The ceremony for students graduating from Circus Space, one of the top circus schools in Europe, involves leaping through fire — literally.
You won’t find tiny cars or oversize shoes at Circus Space, where circus education is serious business.
But once they’ve made it through that test, Circus Space alumni stand a better chance than other young graduates of leaping through that next fire: finding a job.
“In terms of employability after you finish your degree, it’s the same kind of thing as learning to be a plumber or an electrician,” says Nathan Price, a 21-year-old 2011 graduate who specializes in “acrobalance,” or “hand-to-hand,” a form of acrobatics that incorporates partner lifting. At a time when his friends are looking for unpaid internships or waiting tables to pay the rent, Nathan and his acrobatic partner, Isis Clegg-Vinell, are currently working in Berlin on a yearlong contract with Les 7 Doigts de la Main, an internationally renowned circus-artists company. “It’s an incredibly vocational degree,” he says. “You go directly into the world of work.”
Circus Space is currently the only institution of higher education in the U.K. where one can earn a bachelor’s degree in circus arts. It’s part of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama, a relatively new but respected collective of arts-based schools that also includes the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The school is extremely difficult to get into, with a grueling two-day audition process, and its courses are validated by the University of Kent. That is to say, it’s legit.
To that end, Circus Space isn’t about the big top, clowns or elephants. And that circus theme music — the chirpy “do-do-dodododododododo” that’s usually played on a calliope and is actually called “Entry of the Gladiators” — is strictly outlawed. Instead, students here specialize in graceful acrobatic arts, such as the aerial hoop, the trapeze (both static and swinging), silk ropes and the Chinese pole (a 30-foot vertical pole artists climb and pose on). Their work is both beautiful and terrifying. But as Price explains, it’s about more than just flexibility or superhuman strength.
“It’s circus with a point,” he says. “All contemporary circuses are trying to be more than just tricks; they’re trying to build on an emotional level and a human level and to reach out and move their audiences in the same way you’d want them to be moved by a theater show or a dance piece. And that’s the hardest bit, because people come into a circus show and, on some level, just expect tricks.”