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Circus Circus Circus! Victoria Amedume talks to Run Riot about the festival which is reaching new heights

I first met Vicki when we were working on the Wac Arts InFlight project, a project which helped disadvantaged young people to access professional training for free. This seemed like an extremely apt context for meeting a woman who I have since learnt, through seeing her work, is an activist, advocate and role model for many people involved in the aerial arts and wider performance context. Ahead of her company, Upswing's, recent partnering with Certain Blacks on their upcoming festival, Vicki Amedume speaks to Run-Riot about her practice.

Grace Nicol: What is Circus, Circus, Circus and when can we see it?

Victoria Amedume: Circus, Circus, Circus, on the 22nd November at Hoxton Hall, will celebrate some of the freshest new voices in British Circus. It will be a great night out that will leave you thinking for weeks to come. There will be some extraordinary skill, some of the work is funny, some of it is profound and some of it is a little out there... All of the artists involved are world class. It will not be a dull evening!

Grace: It sounds really exciting! What is the aim of the of the festival?

Victoria: Clive named his company Certain Blacks because of a song from The Art Ensemble of Chicago. The song was written in the 1970s during a time of cultural activism and awareness. The line from the song ‘Certain Blacks do what they wanna...’ still resonates today and is at the heart of what the festival is. Both Clive and I, through our organisations, have tried to create spaces where we do not have to fit anyone else’s definition of who we should be and the type of work we should be making. When you are the only, or one of very few, of a particular identity you sometimes need to fight for the space to choose how, when and why your identity and lived experience enters your work and your practice. With the Circus Circus Circus programme we wanted to foreground the work of Black, Asian, disabled, LGBTQIA+ artists, whilst allowing them space to have authentic and nuanced representation. We’ve worked with a range of individual artists whose identities, visions and tastes range far beyond those that society can try to confine them to. I guess our aim is that, under the guise of a fun night out, we can show what our vision of diversity in Circus could look like.

Grace: It sounds like Circus Circus Circus is not only going to be entertaining but is extremely vital for the circus community. What are some of your personal highlights of the festival?

Victoria: For me all of the Circus we are presenting on the 22nd is a highlight, it is so rare to see such a range or work that has so much to say. I am also excited to see Jamal Harewood’s new work Word on the 21st at Rich Mix. His last piece, ‘The Privileged’ was hugely affecting.

Grace: The show that you mention on the 22nd is the mixed bill finale event for the festival and looks incredible. What were your curatorial aims when programming this event?

Victoria: The curation of this festival began over a year ago. Our aim was to programme stuff we found exciting and fresh, to profile work that is firmly outside of mainstream circus and lead by artists and visions that I don’t regularly see in contemporary circus. We wanted to give the artists programmed a chance to show new work that was provocative, challenging or hard to place in other spaces but also make sure the work was ready for an audience. To ensure a strong programme we hosted a residency for some of the artists we wanted to work with back in 2018. We had two weeks at 101 Creation Centre in Newbury where each artist was invited to work on their individual pieces alongside the others. It was a really lovely creative and supportive environment with lots of exchange between the artists and some inspirational sessions with artists like Paul Morris, Brian Lobel and Jamal Harewood. A year later, we are really excited to share the work for Symoné, Joana Dias and Out of Order along with Sadiq Ali and Tito Bone.

Grace: This sounds like a really supported, considered and well-rounded process, as I feel a lot of your work has been. I would describe you as an activist. What is the importance of politics, activism and The Arts?

Victoria: I am always cautious about making grand statements about the power of The Arts, particularly its ability to result in action. I do feel that The Arts have a role to play in politics and activism through the shaping of culture. It can function to stimulate curiosity and empathy, it can bring visibility to experiences of being human that we don’t see of choose to ignore, it can offer refuge and create a space to form communities around an idea or experience. It can offer us a space where we might imagine something else, but it can also support the status quo and be complicit in maintaining injustice.  

I remember hearing an Angela Davis interview where she said "We are living in the world that the activists of the past imagined”. I feel like the best I can personally do is to build creatively what I imagine better might be and hope that I am moving in the right direction.

Grace: And finally, what’s next for Upswing?

Victoria: A lot. In 2020, we have lined up a new work with children and families that looks at the human’s place in nature, a new piece touring to outdoor festivals and a tour to China in the summer. We are also supporting one of our associates Joana Dias to develop her first full length solo show ‘89’, which she will be sharing an extract of on the 22nd.  

Upswing | @vickiamedume 

Circus Circus Circus
as part of Certain Blacks Festival
Fri 22 Nov
at Hoxton Hall
Info and Tickets: hoxtonhall.co.uk