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Knee Deep (photo: Sean Young)

Knee Deep (photo: Sean Young)

Knee Deep in circus

Published 28 May 2013

Eggs, great for whipping up an interesting teatime treat, less great for successfully dropping from a considerable height. Also, as Casus’ acclaimed production Knee Deep proves, a fine, if unlikely, inspiration for a circus show.

As Knee Deep, already a hit at the Edinburgh Festival where the Guardian’s Lyn Gardner described it as “An awe inspiring show”, opens at London’s Riverside Studios, creator and performer Jesse Scott lets us into his life as a circus performer and ditching the brightly coloured stereotype for a more human circus experience:

We’re definitely not a traditional circus. There aren’t 50 people you see glimpses of; you see four people for an hour and you get to see something of us. We, as performers, are true to that and we give the audience who we are. We don’t hide behind make-up or costumes or extravagant sets. We allow the audience into our world because we completely believe that our world, as a circus world, is a really beautiful place to be and we want to show the rest of the world that. We give them that in that hour. That’s what makes it true and human.

In my head I’ve got this picture of my Dad standing on eggs with my Mum on his shoulders. When we were talking about creating a show, we started talking about eggs and what we could do. They are really fragile; if you drop them they break. But held in the right way, they are one of nature’s strongest things. It’s that balance between strength and fragility. Treat it right and it’s going to be strong. Treat it wrong and it’s going to be fragile and break. That’s the same as circus in a way. If someone climbs to the top of the pyramid and you do the wrong thing, they’re going to fall.

Casus is a year and a half old. We formed in October 2011 and Knee Deep is our first work. It was a culmination of circumstances, which is actually the meaning of Casus. We’d seen each other’s work, we know each other, we thought “Why don’t we make a company and do our own thing?” It was the right time.

The way that the four of us work is very organic. We start improvising, we start playing with each other, we come up with great ideas and then we just let them go. We constantly redevelop the work so it doesn’t get boring. As soon as it gets boring for us it gets boring for the audience.

Circus is such an accessible art form. People want their jaw on the floor and they want to be moved. Circus can offer that. If they want to a laugh, circus can offer that. If they want to be thrilled, circus can offer that.

We look after each other, so if one person gets sore we’ll treat each other. We’ll put an elbow in someone’s shoulder or someone’s butt, wherever it needs it. We also take precautions. We come in three hours before the show to stretch our muscles. But the nature of the work is that sometimes those things happen. We’ve all got niggles.

I’ve been around the circus since I was three months old. Circus is in my blood. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done and I still love it. There’s so many elements to circus. That’s the beauty of it. That’s why circus can translate to so many people, because there’s no rules, you can constantly push boundaries.

There’s a guy I was taught by and he was 86 and still swinging people around, but I know people that have injured their back at 25 and can no longer do circus any more.

Trust is probably the most essential thing in what we do. We’ve just started a 16 week tour, there are going to be little tiffs that we have because we’re going to be in each other’s face all the time. Even with those tiffs, as soon as you get on stage, as soon as you start warming up, as soon as you start doing tricks, that has to be thrown out the window. That can be resolved later but right now we have to be cohesive, we have to trust each other, otherwise we’re going to hurt each other and hurt ourselves. That’s not a good thing.


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