Marketed as “the world’s first all-female Cyr troupe”, Alula are a company which impress and inspire before you even see their show. With backgrounds in dance, gymnastics and, perhaps surprisingly, live music, this trio of highly-trained performers have combined the elements of their individual specialisms with experimental flourish to create their debut show Hyena, a hypnotic 50 minutes of spinning, singing strength and skill.
The show opens with a curtain raiser Alula developed with young people from The National Centre for Circus Arts. This is a physically accomplished piece, with confident performances from the young artists who dive between combative sequences and unified moments, exploring individual energies in a group context. This youthful group shows enormous potential, and the instructive collaboration Alula formed with this ensemble is indicative of their wider ethos of generosity and collective growth: they are a group that strives to create connections, to form, as they put it, a “tribe”. The curtain-raiser culminates in the building of a kind of space bubble with the four Cyr wheels, and we are left to await the arrival of the main act, staring at this sparse structure of dimly-lit silvery hoops. There was a sense of being left to wait just a touch too long: a recurring niggle through the show was that at times it is slightly gappy, the energy dropping between pieces and having to be picked up again as the performers work into the next section of their otherwise truly astonishing and beautiful show.
Each performer is a powerhouse of visceral physical strength and skill: just entering the space to begin their show these women emanate a kind of primal power and confidence that immediately puts the audience under their spell. The playful, combative energy of the curtain-raiser is carried through in the first sections of this piece, as the performers chase and challenge one another, baiting each other with the wheels and testing their individual relationships to the space and each other. This teasing rivalry quickly evolves and settles into a rapport as exhilarating and refreshing as their stunts in the wheels. Their incredible bond as a trio, evident even when solo performers take the stage, is worthy of as much marvel and praise as their physical work, for without it undoubtedly this show would only be half the beast it currently is. There is a wonderful joy and satisfaction evident in each performer both for herself and for her team: these women power each other, both literally whilst physically performing, such as Jessica Ladley’s powerhouse moments as a stunt base, but also more subtly, as expressed in the soaring vocals supplied by Lil Rice during her fellow performer Fiona Thornhill’s remarkable gymnastic solo. One of the most striking images of this piece is one of the more gentle, when the three performers sing together in gorgeous harmony whilst doing each other’s hair. The sense of ritual and community is so raw and beautiful, and lyrics such as “I carry you as she carried me” brought tears to my eyes.
The choreography of the Cyr stunts is flawless: each performer is a virtuoso in the wheel, flying about the stage in a stunning combination of impossibilities. This show is at its best and most surprising, however, when the performers combine, both in synchronised sequences with three wheels which are drilled like army exercises and in the experimental combination of double and even triple acts in one wheel. The audience audibly gasps as two performers dive into whirling sequences together, clinging on to one another in a series of balances and counterbalances, wrapped together like two halves of the same being. The final image of the show, when all three performers somehow climb onto and spin on one wheel, is a powerful physical re-writing of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, expressing the raw and potent energy of essential, physical woman. It is one of the many transcendant moments of this show, which had the audience on their feet in a unanimous standing ovation. Those who “dare to witness all the wild” that these remarkable women are will be rewarded with a strong, powerful and beautiful show unlike any other on the circus scene.