Review: ★★★ Zoetrope-CircusFest 2018, Roundhouse

Zoetrope is a Virtual Reality experience that has started off CircusFest 2018 at the Roundhouse. Circusfest celebrates all things circus, combined with other forms of art, and it celebrates the 250th anniversary of circus as we know it. Zoetrope is a 360-degree video enlightening its audience about social circus projects in Cambodia, Ethiopia and Palestine.

Social circus describes that which uses circus as a tool to seek social justice especially in marginalised young people. It gives young people a creative outlet to tell stories of their culture and struggles. This is what Zoetrope was trying to tell us, by taking us to these different countries and letting people describe how they use circus to communicate and make a change. Unfortunately we don’t necessarily get that, even though they told us about social circus and story telling, the opportunity wasn’t there for them to show us properly.

It was setup with three different ‘worlds’ (think ‘The Little Prince’ on his planet) that each had their moment to shine. This in itself seems like a juxtaposing decision, as they are trying to show that circus brings people together etc, and then these three countries are placed on different planets. It also kind pulled the viewer out of the virtual reality world, as it was an animated ‘planet’ that was zoomed in on. 

Zoetrope was only 10-15 minutes long – long enough when you’re spinning around a chair wearing massive, tight goggles in a space which was set up to be surprisingly cool, given that those watching Zoetrope can’t even see the space they’re in. The idea of putting circus together with virtual reality is groundbreaking, but unfortunately this piece was more like a documentary; one that could have easily been an hour long on a normal tv and would have been a hit. With a VR experience, you would expect a little more greatness and to be wowed, which this experience didn’t do as much as hoped. Unfortunately, three-ball-juggling doesn’t make people stop in the street anymore.

It is a great idea to start of CircusFest with showing people what circus can be used for elsewhere and bringing in a more social point of view. As a few parts of the video showed, they had amazing skills in these countries, more than what we see normally. It is obviously what they are trying to accomplish with the social circus explanation, but it didn’t seem like the right outlet for their idea to use VR, and should have spent their 10 minutes impressing us a little bit more, rather than spending unnecessary time talking with nothing much to look at. Regardless, VR is fun and this is definitely one of the cooler VR experiences as you do get to see circus – and it’s free, completely free! They only let 4 people in at the time, so you have to wait a bit, but definitely something to see if you want to experience VR and learn about Social Circus! 

Zoetrope is free and showing at the Hub Space until 22nd April. 

Yasmin Simsek


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