This year is the very first year of Circomedia's MA in Directing Circus, the only qualification of its kind anywhere in the world. Let us introduce you to the pioneering students who are leading the way.

Kristian Kristof

My name is Kristian and I'm an internationally acclaimed entertainer, artistic and creative director with over 30 years of experience. I'm am currently working as the Circus Consultant (yes that is a real job!) and Choreographer for Disney Pictures on the new Tim Burton film.

My background is in traditional circus, being the fourth generation of full-time performing artists in my family. My childhood was spent in the world of entertainment as I traveled with my acrobat parents known as the 'Duo Kristof'. Before graduating with a circus arts degree from the Baross Imre Circus Arts School (1988) I won a silver medal at the Cirque Du Demain festival in Paris. With this juggling piece my performance career started to gain quick international fame and I did not continue my academic studies.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists my quadruple pirouette with three cigar boxes as a record that has been unbroken since I set it in 1994. I have had the honor of managing all editions of the International Circus Festival of Budapest (1996-2012), directed dozens of productions and was the Artistic Director of the Capital Circus of Budapest from 2008 until 2011.

I would love to expand my knowledge and understanding of circus, especially the contemporary approach to the artform. I aim to discover directing techniques used in physical theatre and incorporate these into my future projects. My past experiences have taught me privately and professionally that here is so much potential in show business that one lifetime is barely enough to live it.

Robyn Hambrook

I am a practicing artist with 20 years experience in the arts. Since graduating with a BA in Communication Studies, with a major in Film & Television, my career has traversed the arts industries as I have traveled the world. My international portfolio of work includes film and television, festivals and corporate events, community celebrations, social circus projects and large scale outdoor theatre. I have worked as a director, choreographer, producer and performer on projects that have incorporated a wide variety of performance mediums: circus; street theatre; site-specific, promenade and immersive threatre; dance; physical theatre; and visual arts.

Circus pulled me into its orbit 20 years ago, giving me a ready-made family wherever I went. It now makes up my community, my networks and a good deal of my work.

For the past five years I have been working with Let's Circus in Newcastle, helping them to develop the circus and street arts sector in the north east of England. I have also been teaching youth and community circus and Circus Central and been a tutor on their new BTEC course.

With the breadth of my experience I have increasingly felt the need to focus and specialise and Circomedia's Masters course seemed to me the perfect opportunity to do just that. I am delighted to have the chance to expand my knowledge and specialise in the art-form. I hope to explore circus' intersection with my other passions in clown, physical theatre, immersive, site-specific and street theatre. I am excited to be a part of the inaugural year of the programme and have loved meeting this international cohort.

Courtney Prokopas

My primary disciplines are equilibristics (be it balancing myself or balancing other things/persons) and object manipulation (redefining the notions of perpetual motion and meaning of apparatus). I have received the majority of my circus training through Aloft in Chicago, IL with a focus on object manipulation under the coaching of Brian P. Dailey. I chose object manipulation and working alongside Brian as my primary focus because eight years prior I had seen him perform a two-ball routine that left me in tears. It took me years to unpack why something so simple action could move me that much. The affect and effect of such minimalism was a haunting, reverberant call to action and making. 

Corporeal listening and nonverbal communication is at the heart of my artistic practice - perhaps it stems out of my history as a visual artist and filmmaker. There is no finer physical illustration of how the actions of one individual can affect another than the image of two bodies on a tight-wire.  Balancing on an attenuated surface, a body is both generator and receiver of force – to have two bodies means that each much listen and give accepting that ripples are inevitable.  Every step is a physical repercussion of the conceptual interconnectedness and tenuousness of how bodies relate to forces beyond and unseen.

In terms of dance and movement languages, I am a classically-trained dancer who now focuses primarily in Gaga and Butoh. Both languages draw heavily for a search for a collective memory and connecting consciousness to unconscious movement, they demand one listens double-fold: aurally and in a psychic state. One must be a channel, a conduit, a generator and product of reverberations.  

For the culminating project of the MA in Directing Circus I wish to develop my ongoing project, Body Electric, with two distinct approaches in mind, those of minimalism and maximalism. First, a bit about Body Electric --

What keeps a body alive is the same energy that keeps mankind connected. Body Electric is a corporeal illustration of a body entangled, suspended, enrapted, supported, and enmeshed in a network of physically demarcated electricity - cords and light bulbs.  Electricity is the force that perpetuates life on the individual level - the electrical current of heartbeats and neural transmissions is foundationally the same as the currents that bring us artificial illumination.  

The performer(s) are the navigators and embodiments of electrical forces. The disciplines of equilibristics, contemporary dance, object manipulation, and aerial acrobatics drive the movement throughout the stage. The soundscape may be responsive, a live-mixed composition of electrical pulses, both from internal and external forces. Past iterations of Body Electric have taken place on a sparsely set and darkened stage. There has been a tight wire adorned with a string of lights, a single rope the diameter of an extension cord hanging from a winch, and two standing lamps with bare bulbs. Future iterations may morph, but likely will involve these elements.   

At this stage in my research, I wish to investigate binary, parallel versions for each scene -- exploring what the minimalist and maximalist approach for each scene might be. In a way, this can create a modular series of research, ones that may be plugged and recombined to fit into various contexts.

Gwen Hales

I have been interested in the performing arts all my life. It started with ballet as a very young girl – I think that I liked the structured movement, the rules, the discipline. To this day I struggle to dance freely; I need to know what the 'rules' are! Throughout my school years I began my love affair with theatre and all its many strands, so much so that I applied for drama school and went up to big bad London for an audition at the tender age of 17. It was a catastrophe and I came away feeling that the dream I'd had of being in the performing arts had just been popped.

And so I floated for a while. I tried to travel the world and failed. I tried an academic degree at university and failed. I found circus in 1997 at the age of 22 and fell in love. Here was a way in – I could perform, but there were rules that I understood. You got strong, you practiced. You did impressive stuff. And people applauded.

Then came a three-month course at Circomedia in '98, followed by several years of touring as an aerialist with traditional circuses and then I got bored. Sheer skills didn't do it for me any more. Where was the Theatre? The stories?

I stopped touring, went freelance and embarked on some street theatre work. Around 2004, a group of Bristol/Bath-based circus and music types got together to form Stereophonic Circus. I joined and we created some interesting shows for festivals. Sadly, the troupe disbanded after a few years but I learnt a lot during my time with them. My skills in theatre and circus increased and I stop-started several creative projects. I drank in other people's shows as an audience member and attended as many theatre/performing/creating/directing workshops as I could.

In 2011 I joined a group of circus performers in a dusty warehouse in Bristol – we made a show for Glastonbury Festival thinking it would be a one off. Except it wasn't. The company ended up calling itself Pirates of the Carabina and the show, FLOWN, is still touring  to this day, albeit without many of the original cast. The show was a success and although the company structure has changed from the artist collective that it was at the start, the way that show was formed still inspires me.

Since leaving Pirates, I've worked more and more as a director and less as a performer. My first proper paid directorial role began at the Bristol Old Vic in 2012. I was brought in to advise on a Christmas show they were creating. I loved the job and how it allowed my brain to explode with creative possibilities. The show was Peter Pan and it was a glorious success, transferring to the National Theatre in 2016 and being nominated for an Olivier award. The creative team behind that show (director, musical director, designer, writer) went on to make several theatre productions and I was happily involved as Circus Consultant or Aerial Director on many of them (and still am).

Over the past few years I have also tried my hand at directing smaller circus shows and facilitating the devising process for circus and theatre work. This is an area I'm really interested in – the devising process. That magical moment between the initial conception and rehearsals for the final product.

And so I find myself here, starting the MA for Directing Circus. Discovering how to do all of it better. I'm really excited for my learning curve over the next year. I still don't know exactly which direction my studies will take but it'll certainly involve narrative circus in some way. How to marry effective storytelling with the display of amazing physical capabilities, perhaps? Or, what is the best method for truly integrated circus and theatre devising techniques?

Meri-Maija Näykki

I used to be a circus kid, in Sorin Sirkus, Tampere, Finland. Then I turned out to be a rebel teenager who did not want to be cute and pretty on the stage anymore. So I quit circus at the age of 17 and became a young theatre enthusiast. I played mostly male roles, did some abstract modern theatre and physical theatre and a bit set designing here and there. Meanwhile I made my living by driving a taxi.

Then I got in to Metropolia - University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki and became an Applied Theatre Directing student. I fell in love with directing, started my own pop-up theatre company and directed grant based site-specific theatre pieces during the summer holidays. During winters, I made my living by teaching circus.

It occured to me that there is a lack of directors in the field of  circus in Finland, and a lack of young directors throughout the world. I wrote my thesis about directing circus and just a few weeks after finally submitting it I flew to Bristol to become part of this inaugural class of circus directors at Circomedia.

Returning to circus arts has re-created the rebel in me. For me, circus is anarchy. It is a rebellion against gravity. It is sneering to the demand of effectiveness. It is a revolution that mixes art, entertainment and sport, and while you do or look at it you cannot bypass questions about limits and freedom of humankind.

In a year I will be a circus director. I think my speciality will be the dramaturgy.  I am looking forward to creating abstract and absurd worlds with contemporary circus.

When you create, create a world, because only the creation of the world can be called creating.” - Lauri Viita, a famous author from my hometown.

Elina Sirkiä

I’m a circus artist, an aerialist, a tight wire dancer and a rigger. Sometimes, or in fact most of the time, I seem to be a producer and now I’m working towards becoming a director. For better or worse my area of working is versatile and that keeps me motivated and inspired.

I found my passion to work with circus in my early teenage years while training circus as a hobby. I was mainly taught by the professional circus students and their teachers in Turku University of Applied Sciences in Finland. It was a privileged place to get to know the circus scene and soon I was swept up in it, even though I was applying to read medicine with the intention of becoming a doctor. As it transpired, the entrance examinations were at the same time and, after much deliberation, circus won out. Since school I’ve been freelancing and working with different, mostly Finnish, circus companies. I’m also one of three founder members of 7+ Company.

I was first accidentally driven to wear the hat of a director because I was injured and found that I liked it.  A series of injuries lead to me needing to learn how to walk again three times within six years and nowadays my body can’t stand training, not even close to what is needed to work as an artist anymore. I haven’t lost my passion to make performances, I just needed to change my point of the view, so here I am studying Directing Circus at Circomedia.

I love the variation and boundlessness of circus. I see there is such a huge potential in it to make better and more meaningful performances. We just need to dive deeper and do more research to find answers for awakening questions. I’m inspired by the connections between the performer, the equipment and movement and interested in improvisation methods in circus such as in semiotics and phenomenology.

Inari Pölkki

Hi, I’m Inari Pölkki, a Finnish aerial acrobat and a circus teacher with a passion for directing. I graduated as a circus performer and a teacher from Turku University of Applied Sciences in the spring of 2016. Before starting my BA studies in Finland I had a background in ballroom dancing, figure skating and sowing, in addition to doing circus. Sowing and designing are still something I’m very passionate about so I am happy that they are something I can integrate to my work as a director and a performer.

The reason why I find circus so intriguing is that it combines many of my interests; dance, physicality, theatre and design (of costumes, stage, lights, etc.). I love the fact that pretty much anyone can find something they can do in circus regardless of who they are and where they are from.

During the MA I wish to broaden my skills and knowledge in directing circus as my interests have greatly shifted from performing to directing.  I enjoy creating choreographies and being able to carry out ideas that I would not be able to do with just myself as a performer. I am particularly interested in devising some kind of tool to use when changing from one scene to the next during a show. The aim of the tool would be to make the moments between scenes meaningful, not just a time for necessary changing of, for example, equipment and/or performers. Being able to keep the flow continuous throughout the show, no matter what kind of performance it is, without having to cover up or distract (unless that is used as a way to portray something) is what I wish to achieve.