Wonderground festival at the Southbank Centre. I reminded her of the tooth hang and had to ask... doesn’t that hurt?
“It doesn’t hurt too much. It’s more about having the will to do it. Circus is something you have to be very passionate about to commit to and want to wake up everyday for. But it’s definitely what I’m passionate about.”
How did you get into circus?
“I sort of fell into it. I thought ballet was my calling but in my early 20s I stumbled across a circus class in Sydney that I really enjoyed. From there I joined a nomadic circus called Circus Monoxide. It was a contemporary circus but very much based on the traditional model of travelling to town and setting up our rig and our tent. That’s where I learned most of my skills as well as things like how to negotiate living on a bus with 12 other people. It was a great life experience.”
|An OMG moment|
as Darcy Grant
prepares to suspend
....by her teeth!
"For a small population like Australia, circus is quite big. Our two major companies are Circa and Circus Oz but there are many smaller groups and a lot of independent work. Every state has a circus school, but we lack the audience numbers so a lot of work gets created but it’s more likely to have its life overseas.”
Does circus have a retirement age?
“I think it’s up to how long you feel like being on stage and how long your body can hold out. I’m 36 and I don’t recover as fast as I did in my 20s. But it’s still something I’m really passionate about and I hope I can keep doing it for many years yet.”
For more examples of the pain circus performers put themselves through in the name of art, read Circus Mania. Be warned, though, that the chapter on the Circus of Horrors is not for the squeamish. One of America’s most eminent circus writers admitted there were some sentences he couldn’t bear to read!
See also: The circus girl with the strongest hair in the world.