Felicity Simpson is founder, Artistic Director and Creative Producer of
Circolombia, currently performing URBAN, as part of the 2013 Sydney
In 1995, Felicity co-founded the Foundation Circo Para
Todos in Cali, Colombia, and two years later opened the first
professional circus school in the world specifically dedicated to
underprivileged children. Circolombia was established to produce shows
and create jobs for the graduates of Circo Para Todos, and continues to
promote the talent and uniqueness of Colombian performers.
On the eve of their Australian debut, Felicity spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.
For the benefit of readers who are not aware of Circolombia or Circo Para Todos tell me something of your origins?
Shows, Providing Emotion', Circolombia is a live entertainment
production company based in London to promote and provide the world's
stage with the dynamic difference of Colombian performers. Circolombia
was first born in January 2006 – from the distinct need of professional
insertion for graduates from Circo Para Todos in Colombia. Circolombia
is renowned for working with highly skilled young artists
internationally, producing an explosive and distinctive circus style.
Circolombia now has around 85 permanent performers, between ages 17 and 28.
Circo Para Todos was established in 1997 by Colombian Héctor Fabio Cobo
Plata and new circus pioneer Felicity Simpson, Circo Para Todos is the
first professional circus school in the world specially dedicated to
disadvantaged children and youth at risk, training them as circus
artists and instructors to a professional level. To date, all graduate
artists are working in their chosen field around the globe, and Circo
Para Todos has become Colombia’s National Circus School. Graduates have
won prizes in China and Paris Festivals.
professional training and development model has inspired similar
projects in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa.
And what inspired the ethos both organisations share?
youth and celebrating their achievements in excellent and innovative
productions is intrinsic to Circolombia, as is helping young people
start their own journeys of self discovery and development.
true narrative of the streets of Cali, URBAN is based on the lives of
the young cast; telling the world what it’s like in their reality,
through their eyes, their ears and their voices.
is a word often used to describe your works, tell me something of your
personal thoughts about this common choice of descriptive?
Felicity Simpson: “It was time to unleash the force of youth, an energy
field touching the whole theater, to the last seats and back. Here is
the difference – they don't act, they come alive onstage to make their
"circo concierto". All the energy from the street explodes: a mix of
what they have learned in the school and lived in their lives. They
express themselves through their own specific language, putting together
acrobatic circus skills and live singing reggaeton. It’s a risky,
"raw", edgy show, just as their life experience is in Cali.”
Urban provides a positive, authentic and inspiring message, which
genuinely relates to the young people involved and the audience as a
whole: with passion and determination, you can reach the stars
Tell me what Circolombia, indeed the show URBAN, is not?
is the antidote to all those circus acts of clean-cut, juggling and
tumbling young men who are clearly yearning to be taken home to meet
your mum. This is not polite and it is all the better for it" – Lyn
Gardner, The Guardian sums it up best.
Can you give me a snapshot of URBAN?
would like to be a snapshot of a genuine experience showing how
determined youngsters can reach the stars and succeed against the odds.
are so many myths that circulate in the media about Colombian culture –
can you tell me about what your company does about this mythologising?
Art transforms and we hope that URBAN helps the public to see 20 sides of the same coin.
Cali is a city of joy and violence yes, but the artist’s explore and
expose much more than these clichés. We definitely also show the bright
side of the street, the richness of their resourcefulness, their
determination and JOY, they are fearless. We refuse any form of
Highs and lows are apart of any urban
street experience, can you share an insight about the highs and the lows
depicted in another of the URBAN stories?
During fuego, one
of the darkest and very personal scenes – which questions how difficult
it is to break away from a circle of violence – artists decided to
bring on a candle each for everyone ever lost to violence.
So many in Cali find themselves disadvantaged and living in poverty
tell me about one of your performers who best demonstrates this
Jose Henry Caycedo, at 28, is the oldest of
the group, and working as their artistic tutor. He started working
internationally in 2005, and has bought a house for his aunt in Cali.
Out of 84 Circo Para Todos graduates,15 have bought their own homes in
better areas. "I came in at 15 years old," he said. "It's five years of
training, of suffering, it wasn't easy, and part of it is knowing your
companions, their qualities, their good energy, and how to create a
show. Thanks to this I could also realise my own dream to make a path to
where I am today, and we can keep feeding back, and helping youth in
Colombia through art."
Tell me briefly about the composite range of skills in your crew?
(flying jumper), teeterboard, blondin (dynamic rope), skipping rope,
cloud swing, aerials, Cyr wheel, high wire, mana a mano, dancing, above
all rapping, singing at the same time – this is a circus concert.
And the soundscape is vivid?
against the backdrop of the Colombian city Cali, Urban weaves through
the poetry and violence of street life with a pounding live reggaeton
soundtrack, raw contemporary aesthetic and volcanic force.
octane performance forming a tapestry of interwoven stories; tales of
life and death, rhythm and groove, and plots full of lush strings and
heavy basslines. A true narrative of the street, this multi lingual live
feast will catch you up from the very beginning, spellbound, and carry
you along with it, through streets of brash percussion and far off
tribal beats, down alleys of haunting melodies and into avenues full of
the sounds and atmospheres of the Carnival.
It is a journey
through emotion, a pulsating story-telling voyage of rhythm and
expression, words and movement, thoughts and ideas, with traditional and
modern meeting in a furnace of frequency and fire. This is the voice of
these young people; telling the world what its like in their reality,
through their eyes, ears, voices, and experiences on the streets of
Cali, through their hearts minds and spirits, and most of all, through
their bodies, microphones and speakers. A hip-hopera for the modern era.
Breathtaking. Tell me about one particular performance that has audience members at the edge of comfort?
Watching these sweating athletic bodies in action can be a little wierd
for some. Cherry on the cake, but a total white knuckle moment for all
is when one of the poets aims to be catapulted into the air to land on a
tiny seat high up on a rikety pole.
Funniest moment during the rehearsals for URBAN?
Germany the whole group had a terrible case of diarrhoea, but the show
must go on. Our wonderful company manager Ketsia managed to find a
chemist on a Sunday and got the strongest pills to sort them out,
however, she over did it, and the entire company was constipated for a
How do you define beauty?
Being natural and pure, unpretentious it is or it isn't. Beauty has to be.
Circolombia's URBAN opens tonight at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival. Until Jan 27, 2013.