As part of the UK/Australia 2021-22 season with British Council Australia, Upswing circus company have launched Big Village – Digital, a series of short films and online conversations from global majority circus artists in the UK and Australia. Six short films from three UK and three Australian companies are available online here, and on 22nd March they’ll be holding a curated conversation online to shape their final manifesto to support the development of global majority performance makers. We spoke to Upswing Artistic Director Vicki Dela Amedume and Casus Circus Artistic Director Natano Fa’anana
Describe Big Village Digital in your own words
NF – It’s a yarning circle with Creatives of Culture. A place where people who create and lead from a cultural place can share experiences and aid one another to succeed.
VDA- A sanctuary, a support network, a source of creative inspiration for the work we make and how we make it.
What was the inspiration for it?
VDA: When we met, we found many connections between our companies. Upswing (London, UK) and Casus Circus (Brisbane, AUS) create work with the human body — work that entertains whilst encouraging audiences, artists and participants to examine their relationships with themselves and with others. Both companies successfully create touring work that is recognised within their own nations as well as internationally. Creating within the artistic landscape of Circus and Visual/Physical performance, working with the body identity was a the key theme that permeates the work of both companies.
As Artistic Directors of our own companies but operating in the predominately white artistic industries we had both experienced the involuntary politicisation of our work and expectations and assumptions of what we could make. BIG VILLAGE is driven by our mutual desire to open an International dialogue and hold a space for other global majority artists, as well as ourselves, where we can begin to explore who we are within these dominant cultures that exist in Circus and Cabaret. With diversity and equality becoming one of the defining national and international conversations of our time, we are desperate to find an alternative approach and to escape the fatigue of trying to make the case individually and focus on what we can do collectively and creatively to evolve the cultural landscapes we are working in.
Tell us more about the companies involved
VDA: As well as Upswing and Casus, we have The Cocoa Butter Club and Collectif And Then… from the UK. The Cocoa Butter Club’s motto is to ‘decolonise and moisturise’ performance spaces, they were born as a protest to the performing arts landscape. Collectif And Then… work on a diverse range of platforms from rural west African regions to London’s theatres. The two other companies from Australia are Na Djinang, who work with diverse young artists to create traditional and contemporary styles of performance with shapes, images, and styles of indigenous performance, rituals, and iconography; and finally House of Alexander, a pioneering ballroom house. For those not familiar with ballroom culture, it’s born from voguing in Harlem, created by Black and Latino LGBTQ+ communities, and the ‘balls’ are competitions between houses.
You’ve been working on this (Big Village Digital) for a few months, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
NF- Not so much a surprise but an alarming reminder. There are similar experiences of inappropriate practice regarding culturally relevant work similar in the UK as is here in Australia.
VDA – How even how much is replicated and repeated in our two countries in terms of the social hierarchies bought about by gender, cultural background and economic background. What has been incredible is looking at the strategies different companies have found to create incredible work, outside of mainstream English speaking theatre, and what we can learn from each others creativity and resilience.
What’s next for your collaboration?
NF- We hope to continue connecting whilst the world is in flux. Our semi-regular meetings evolve and each company is able to take away information important to sustaining a professional and culturally integral position in their day-to-day lives. One day when travel becomes more realistic we will connect our Big Village together. In person.
VDA- World take-over, an extraordinary show and continuing to build a sanctuary for creatives like us.
See more about the project here