Roundhouse CircusFest – Compagnie XY


One of my most memorable experiences of circus was when B and I went to see NoFit State’s tabú at the Roundhouse a year ago (, so I was really excited when I saw that the same venue was about to launch CircusFest – an entire season of circus performance. The Roundhouse is of course a wonderful venue for such shows; its tent-like shape with high-domed ceiling quotes the traditional circus setting but the cast iron columns and stage lighting also suggest a darker, more sophisticated circus-theatre could emerge.

Compagnie XY’s Le Grand C  is stunningly beautiful and succeeds in feeling exploratory and investigatory, whilst incorporating many of the traditional components of circus; the fool, acrobatics, suspense and disbelief etc. On stage the company moves together fluently as a constantly evolving mass; one moment wittily evoking the rugby scrum, then re-grouping to form daring four-person totem poles. 

In their re-groupings and re-formations Compagnie XY exhibits true theatre craft; one of the most beautiful moments in Le Grand C is the dance phrase (shown in the photograph above) where five women are raised up on the shoulders of two-man towers and in this sequence Compagnie XY’s relationship to the worlds of dance and puppetry is clearly evident. The loose, swaying motion of the brightly-clothed women on the highest level is a contrast to the taught solidity of the darkly clothed men below. The audience can’t help but see the women as existing on a different plane to the men; we watch their graceful, wind-blown movements as if they are independent of the figures below who are holding them up and transporting them around the stage. It is this moment of theatrical transformation that likens the performance to puppetry – the moment when the audience accepts that the puppets’ (or in this case the women’s) movement across the stage are independent of the puppeteers (or in this case the men) who animate it.  The women appear as graceful tabletop chess pieces, moved around by the force of a mechanical puppet-master below.

According to their website (, Compagnie XY will be very busy for the rest of 2010 touring around other venues in Europe. However,  I will certainly be making a point of catching them again when they’re next nearby.


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