“This is the biggest tent, Eyjafjallajökull,” says Ilmur Dögg Gísladóttir, PR & Project Manager of the Nordic House, as we enter the centrepiece of the circus village under construction in Vatnsmýri. We climb to the top of the grandstand, I take a deep breath and hold it as I notice the woman in mid-air, quietly practicing a rope aerial routine to the sound of the wind and a ukulele. “Everyone else is at lunch right now. She has taken this moment to practice alone,” Ilmur continues.
Watching the aerialist makes me nostalgic, sending me back to when I was eight years old, learning contortion and trapeze, and seeing the Steben Twins performing in Cirque du Soleil’s Saltimbanco one New Years’ Eve. “There is really so much out there beyond the Cirque du Soleil,” Ilmur says. “These performers are coming from all over the world doing just amazing, crazy things.”
Grand dazzling spectactles
The performers of whom she speaks are from sixteen different circus companies that have come to Reykjavík to be part of the Volcano Circus Festival, a grandiose event spanning ten days, seven tents and stretching all the way to the Reykjavík City Theatre. The festival, Ilmur tells me, was truly the dream of the director of the Nordic House, Max Dager, who co-founded the Swedish company headlining the festival, Cirkus Cirkör. Cirkör will are bringing a daring new show to the City Theatre called ‘Wear It Like A Crown,’ involving gravity defying stunts, knife wielding tricks, and some risqué dance moves all on a huge revolving stage.
The most oohs and ahhs will happen at the circus village though, where all the other acts will perform onsite either in the four volcano-christened tents – the aforementioned along with Hekla, Askja and Katla. One of the stand-out shows in the village is Pluto Crazy, by companies Cirkus Xanti and Sirkus Aikimoinen. “Their show is so much fun for everybody,” Ilmur says grinning from ear to ear. “They are really funny and the things they do are just so astonishing. But it’s not just impressive because of the skill, it’s also really touching and beautiful.”
So sincere it hurts
This form of beauty through skillful display is one of the most sincere forms of performance, and although one of Reykjavík’s most famous nightclubs was called Sirkus, I wonder if a city that is as too-cool-for-school as this is ready for circus. “I really hope and think so because this tends to bring out the child in everyone,” Ilmur says. “It’s kind of hard to sit here and watch this and not be like, wow!”
She also points out that circus can be sarcastic and flip too, and not just with clowns and silly music. Definitely through costume though, as is the case with solo performer Frida Odden Brinkman and her very backwards act. “It took me a while to realise what she was doing, because it was just this little weird man onstage,” Ilmur says suspisciously, “but it was her, bent over, with her butt in the air. Her butt is the performer.” Her butt? Ilmur stands up, bends over and shows me—her BUTT. Point taken.
A little blue
Of course, once the evening rolls around the village will morph into darker territory. Not quite as lurid as the after-dark scenes of the short-lived HBO series Carnivàle, but definitely lascivious. The Pain Solution Sideshow will present an array of classic Fakir feats (fire-eating and piercing and machetes oh my!), and local show Skinnsemi by Sirkus Íslands will put on a decidedly-adult cabaret of burlesque and vaudeville. Things will get even louder and wilder when the Burnt Out Punks roll in late at night on their motorcycles to juggle fire and chainsaws. So fucking badass.
Although Ilmur is confident that this event could spark a real circus-craze in Icelandic culture, audiences won’t be able to get their fix again. “This will probably be the only time this festival happens,” Ilmur says with a tone of melancholy. “Max has wanted to do this for a very long time, but it’s very difficult because it is so expensive. All the tents and equipment were shipped in from Norway and it’s just impossible to do that every year or two.”
But for now, the big-ring will bustle revelry and magic, leaving some eight year old kid with dreams of running away and joining the circus.