Author Archives: Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.

The Hidden People

The Hidden People is a co-production between British circus theatre company Hikapee and Icelandic theatre company Huldufugl (Hidden Bird). The show combines Icelandic folklore, aerial circus and physical performance, and creative technology.

Here, three different voices offer their individual perspective on the UK premiere of the show, which took place at the Pavilion Theatre Worthing.

Dorothy Max Prior, reporting for Total Theatre Magazine, writes:

Greys, blues, greens – a typical Icelandic landscape of hills and glaciers and rocky outposts. At first, we seem to be looking at a painting that covers the entire back wall; but as the show starts and the landscape shifts and moves, we realise it is a projection – and that the upstage area is made up of a climbing wall construction, which forms the ‘screen’ on to which the cleverly shifting moving images play out.

Throughout the next couple of hours, we are taken to many different outdoor environments – a rolling panorama of verdant summertime hills, black volcanic lava, icy fjords and gorges, flowing waterfalls – and to the hidden nooks in the mountains where The Hidden Peoplelive, often cleverly camouflaged within the landscape/set. More on them anon! The lighting design works with the projection, giving us a visually stunning rollercoaster of images. It could almost be a tourist board advert for the wonders of Iceland.

Within this stimulating environment – created by visual designer / moving image maker Owen Hindley, with a team of lighting, set and costume designers and makers on board – an ensemble of eight performers, drawn from the two collaborating companies, bring us an almost word-free and highly physical tale of difficult decisions around productivity versus preservation, environmental action, and respect for nature. 

The Hidden People is the story of two sisters, Rósa and Tinna. They are, at one and the same moment, representations of real people and personifications of the show’s key elements: scientific progress and natural world conservation. Rósa has left Iceland to become an architect and engineer. Her sister Tinna remains behind in the Icelandic countryside, dedicated to the natural world, and respectful of the huldufolk, Icelandic’s hidden people – who are sometimes seen as a kind of elf or fairy, and oft described as like humans but more evolved. They can be seen only if they want to be.

Let me step out of this story for a moment to tell you another story. On a trip to Iceland twelve years ago, I was having dinner with my dear friend Einar, and he was telling me about some problems with the building of his new house. Diggers and other tools and machines kept breaking down. ‘We had to move the road to keep the elves happy,’ said Einar. I laugh – but see that this is no joke, Einar is deadly serious. ‘No really, you must respect the wishes of the huldufolk.’ This is not the only story I’ve heard subsequently about road and house building and other construction plans coming a cropper if respect is not paid.

Back to the show: Rósa has returned to Iceland full of enthusiasm for her latest project, the construction of a large hydroelectric dam. This will disrupt the landscape and local fauna and flora, but on the other hand will provide a significant amount of green energy.

There’s a very lovely scene in which the graphs and blueprints and calculations of Rosa’s plans play out in a shifting medley of projected images whilst she sits to the side of the stage at her desk, eventually arising to interact with the projected imagery, twisting and turning and tumbling as she calculates her way forward.

The Hidden People premiere at The Pavilion Theatre Worthing, 12 March 2022. Photo by Robin Boot Photography

The story evolves in scenes in which the human intellectual and emotional dilemmas – mostly explored through the tussle between the two sisters – are contrasted with the huldufolk’s gently detached relationship with nature as they move organically amongst the rocks and hills, often blending seamlessly into the landscape. That aforementioned back wall structure proves to be an excellent piece of staging/set that can be climbed up, hung from, or abseiled down on bungees.  

The show’s writers – Bryony Livesey-Casey (who also directs) and Edd Livesey-Casey from Hikapee (who also performs in the ensemble), and Nanna Gunnars (who performs as Tinna) and Owen Hindley of Huldufugl – have found a nifty way to differentiate the two worlds when the same ensemble cast play everyone and everything: When we are with the humans, it is classic European ensemble physical theatre work that carries us forward (three of the four co-creators are Rose Bruford European and American Theatre Arts  graduates), combined with floor-based acro and hand-to-hand; and the aerial equipment comes out when we are in the world of the Hidden People.

A camping-in-the-hills scene, in which the humans pitch tents and do all the things people normally do in tents (I’ll leave this to your imagination), gives the opportunity for some nice shadow theatre work – although this scene does feel a little long; and indeed the show as a whole could do with some trimming. But this is its very first outing in public, so that is to be expected.

There is some very elegant and effective dance-mime work from Sophie Northmore as Rósa, and a great scene in which Charlotte Greenstock performs a powerful solo aerial straps routine as ‘Rósa’s dream self’. The story reaches its apex with a stunning scene set in and around the waterfall – a culminating point where all the best elements of the show come together as the skilful aerial silks work is highlighted by Owen Hindley’s stunning projection. Throughout, this almost word-free piece is glued together by composer Iris Thorarins’ moody and dreamy soundscape.

The ending is ambivalent – but this I like, as it leaves space for the audience to be part of the creative process, as they muse on which reality they wish to believe in…  perhaps opting for both simultaneously.

Nanna Gunnars (left) and Sophie Northmore in The Hidden People at The Pavilion Theatre, Worthing.
Photo by Robin Boot Photography

Nanna Gunnars from Huldufugl, co-producer and performer in The Hidden People, writes:

Huldufugl fuses physical theatre with creative technology and Hikapee focus on narrative-driven circus performances. Going into this collaboration we knew we wanted to tell a narrative story using circus techniques and be non-verbal in order to reach an international audience. The few words that are spoken are the given names of the characters, all in Icelandic. The initial inspiration came from folklore stories of the Icelandic hidden people – we wanted to explore how we could show something on stage that should essentially be hidden, helped along with an innovative combination of projection, lights and shadow. We wanted to make bodies on stage blend into the background or use them as a part of the landscape, representing the movement of the earth, from rolling rocks to splashing water, using projections to do so. I have a background in physical theatre but the other half of Huldufugl, Owen Hindley, has experience with real-time digital animation and designed the landscape projections, with inspiration from one of Iceland’s most famous painters, Jóhannes Kjarval.

Our approach to making The Hidden People was mainly twofold. We explored a variety of images and ideas that we wanted to create on stage, and separately discussed what kind of a story we wanted to tell. As a part of the image work we created several tableaux from key words, finding combinations that we found striking. Some of the early keywords we worked with were ‘water’ and ‘waterfall’, as Iceland has an abundance of both: we had this idea of our main character being swept away by an onslaught of water. We dove into aerial movement that could indicate falling water, rapids, turbulence, calm, strong currents, whirlpools and drowning. These are some of my favourite moments from the show. I’m the only performer in the show that’s not a circus professional, but I truly enjoy being a part of the ensemble when we embody a violent river that engulfs the lead character, through physical theatre and hand-to-hand acro sequences. Through this collaboration with Hikapee I’ve also learned a lot about circus techniques and how different types of aerial equipment influence the quality of movement. For example, we chose to use aerial silks to signify a beautiful, cascading waterfall, where the performers use a variety of roll-ups and roll-downs to portray the torrents of the water in a graceful manner. For a drowning sequence, on the other hand, we went for aerial straps. Our straps performer, Charlotte Greenstock, was able to perform slow, sinking movements mixed with more violent and thrashing movements between gasping for air.

We also knew we wanted to modernise the hidden people. The idea to reserve aerial equipment only for the hidden people came early, but we also looked at what kind of physicality we could give them. Historically they have been seen as largely like humans but more advanced, resulting in being more skilful, attractive and living in closer harmony with nature – humans 50 years into the future. We didn’t want to give them an overpowering otherworldly quality of movement nor deprive them of individuality, but still portray a different feel from our human characters. We connect the two worlds together by having the hidden people use aerial equipment to swing and glide elegantly across the stage, and the human characters also traversing the stage in midair, albeit using bulkier climbing equipment, harnesses and carabiners, with this equipment on full display.

One of the major characteristics of the hidden people is that they’re seen as one with nature, and in a way, the protectors of nature. Considering how concerned humans are today about climate change and global warming, whilst simultaneously distracted by excessive screen time, we imagined that a few decades down the line people might be more grounded, and better connected with nature and their surroundings.

Water was already a recurrent theme in the story, and we decided on a story about the building of a new hydroelectric dam in Iceland. Even though, for the rest of the world, hydroelectric dams may only seem to be positive as they produce green energy, they are a highly controversial topic in Iceland. There are both positives and negatives, and we didn’t want to dictate what the audience should think but give an ending that can be interpreted in both a realistic negative way, or a more fantastical positive way.

As the only Icelandic performer in the show, I found it important that the whole group would have a sense of how the hidden people are regarded and portrayed in Icelandic society. It was especially important to me not to make a clichéd performance and steer clear of tropes around them, such as making them cute or quirky. I also insisted on involving an Icelandic composer, Iris Thorarins, to get a true Icelandic sound for the performance. I found it very interesting and somewhat challenging to stage Icelandic identity in a production that’s predominantly British. All in all I think we succeeded in creating characters that would fit well into Icelandic society and make a modern version of the often-dated hidden people, I might just add on a masterclass in Icelandic language pronunciation before the next show!

Charlotte Greenstock performing in The Hidden People at The Pavilion Theatre Worthing. Photo by Robin Boot Photography

Aerialist and ensemble performer Charlotte Greenstock writes:

I am a circus performer specialising in aerial straps (two long straps with wrist loops on the end). Hanging from the straps, I use a combination of strength and momentum from spinning to create dynamic sequences.

My roles within The Hidden People were to embody the architect Rósa’s nightmare, to work as part of the ensemble, and to cause mischief as one of the hidden people.

Creatively, developing the nightmare scene (playing lead character Rósa’s dream self) was a really interesting experience, as lots of different elements and many people were involved to pull the scene together. I worked closely with Edd Livesey-Casey (my counterweight) to utilise the counterweight system fully and take up as much space as possible. Alongside this, Owen adapted the projections to work with my movements to create a drowning effect. 

Even  though I appear to be alone on stage at this point, I’m not – aerial straps often involves working closely with another person. Edd had to know my movements and cues exactly, in order to lift me at the right time and lower me safely. This scene in particular was a challenge. It was difficult to create the frantic effect desired, as I often didn’t land on my feet, or would land and continue moving around the space. Edd was an intuitive counterweight, and I am incredibly pleased with the piece we created together. 

During this nightmare scene, I felt very connected to the cast. At the start, I’m carried on and gently placed on the floor by another member of the cast, then Edd lifts me slowly to begin the scene. We work together, and at the end I am carried away again. Being held at the start and at the end was an emotional experience which helped me to connect with the helpless state my character was in.  

Alongside my ‘nightmare’ role, I am also an ensemble performer in the show and portray one of the hidden people. I knew little about Icelandic folklore before this experience, so it’s been really interesting to immerse myself  in something completely new. 

Throughout the creation period, we were each encouraged to find and connect with our ‘hidden person’ character. We played and explored in various ways until each person’s individual character started to emerge. Different parts of ourselves were exaggerated through our hidden people. I ended up high energy and mischievous, Katie (Hardwick) graceful and serene, Lawrence (Swaddle) cheeky, Edd provocative etc. We had a lot of fun discovering these versions of ourselves and took time to play with who we thought our characters could be. For me, this involved a lot of running around and chasing people!

For some reason, I don’t usually get nervous when I perform. Although in this case, there were lots of moving parts to bring this show together, and missing my cues could have a knock-on effect for a lot of people. So I definitely had some nerves as the performance began! Fortunately, as a cast, we fell into a familiar rhythm, and feeling it all come to fruition was very satisfying. I’m going to miss this crew and this creation, but hopefully we will all be reunited next year to play as hidden people again…

Featured image (top) and all above images: Hikapee Circus Theatre and Huldufugl: The Hidden People. Photos by Robin Boot Photography.

The Hidden People is a co-production between British circus theatre company Hikapee and Icelandic theatre company Huldufugl (Hidden Bird).

The Hidden People premiered at Pavilion Theatre, Worthing on 12 March 2022, and will be touring 2022–2023.

For Hikapee Circus Theatre see: 

For Huldufugl see

More about creating The Hidden People and the issues inspiring the show:

On the issue of hydraulic dams: Iceland is the world’s largest electricity producer per capita, with approximately 55,000 kWh per person per year. There is an abundance of natural energy to be had in Iceland, and plans for several more dams currently exist. If they go through, they will create hundreds of jobs in rural areas. However each dam has an enormous effect on wildlife habitat, not to mention the extreme change in the landscape. Icelanders pride themselves on their unspoilt nature, which in turn draws in large numbers of tourists every year. However, Iceland is also the largest green energy provider per capita, and the country’s total electricity consumption is almost 100% renewable. So the issues are complex.

The Hidden People was supported and developed in partnership with a number of UK organisations. The final creation period took place from January-March 2022, at Out There Arts (Great Yarmouth), The Point (Eastleigh) and Pavilion Theatre (Worthing).

The show are grateful to have received funding from Arts Council England, Nordic Culture Point, Nordic Culture Fund, The Finnish Institute in UK and Ireland, The Icelandic Embassy in London, and RUV & Stef Composer Fund. Additionally, the show received support from Jacksons Lane Theatre, 101 Outdoor Arts and Iðnó during the rehearsal process. 

The show’s makers would also like to thank Terry Gunnell, a professor and world authority on Icelandic folklore, who was interviewed in the early stages.

Vision On – LIMF 2022 Round-Up

 A clown locked down in a beautiful Mexican house, Pinocchio swallowed by a whale, battling Action Man dolls, and a live magic lantern show about space and time… Dorothy Max Prior encounters a visual feast at LIMF 2022 

The London International Mime Festival, which runs annually through January into early February, is a highlight of the year for any of us with an interest in physical and visual theatre, circus and puppetry – all of which are always well represented. 

After a wholly online edition in 2021, LIMF 2022 was back ‘large and live’ with a programme that, due to the wickedly disruptive double-whammy of Covid and Brexit, favoured UK-based artists boasting many different skill-sets  – and indeed nationalities, for the UK physical theatre and circus world  is a truly international one.

The live programme included high-profile names like Gandini Juggling, Barely Methodical Troupe, and Vanishing Point, together with rising stars Thick & Tight, Theatre Re and Sadiq Ali. There was also an appearance by LIMF favourites Cie 111 from France, who presented aSH, the final in Aurelien Bory’s trilogy for renowned female dancers – in this case, Shantala Shivalingappa. 

Normally, I’d be racing out of my Brighton house and braving the eccentricities of the Southern Rail network at least three times a week to catch shows – and after the 2021 online edition, was really looking forward to LIMF 2022. Sadly, I found myself grounded by Covid, and thus had to miss most of the live programme. But I found consolation in the commissioned film programme and other online events… 

Despite the admirable return to live programming – beating the Omicron odds to somehow get everything up and running, with only a few glitches along the way – online content remained a key part of the LIMF 2022 programme, which included a number of commissioned ‘performance to camera’ works. Given the problems of bringing in work from overseas, directors Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan reasoned they could preserve the international element of the Festival through these film commissions, which this year all went to overseas artists.

The commissioned artists, people whose work they knew and liked, were given a completely free rein to create a short film that isn’t driven by spoken text. The five were: Dewey Dell (Italy), an offshoot of the legendary Castelluci company; Hiroaki Umeda (Japan), a Tokyo-based choreographer, photographer and video artist creating mesmerising visual environments for his visceral live performances; Delgado Fuchs (Switzerland) whose body-based work involves dance, performance, installation, photography, video, fashion and fine arts; Gabriela Muñoz from Mexico, a clown best known for her portrayal of a woman desperate for companionship and marriage in Perhaps, Perhaps, Quizas, seen at LIMF 2018; and Patrick Sims (France/USA), the founder and former creative director of renegade puppetry company Buchinger’s Boot Marionettes, moving on to create his current company Les Antliaclastes, who have been seen at LIMF numerous times. 

Gabriela Muñoz: PLANT

I enjoyed all five short films, but the two that interested me most were those by Gabriela Muñoz and Patrick Sims.

Gabriela Muñoz’ PLANT presents a Groundhog Day scenario as the life of a woman unfolds from morning to evening over and over in endless locked-down repetition.

The film is performed and shot in the Casa Organica – a retro futuristic fantasy home designed by Javier Senosiain. There are no straight lines or edges: the walls are curved and windows are either large amoeba shapes or small circular port-holes. Inside, the living spaces are womb-like interior caves. The house’s fixtures, fittings and furnishings are lingered over lovingly by the camer and include white formica kidney-shaped tables a gold chair shaped like a hand, a pineapple sculpture, and bowls of big brightly coloured metallic balls. Essentially, the house plays the starring role.

For its occupant, Chula the Clown, each day is the same: a bath-time scrub down with a loofah (wearing a hilarious nude costume), getting dressed in a pink puffa tunic with lurid pussy-bow scarf, a quick inspection in the full-length mirror, and breakfast eggs (shaken to see if they are live!). Outside in the garden, we’re in Teletubbies country as our heroine romps around on ferociously landscaped grass hills, slides gleefully down a big slide, and cradles a toy bird in her hand. Back indoors, her afternoon pastime is completing a blank jigsaw. Her evenings alone see her swigging from a wine bottle, dancing a whirling dervish dance round her room, and collapsing in a heap on the sofa.

The Groundhog Day repetition is given to us with the accompaniment of  cheesy toy-town tune that speeds up as each day goes by. Then, a change. One morning our clown wakes and there is no musical accompaniment to her life, just the sound of her own sighs. A new soundtrack starts up: a discordant electronic whine and click giving way to a melancholic symphony. Everything is the same, but everything is different. Nothing is quite right. Breakfast, garden, little bird, jigsaw – all spoilt. Things go from bad to worse, until the arrival in the garden of a Deus Ex Machina brings resolution…

The film feels complete, working well as a short. It is skilfully shot and directed by Guillermo Llama Altamirano, Gabriela Muñoz as Chula the Clown is a beautifully melancholic persona, and Andrés Landon’s soundtrack does exactly what is needed in a non-verbal film, driving the narrative and providing the mood and tone for each scene.    

Patrick Sims

The Ribs and Terror by Patrick Sims is also about containment and boredom, and the fear of change (post-pandemic, this is hardly surprising!). In this case, we have an imprisonment within an imprisonment. The first character we meet is a (puppet) whale, sitting on the toilet in a decrepit old bathroom, striking the days off on a calendar. It opens its jaws to yawn, and we cut to inside its ribcage where we come across imprisoned puppet number two – a beautifully-crafted marionette with a long nose, a dunce’s cap, terrifyingly real eyes, and furry donkey ears. Like Gaby Muñoz’ clown, this little creature, trapped in its environment, is both bored and easily amused by childlike pursuits of sliding and tumbling and playing with objects in their environment. An oyster shell reveals a pearl as big as the creature’s head, the shell then becoming a makeshift bed…

The Ribs and Terror is described by Sims as ‘a tale of Pinocchio inside the whale. Pinocchio does not want to become a real boy, he likes it where he is and does not want to leave. This resistance causes much belly-ache for the whale. The concept of the “Jonah syndrome” permeates the story – that is, when an individual is less afraid to die than to live to his fullest potential’.

The piece references not only Carlos Collodi’s Pinocchio and the biblical tale of Jonah and the Whale, but also Three Men in a Tub and Herman Melvilles’ Moby-Dick – Captain Ahab makes an appearance – and he’s not the only one to lose a leg to a whale! 

The video was inspired by themes developed during the making of a live theatre production, Ambergris, which features many of the same characters and sets, and Sims acknowledges the influence and inspiration of both Georges Meliés and Jan Svankmayer (it is Svankmayer who is the most obvious inspiration here). 

The soundtrack to the film – a pre-existing piece called ‘Lullaby for a Sinking Submarine’ by longtime Sims collaborator Ergo Phizmiz – drives the action and provides the frame for the separate scenes.

There’s a whole host of extraordinary images here – and as we’d expect from this master of surreal puppetry, wonderful design and making throughout. But to be brutally honest, beautiful though the visual imagery is, it feels like what it is: an adjunct to another, bigger project. At more than 16 minutes, it is too long for the short film brief, and feels like it is desperately seeking a film director to pull it into shape, if it is to exist as a film short. 

As a word-free film the soundtrack is all important – and Ergo Phizmiz’ mulch of tipsy sea-shanties, accordion drones, music boxes, violins and foley sound is perfect.

Opposable Thumb: Big Boys Don’t Cry

I did manage to get to two live shows: one about masculinity that featured sparring Action Man dolls, Luche Libre wrestlers, cadavers, crisps and a war on tupperware; and the other a visually stunning created-live-before-our-eyes animated film about time and space that features a love story that unfolds as a balancing act between art and science.

Opposable Thumb followed up their fabulous Coulrophobia with another two-man show, Big Boys Don’t Cry, presented at Jacksons Lane, in which company co-founders/performers Adam and Dik take us into the beating heart of the modern male and attempt to answer the burning question: what maketh a man? Nature or nurture? Mind or body? Cheese ‘n’ Onion or Prawn Cocktail?

The show is structured as a classic three-act play – although that nod to traditional form is where it ends. The first two acts focus on autobiographical material of each of the men in turn, and the third is the denouement or showdown. Each act is supplemented by intervals of film projection, with family photos and shaky super-8 and video clips showing us our heroes as tiny tots. 

Act 1 focuses on The Puppet Master – the alter-ego of Dik Downey, who has mortality on his mind. An Action Man tabletop fight is an amusing commentary on the lure of war games to young males, and Downey’s expertise as a puppeteer is evident in the skilled manipulation. We move into a reflection on the death of the performer’s father, as a spookily realistic mannequin of a cadaver is wheeled on for a surreal post-mortem in which red balloons and flowers erupt from the corpse. Overlooking the cadaver is a reproduction of Rembrandt’s ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp’. The art masters motif continues with a Leonardo da Vinci puppet astride a toy helicopter (da Vinci having invented a prototype helicopter, allegedly) and a shaggy dog Mona Lisa story…

Act 2 belongs to The Bear – Adam Blake. The main theme in this act is male anger. There’s a magnificent battle with tupperware boxes and their ill-fitting lids, in which both men use their very able skills as clowns to push the frustration to a ludicrously intense level. An audience member, Ben, is embroiled in an attempt to ‘turn anger into a game’. Ben is angry because, although he deliberately booked seats near the back so he wouldn’t get picked on, he ended up at the front. Ben learns how to be an angry cat. 

Act 3 gives us a Mexican wrestling contest, with our combatants dressed in fabulously excessive crisp-packet inspired costumes: Prawn Cocktail v Cheese and Onion. Following a round of foolish falling about and clasping of bodies, we are treated to a bout of slapstick confessions. As the slaps ring out, we hear of our two combatants fears, failures and regrets as they work through the lifetime struggle of ‘being a man’: one hates his fat legs, the other hates football. One has an under-developed penis, a child with Down’s Syndrome, and a wife better than him at DIY; the other didn’t say goodbye to his dying dad. 

Although less immediate than Caulrophobia, and with some inevitable ‘new show’ wobbles in pacing here and there, Big Boys Don’t Cry is a great addition to the company’s repertoire, and with a bit of mucking-in over the coming year will, I’m sure, be up there with that seminal first show. It’s a great example of clowning and physical theatre tackling the big subjects in life and winning. Ding ding! 

Stereoptik: Stellaire:

Over at the Barbican Pit, French company Stereoptik (Romain Bermond and Jean-Baptiste Maillet), were back with their latest handmade spectacle, Stellaire, a love story unfolding through space and time, set in a magic-lantern world, using a fabulous variety of media – paper, chalk, charcoal, sand, water, silhouette theatre and projection – to create a wondrous cartoon-theatre created live before the audience’s eyes. The two artists work together on the visuals, whilst also providing a live soundtrack using synthesisers and acoustic instruments (including a drum kit). It is hard to believe that all this is done by just two people! I love the blend of hi-tech and lo-tech, as parks and people, spacecraft and galaxies emerge as if by by magic on the screen, then dissolve to make way for the next beautiful image. 

In an interview with the creators reproduced in the LIMF programme, Bermond says ’Stellaire ties a love story together with the creation of the universe. Both phenomena embody expansion and movement. When two people meet and live a love story, there’s a form of expansion – the birth of children, or the family history they become part of’. This is a love story that evolves between a male artist (a cartoonist) and a female scientist (an astronomer), in a way representing the marriage of art and science in this story of space and the stars. There are times when the whole thing becomes a little bit too ‘educational’ for my taste – for example, we are given the female astronomer’s lectures at a conference on time and space, which feels a little clunky. But this is a small complaint – it doesn’t detract from the beauty and wonder of the work. A truly visual theatre.

Feautured image (top): Oposable Thumb: Big Boys Don’t Cry.

London International Mime Festival ran 12 January to 6 February 2022.

For further information on these and other shows, films and events presented at LIMF 2022, see 

We Travel in Hope: LIMF 2022

After a wholly online edition in 2021, the London International Mime Festival 2022 is back ‘large and live’. Dorothy Max Prior talks to the Festival’s co-directors, Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan

It’s the week before Christmas, and there’s talk – once again – of possible lockdowns to slow the spread of Covid-19, perhaps pre- but more likely post-Christmas. There’s speculation, as new variant Omicron tears through the country, that theatres and other venues may once again be closed. Those putting on shows over the winter holiday season are biting their nails to the quick, hoping they can get through the run. Can we really still be in this situation after a calamitous 18 months of dashed hopes and lost revenue?

Meanwhile, the directors of the London International Mime Festival, Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan, are sitting tight. LIMF 2022 opens on 12 January. After going online for the 2021 edition, the festival is back ‘large and live’ in 2022, featuring 14 productions, and putting British work centre-stage. At least, that’s the plan.

‘We travel in hope,’ says Helen when I speak to them (on Zoom, inevitably). Helen and Joseph are both quietly optimistic that things will work out, but take the philosophical stance that ‘what will be, will be’. 

So, just how did they go about programming a live festival in the current climate? This can’t have been easy in these uncertain times! 

Helen takes us back to the height of the first wave of the pandemic, in 2020:

‘When it become obvious we couldn’t plan a live festival for 2021 and had to go digital, we decided to commission work from a number of British artists for the 2022 edition,’ she says. ‘It was clear, back then, that things weren’t just suddenly going to ping back to normal and be fine for 2022…’ 

Even before the onset of the pandemic, planning anything international had become something of a nightmare due to Brexit and the subsequent difficulties with visas, tax, carnets…  Hindered not helped by what Helen refers to as ‘our retro-fit government’. 

‘So little was in place, just weeks before Brexit,’ she says, ‘nobody was thinking ahead, nobody seemed to value culture’.

Then with the pandemic on top came further difficulties with international travel – the high cost of freight, the rising cost of hotels and air travel, not to mention closed borders and constantly changing quarantine rules. Thus, Joseph and Helen took the sound forward-looking decision that for the 2022 edition, they would need to plan for a largely British festival.

‘So, all in all, we cut our cloth according to our means,’ says Helen.

‘We didn’t cut off our nose to spite our face!’ adds Joseph with his customary humour.

Gandini Juggling

They therefore, a year ahead or more, commissioned a number of British companies to make work. Companies like Gandini Juggling, who LIMF have supported steadily over the years, seeing them rise from small studios at BAC to the Royal Opera House and to Sadler’s Wells, who have co-commissioned the new work. Having toured the world with their homage to Pina Bausch, Smashed, the company now turn their attention to another giant of contemporary dance, Merce Cunningham. In LIFE A Love Letter to Merce Cunningham, Sean Gandini and company co-founder/director Kati Ylä-Hokkala have created an original piece of work firmly rooted in the Cunningham universe. The world premiere is on 12 January 2022 – the opening show for this year’s London International Mime Festival. 

Joseph describes Gandini Juggling as one of the ‘mature’ companies that LIMF are supporting, going on to note that another company edging up into that category is Barely Methodical Troupe, who are (like Gandini) a contemporary circus group who have been supported along their developmental path by LIMF. They bring a revival of KIN, to the Peacock Theatre for this year’s festival – a high octane whirl of acrobatic storytelling that playfully explores competitiveness and male-female dynamics.

Then, says Joe, there’s Theatre Re, who are another good-sized ensemble company whose work has been consistently programmed by LIMF. Their fourth show, Bluebelle, weaves together plots and characters from ancient folktales collected by Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault; together with interviews with parents and carers. Staged in Theatre Re’s striking corporeal mime style of lyrical, visual theatre, and accompanied by live music, Bluebelle reminds us that life is shaped by the stories we tell and leave behind.

The PappyShow . Photo Helen Murray

Another world premiere, and also an ensemble piece that like Bluebelle is presented at Shoreditch Town Hall, is The PappyShow’s What Do You See?, a multidisciplinary performance weaving together words, song, movement, visual design and audiovisual effects, and asking us all to consider the question: When you look at someone, what do you see?

‘Director Kane Husbands didn’t just want to just make a show about Black identity, he wanted to address and celebrate all identities,’ says Helen. So, What Do You See? is created, under Kane’s direction, by a team of 12 performers, and a creative team of 27 people, representing a spectrum of intersectional identities in Britain today, including people of many different ethnicities and ages, with differently-abled bodies of all shapes and sizes – and celebrates all of those identities.

‘They are in the rehearsal room at the moment,’ says Helen, ‘and you can feel  the explosion of energy and the freshness of the work’.

Joe adds: ’Two years ago at the Purcell Room we presented their previous show, BOYS. It started as the audience were coming in, and the good feeling and energy that they exuded got the audience going before they had even started. There is an excitement about their onstage presence that appeals not only to young people but also to (ahem) not-so-young people like myself. We are very proud to be bringing that work to audiences. What Do You See? is a piece of theatre that is at least as much about atmosphere as about its sound message…’

‘When we were asked a long time ago if we could see any positives from Brexit, the only one that we could both see was that it might be good for British work… assuming we do get to present the work,’ says Helen.

Opposable Thumb: Big Boys Don’t Cry

On a smaller scale, other British companies who have been commissioned for this year’s festival include Opposable Thumb, who follow up their fabulous Coulrophobia with another two-man show, Big Boys Don’t Cry, presented at Jacksons Lane. Using potato crisps, puppets, dead bodies and Action Men, company co-founders/performers Adam and Dik take us into the beating heart of the modern male and attempt to answer the burning question: what maketh a man? Nature or nurture? Mind or body? Cheese ‘n’ Onion or Prawn Cocktail?

Then, there’s Jean-Daniel Broussé (one half of the award-winning circus duet Nikki & JD). He has been commissioned to make a new solo work, (Le) Pain – an autobiographical piece about his family of origin that will be seen at The Place as part of LIMF 2022. JD’s story is that he was born to inherit the French bakery run by four generations of his family. Instead, he studied history and literature, then ‘ran away to join the circus’, training at London’s National Centre for Circus Arts. In this, his first solo show, JD ‘travels through a universe of bread-making, physical heroics and growing up queer in strait-laced provincial France’. His collaborator and director on this project is the renowned Ursula Martinez.

‘We have ovens,’ says Helen, ‘he’ll be baking bread onstage!’

Jean-Daniel Broussé: (Le) Pain

The London International Mime Festival has, over the many decades of its existence, presented work at many different venues – but a consistent partner over many years is the Barbican. With a desire to commission/present some international work in 2022, and to also present a major British theatre company on a decent-sized stage, conversations with the Barbican started.

‘The Barbican were willing to take the risk along with us,’ says Helen, speaking of the decision that they would co-present Compagnie 111’s: aSH, a piece created by Aurélien Bory for Shantala Shivalingappa that is the final part of Bory’s trilogy of large-scale solos for female dancers. In aSH, Shantala Shivalingappa pays homage to Shiva, God of creation and destruction, taking the audience on a journey linking ancestral culture and innovative technology.

Vanishing Point (Scotland’s foremost artist-led independent theatre company) will also be seen on the main stage of the Barbican with Interiors, which is inspired by Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1895 play, Interior. Director Matthew Lenton’s original, highly visual staging premiered in 2009 and has toured across Europe, Asia and South America. Interiors is about sounds, silence, the path of fate and the darkness outside the window.

Cie111 aSH by AurelienBory. Photo Aglae Bory.

Meanwhile, in the Barbican’s smaller space, The Pit, there will be two shows presented, one from the UK and one international work.

Thick & Tight return to London International Mime Festival at the Barbican with Short & Sweet, an amuse-bouche platter of nine new works designed to excite, provoke and satisfy. Created by company co-founders/co-directors Eleanor Perry and Daniel Hay-Gordon, this ‘thoroughly modern variety show’ mixes dance, drag, lip-syncing and satire, bringing a host of famous and infamous characters to life, from Sid Vicious to Twiggy, Grace Jones, Rasputin, and everyone’s favourite avant-garde duo, John Cage & Elaine Paige. Oh, and there are eight Edith Sitwells in the mix, too!

Also at The Pit: French company Stereoptik (Romain Bermond and Jean-Baptiste Maillet) are back with their latest handmade spectacle, Stellaire – a love story unfolding through space and time, set in a magic-lantern world. Using paper, chalk, charcoal, sand, silhouettes and projection, these virtuoso visual artists create wondrous cartoon-theatre that emerges before the audience’s eyes.


Another crucial element of this year’s Festival continues from 2021: the commissioning of a series of five short films. Last year’s commissions were for UK artists – including Andrew Dawson, whose film, Joseph points out, has gone on to be shown at short film festivals worldwide. This year, the emphasis is on overseas artists. As Joe says, ‘this time we thought, given the problems of bringing in work from overseas, we’d preserve the ‘international’ element of the Festival through film commissions. We went to people whose work we know and like and asked them to create a short film between 3-10 minutes long that isn’t driven by spoken text’. 

‘The artists have a completely free hand to do what they like,’ says Helen, ‘and as things stand, we are as much in the dark as you are!’

The commissioned artists include Dewey Dell (Italy), an offshoot of the legendary Castelluci company, whose work features choreography, music and drama inspired and nourished by images from art history and the animal kingdom; and Hiroaki Umeda (Japan), a Tokyo-based choreographer, photographer and video artist creating mesmerising visual environments for his visceral live performances. As someone who uses video in his work, commissioning him to make a short film seems like a good move!

Then, there’s Delgado Fuchs (Switzerland), who Helen and Joseph first encountered at the Avignon Festival where they presented what Helen describes as a ‘happening in an art gallery’. Their body-based work involves dance, performance, installation, photography, video, fashion and fine arts, and fits no conventional categories.

Gabriela Muñoz

Gabriela Muñoz from Mexico is a clown best known for her portrayal of a woman desperate for companionship and marriage in Perhaps, Perhaps, Quizas, seen at LIMF 2018. Her Instagram feed is full of the most wonderful visual images – photographs that have been recently gathered into a book – so it will be very interesting to see her switch from still to moving image. 

Finally, Patrick Sims (France/USA) is the founder and former creative director of Buchinger’s Boot Marionettes, then creating his current company Les Antliaclastes, who have been seen at LIMF numerous times; making anarchic and eclectic work which uses a unique blend of different puppetry techniques and styles, together with masks, automata and other machines, and original organic soundtracks. He has a fine eye for detail, so this will be one to look out for. ’Expect something like a cross between the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer,’ says Helen, ‘although, of course, he may surprise us with something completely different!’

‘We need also to mention Abel & Gordon, our film collaboration with the Barbican,’ says Joseph. Long-time friends of the festival, Belgium-based comedy duo Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel present three of their early shorts. In Rosita (1997) the pair are a fortune teller and her assistant, working out of a dilapidated caravan; in Merci Cupidon (1994) attraction sparks between their two oddball singletons in a strange, out-of-the-way nightspot; and in Walking on the Wild Side (2004), an awkward misunderstanding occurs between a man and a cleaning-lady. Phenomenal physical performers, the duo is steeped in the grand French physical-comedy tradition of Jacques Tati and Pierre Étaix, who are also represented in the programme. 

Abel & Gordon: Merci Cupidon

There is also a further film element to the Festival with the showing of a programme of shorts by legendary puppeteer Heather Henson, and the presentation of a filmed piece called COLD, which Joseph says is ‘a gripping piece of work – really good film-making.’ 

Described as ‘a dark fairy tale about love, grief, madness and redemption’, COLD was created by acclaimed Lecoq-trained physical theatre-maker Claire Coaché, and her husband, the award-winning playwright and film-maker Lisle Turner. It is based on their own experiences of baby loss and first-person testimony from other grieving parents – giving a lie to the cliché that physical and visual theatre can’t deal with serious subjects, which Joe says is ‘a hoary old fallacy that we still live with, 40 years on’.

Both of the above will be screened online on from 12 January.

COLD. Photo Kie Cummings

Workshops have always been an important part of the Mime Festival’s programme, and this year is no exception. Last year, the workshop programme went wholly online – allowing for a worldwide engagement. This year, the online element is maintained, including the instantly sold-out offering by legendary American clown Avner the Eccentric, and from closer to home, a mask workshop by Vamos Theatre.

In person, there will be numerous offerings, including the always-popular Angela de Castro. Then, there is The Brides project by David Glass, which Helen describes as ‘ a development workshop. Participants don’t pay, but apply to be part of the group,’ adding that ‘David is all over the place building bridges, making connections. I admire his tenacity!’

So there we are – the London International Mime Festival 2022, ready to launch! 

‘More by judgement than luck we’ve put together a festival that has a balance of new names and established artists, says Joseph. ‘a mature programme with exciting new departures. And film is now an important part of the programme…’

‘We just hope for the artists’ sake it can go ahead and audiences will turn up,’ adds Helen. ‘We have all our Covid protocols in place – and we are ready to jump, whichever way.’

As I write this article (post-Christmas) comes the good news that there will be no further lockdowns, and theatres can stay open. The London International Mime Festival post on social media that it is All Systems Go for the live shows.

Let’s leave the last word to Joseph: ‘We are very excited and confident about what we think is a great programme for what is now the country’s longest running annual international theatre festival – I’m as delighted to be doing it now as I was when it started.’

Vanishing Point: Interiors. Photo Niall Walker

Featured image (top): Theatre Re: Bluebelle. Photo Chris Nash.

Visit for further information and bookings.

The five commissioned short films are hosted on  and the Festival’s YouTube channel and are free-to-view from 12 January 2022.

London International Mime Festival is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. 


When your world spins, and seismic shifts occur that mean that nothing is ever going to be the same again, what do you do? Make a show about it! This is the story of the new Scarabeus Aerial Theatre project, Emerging.

‘I felt that suddenly my life had gone completely upside down – and not the upside down I know as an aerialist – upside down in a very different way.’

Daniela Essart is talking to me just before Trans Parent Day, which falls on the first Sunday of November – a day that originally marked and celebrated the large number of people who are both trans and parents, but which in recent years has also included the parents of trans gender young people. Daniela and her partner in life and work, Søren Nielsen, fall into that second category.

The couple are co-directors of Scarabeus Aerial Theatre: Daniela is artistic director and creator-director of the company’s shows; Søren Nielsen is executive and technical director.

In April 2019, their world – as Daniela puts it – turned upside down in a new and unfamiliar way when the person that they considered to be their daughter, Naissa, came out publicly as trans-male. 

Now, Daniela and Naissa are co-creating a new show, Emerging. It is a show about transitioning and transformation; about art as a healing mechanism; about knowledge, advocacy, and alliance with the genderqueer and trans community. 

Emerging will have a separate but linked documentary film touring with it. Show and film are in progress now, and will premiere at The Lowry in Salford in autumn 2022. Naissa has worked with his parents’ company before, but this is the first Scarabeus project for which Daniela and Naissa will carry an equal artistic responsibility for the content of the work – and there are sound and specific reasons for this: the show aims for complete honesty about the upheavals in their lives, to explore the topic in innovative ways, and to present Naissa’s and Daniela’s points of view with equal balance.

The story of how this project has come about is an extraordinary one, weaving together life and art in a complex and challenging way.

So let’s start at the beginning…

Daniela Essart and Naissa Essart-Nielsen, Emerging R&D at NCCA, Spring 2021. Photo Henri T

‘Will you take me by the hand and guide me through the appearing and disappearing of you, because this is what I fear the most; to lose you, my child.’ – Daniela

‘It is painful.  It is beautiful.  It is important.’ – Naissa

‘We realised we were navigating an extremely complex journey,’ says Daniela, who had thought that ‘things had somehow been resolved’. By which she means that Naissa, who had always been a ‘tomboy’ (to use the common vernacular) as a child, had gone on to consider themselves to be non-binary as a teenager. And Daniela had thought that the old worries about feminine identity were somehow resolved in this decision to present as an androgynous person. But this wasn’t the case. Naissa was, at that time, in the middle of a dance foundation year at the Northern Contemporary School of Dance (now studying for a degree at the London Contemporary Dance school), but that most crucial of necessities for a dancer – to be at ease in one’s own body – was missing. A simple ‘how are you?’ question that Daniela put to Naissa whilst driving back from a Scarabeus project they were both working on became a dropped bombshell. Not OK. Not well at all. Not happy inside the body of a woman. Not able to relate to the image in the mirror…

Naissa subsequently took the decision to come out publicly as trans, to start taking hormones, and to have ‘top surgery’. Decisions Daniela found very hard to deal with.

‘I really could not understand why my child – who was brought up free to wear whatever she wanted and always looked androgynous in any case – why Naissa could not see that she-or-he could absolutely pass and didn’t need to do this further, invasive, and irreversible treatment at such a young age. This is someone who was brought up without drugs and medicines and other interventions to the body. I tried to negotiate a postponement. Everything seemed to happen so quickly. You are trying to buy time, to delay… Any argument I tried to put forward, I just encountered the determination that these things needed changing.’

From Naissa’s perspective, his decision was clear-cut and unavoidable, not open to negotiation.

‘For me, my transition isn’t about how I’m seen by other people,’ he says when we speak on Zoom a week or so after I meet with Daniela, ‘it’s to feel comfortable in my skin. My transition doesn’t feel anything to do with gender – it is about being in a body I want to live in – becoming myself, not becoming a man.’

So there we have it: two very different points of view. Two people – a parent and their adult child – who love each other, but find it difficult to work things out. What to do? 

Naissa Essart-Nielsen, Emerging R&D in Cornwall, Summer 2020. Photo Sky Neal

Our transitions together have been for different lengths, different paces. I feel ready for this, and I never want to hurt you. I love you so dearly, and I want you on my journey with me, where we can work together.’  – Naissa

What do I know about what it means to live in a body that doesn’t feel like home? Me, who has a body that has served me well all of my life! I have travelled through many internal and external landscapes, but this is completely new and unexplored for me; it feels mysterious and elliptical, shape-shifting and somehow dangerous.’  – Daniela

A good friend suggested that the two write to each other. As Daniela puts it ‘Everything is so emotional. It’s very difficult to listen without suggesting or answering back. Listening, really listening, is an incredible skill.Writing letters gives you the time to distil what you want to say to the other person. You say it in a less triggering, less reactive, way.’

So the person writing the letter can take the time to think about it, and the other person can take the time to read it and re-read and accept – or, at least, acknowledge – a differing point of view…

And Naissa says, ‘When I came out I was living in Leeds – then I came home for three months before starting my degree – it was difficult to be around something that was so hard for my mum, and whenever I saw her it would be quite painful and emotional. With letters, you can say what you want to say uninterrupted – similar to when you hold space for people so they can say what they want to say, and the other person can’t influence how you say something…’

And whilst Daniela and film-maker Sky Neal – a long-time Scarabeus collaborator – were talking about this letter-writing process, Sky, a mother herself, and someone who knows both Daniela and Naissa well – suggested they make a short documentary film that would give justice to both stories. 

‘I realised,’ says Daniela, ‘that if you do any kind of search on the internet you’ll find tons of material about different perspectives on gender, you’ll find a lot of Ted talks, or websites that talk about trans gender from the point of view of trans gender people and you may find a little bit about how as a parent you can support your trans child – what you don’t find is a place where there is an equal representation and a dialogue about how this journey makes you completely reconsider everything – your values, what you believe in life. There is neither an artistic representation nor an accurate documentary representation. And as a mother, I felt that my voice was completely unheard.’

Daniela Essart, Emerging R&D in Cornwall, Summer 2020. Photo Sky Neal

And so, for Daniela, the idea began to grow that this could be not only a documentary film but also a show – made and performed by Daniela and Naissa, working in collaboration with other artists, the pair using their very able skills as circus-theatre and dance artists to explore this volatile dynamic of growth, change and acceptance. Because, if you’re an artist, Daniela feels, why wouldn’t you use your art to explore one of the most complex things that had occurred in your life?

But what did Naissa think when that idea was first mooted?

 ‘I was very resistant at first,’ he says, ‘mostly because at this time our relationship was very – potent. Emotional, and sensitive. Charged. I wasn’t sure it’d work out, but we had a week’s work outdoors in the woods arranged with choreographer Becky…’

This being Becky Namgauds, a young choreographer who both Naissa and Daniela admire and were keen to work with. Sky was also involved in filming the footage that would later be used for the Emerging teaser

‘We started to work in Queens Woods in Highgate, near our home, during the 2020 lockdown,’ says Daniela. ‘Legally, we had to work outdoors because of the pandemic – so we saw it as a gift rather than a restriction. We decided to rig directly from trees. Naissa wanted to work with a bungee harness close to the floor and I wanted to work with an aerial cocoon. Becky also encouraged us to work on a floor-based contact dance duet’.

‘Becky is great,’ says Naissa, ‘Really good at helping pull out ideas without directing – facilitating the space and facilitating support and care – helping us creatively communicate…’ He also reflects on the vital role dance plays in his life, saying: ‘For me movement and dance are very much about communicating. I like dancing because it makes me feel I can communicate something I can’t verbalise, and hopefully people will feel that without the need to label it.’

From there, as things eased up in summer 2020, they went to Cornwall to work at greater length with Sky, who is based there.

‘We wanted to work with the metaphor of the elements,’ says Daniela. ‘We used the rocks and the water. I wrote a piece of text called Elemental. I felt very much that Naissa was a water creature – changing, morphing – and that I was a rock, but one that was crumbling…’

Naissa remembers it as a difficult but rewarding experience: ‘Sky filmed each of us reading from our letters, plus some movement on the beach. Daniela did some aerial work in the forest – and then there was the abseiling on the cliffs – a really beautiful moment.’

Ah yes, indeed a beautiful moment! One that will be incorporated into the show as film footage (because transporting a cliff-face round the country would pose a fair few difficulties!). I tell Naissa that Daniela and I have had an interesting conversation about how different people view this image, particularly in relation to the text that appears with it: ‘Travel slowly and safely.’ I see it as two people in a situation where risk has been carefully calculated, and safety precautions have been responsibly thought through. Other people see it as a moment of great danger – a point of no return, almost.

‘The only thing I could think about was that we were really on the edge,’ says Naissa, ‘and – this isn’t morbid at all, but there was something very freeing about the thought that if I were to fall, it’d be OK!’

Musing on the time spent in Queens Wood and Cornwall, Naissa says: ‘It was hard, but the more we did it the less hard it became, and I realised that the reason, probably, why it was so hard for me was because there were loads of things I didn’t feel able to communicate…’

Daniela and Naissa ‘on the edge’: Emerging R&D in Cornwall Summer 202. Photo Sky Neal

‘You my perfect child, who grew inside me, whilst I felt every movement, kick and turn of you. You who I love more than anyone else in the entire world. I look at you, exquisite human being, with the most beautiful face, the loveliest and most attractive of bodies, which enables you to do what you most love in the world – dance, move… Why should you need to change it, tamper with it?’  – Daniela 

‘My whole life has not worked up to this, this is not my final completing goal in life. This is a necessary step that I need to continue on my journey to have some grounding in my life. I am still Naissa as you have always known me, you are still Mamma to me. I just have to take these steps towards the changes in my body that will make me feel at home.’ – Naissa 

After some months of reflection, the project moved on with another research and development period in April 2021 – this time indoors at the National Centre for Circus Arts (NCCA) in Hoxton, with the support of a modest Arts Council England grant.

There was just a week booked in the NCCA creation studio, but before that came a lot of preparation – Daniela as director of the project liaising with Naissa, choreographer Becky and numerous other collaborators, including  Scarabeus co-director Søren and rigger Graeme Clint, video designer Nina Dunn, and stage manager/photographer Henri T. Filmmaker Sky also came in for two half-days.

Daniela Essart, cocoon, Emerging R&D at NCCA, Spring 2021. Photo Henri T

‘We really looked at this one specific scene using the cocoon, with a text I wrote about giving birth to Naissa,’ says Daniela. This text had been enclosed with Daniela’s first letter to Naissa. There was also work on the bungee harness by Naissa, exploring broken dialogue, and the dynamic of love versus frustration. When I talk to Naissa, I muse on the image of the bungee as an umbilical cord – although it’s not something he particularly feels himself about the apparatus: ‘It never occurred to me, but I suppose that is how it could be seen, visually. I’m really interested in the bungee – I feel most in my element. It feels safe in the way that I know exactly how I’m expressing myself, how I’m moving. I feel in control, and in communication.’ 

Another key piece of equipment is a big suspended net, modified in various ways by video artist Nina, who projected abstract textures and concrete images of sea water, the sky, and sunflowers onto the white net and the two performers.

‘I think I was very worried that the net – which was Daniela’s idea – would be received as a typical image of entrapment and all of that kind of stuff,’ says Naissa, ‘But with the lights off, and projections on it, it looked like a surface not a net. Every step you take affects the other person – so it became a metaphor for relationships and communication, where if you take a big leap it’s going to throw the other person off, but if you tread carefully together you can go on the journey.’

Daniela sees it as ‘the web of life, a metaphor for how, in a relationship, you continuously affect each other. There is a ripple effect – you are continuously connected’. She tells me that she was inspired by the visual artist and sculptor Chiharu Shiota, who weaves enormous web-like installations that people can walk through; and her vision for the new show is for it to be an immersive piece, with audience placed around and underneath. She is working with rigger and maker Joe White on the creation of a web that can be rigged and toured relatively easily.

The two performers also explored the use of two suspended Cyr wheels, strung with webbing so that they looked like giant dreamcatchers – Scarabeus will also be commissioning the making of two large hoops for the show’s tour. 

Naissa Essart-Nielsen, bungee harness, Emerging R&D at NCCA, Spring 2021. Photo Henri T

So, the first stage of research and development is done, a premiere booked for autumn 2022, and the film-making is in progress. What happens next?

Daniela is keen to emphasise that the documentary film being made by Sky, and the live performance work, are being viewed as separate enterprises, each sourcing funding independently. The documentary will be around 15–20 minutes long, and could potentially be shown in the same venue as the show during the tour. But it will also have its own independent life.

The next stage of the creative process for Daniela is to work on scripting the piece. There are plans for her to work with a dramaturg on the creation of the show’s script – ideally someone from within the LGBTQ+ community who has experience with multi-discipline art-making that incorporates the use of text. As writer-director, Daniela is already musing on the staging and the relationship with audience: ‘I have some specific ideas about how I want it to start. The audience will come into an installation – a space created in a certain way.’

Because the physical dance and circus-theatre work in the show will be intense, Daniela feels that the text will almost certainly be pre-recorded and incorporated within the soundscape, which is going to be created by composer/musician Domenico Angarano, who is a music lecturer at London Contemporary Dance, and thus somebody that Naissa knows and has worked with. The score will be completed by summer 2022 so that it is ready (or as near as possible) for when the company return to the rehearsal studio. Daniela has a meeting planned with Nina Dunn to talk about the use of multiple projections in the space, and the two will work together on the creation of films and projections that use historic family photos and video. Discussions are in progress (led by Søren) about the rigging issues and the construction of the bespoke circus equipment. Then, there will be discussions with Becky on how to negotiate the next phase of physical performance work.  ‘So far we haven’t touched the things that are the most difficult and painful,’ says Daniela, ‘things which you can’t skive away from if you are making a piece that wants to make people understand the navigation of a complex journey’.

Naissa, though, feels that it is getting easier, and especially values the contact dance work initiated by Becky: ‘At the beginning of my coming out, we were both very resistant to each other and so I think the contact work can be seen as a way to trying to approach things with love – for my mum, there was resistance because she was worried about my health and safety, and I really didn’t see it that way until recently… So it became about trying to approach things with tenderness and love even if we disagree.’

Daniela Essart and Naissa Essart-Nielsen, contact dance, Emerging R&D at NCCA, Spring 2021. Photo Henri T

As things stand, Naissa and Daniela are both going to perform in the show. Both talk to me about the need for physical and emotional safeguarding in the rehearsal/performance space – which they feel they have managed to achieve so far, with the support of the team. For Naissa, the fact that he was undergoing such drastic physical changes, on top of the emotional and psychological shifts that they were both making – added to the pressure. But he feels he was supported all along the way. ‘With each stage of work I was further along the road with adjusting to the hormones. The more it was settling in, the more I felt I was inhabiting my own skin not someone else’s. There are changes in the way I move, and how I am in the space. And everything has drastically changed since I’ve had chest surgery. Last time we worked together I was four months on hormones, and Becky noticed that my energy was very different, and I was much more happy. It is nice that other people can feel it too!’

Naissa now has the final year of his degree to get through before re-engaging with the making of Emerging – so is grateful for a bit of a gap before the next creation period. There is also another reason why these relatively large gaps between the practical work sessions are a blessing: ‘It’s nice to have such big chunks of time in between because, personally, it feels very heavy – even though it is a positive thing, it is emotional to go back in there, so it works for me that it is quite spaced out. Each time I go back in I have more perspective and more understanding and empathy for myself and for my mum.’

For Daniela, the process feels fresh and good as, for the most part, she is collaborating with people who are outside of the usual Scarabeus circle of artists – often people who are nearer to Naissa’s age than to hers, and in some cases, people from the LGBTQ+ community, which feels right.

‘I have deliberately chosen people who don’t know me and Naissa personally – mostly people who I haven’t worked with before. I needed that tabula rasa – to work with people with no pre-conceptions of who I am and what I create.’

For both, communication and advocacy is the main reason for it all. As Naissa puts it:

‘I don’t want to do it for myself, more for people who can’t – especially if it helps to shift perspectives for people who don’t know trans people, who don’t have trans children. If the art could be some form of activism or create some sort of impact, that’s all that I would want. I don’t really know what it’ll do for me – but I hope it’ll help other people and create empathy and love.’

In one of his letters, Naissa lists a number of words, capitalised. It feels a sound note to end on, as a summary of the process of creating Emerging:




Daniela Essart and Naissa Essart-Nielsen, Emerging R&D ain Cornwall, Summer 2020. Photos Sky Neal

Emerging is co-created by Daniela Essart (artistic director & performer) and Naissa Essart-Nielsen (collaborator & performer) for Scarabeus Aerial Theatre.

For more on the company, and updates on the progress of Emerging, see 

Emerging is due to premiere autumn 2022, and is commissioned by the Lowry and supported by Jacksons Lane

The Emerging film teaser was funded by Arts Council England and Paul Hamlyn Emergency Funds. Shot and directed by Sky Neal, with additional footage by Mark Morreau. See: 

The Emerging R&D in April 2021 at National Centre for Circus Arts was funded by Arts Council England.

Total Theatre Artists as Writers – 2021 Participants Announced


We are delighted to announce that thirteen artists have been selected to take part in the Total Theatre Artists as Writers scheme, which will run from November 2021 to March 2022.

The chosen participants will take part in a series of online workshops, and will then work in smaller groups, and receive one-to-one mentoring sessions. Participants will have their work published by Total Theatre Magazine at 

We will also be commissioning a number of new long-form articles from established artist-writers.

There will be three main strands of research that participants will pursue throughout the programme:

Reflecting on and writing about the artist’s own journey and current practice

Research into the work of other artists, companies, organisations, or artforms/strands of practice (contemporary or historic) that the artist has a particular interest in – with reference to the Total Theatre Archive and/or other archives or resources

Reflection on the diversification of the theatre/performance/outdoor arts/circus sectors, with sessions delivered by guest workshop leaders, and an encouragement to research and create articles written by or about artists of colour, LGBTQ+ artists, artists from working class & migrant communities, and on community responsive theatre- and art-making 

As always, our interest will be on the cultivation of the artist’s voice, with the emphasis on practice-based (rather than academic) research, reflection, and writing.

We have selected a diverse (in every sense of the word) group of people representing different artforms and modes of practice within the Total Theatre sector, with a good geographic spread across the UK; and we have included emerging, mid-career and established artists. We had a high number of overseas applicants, and allocated 25% (three places) accordingly.

The project is funded by Arts Council England and a number of key industry partners: Out There Arts, Without Walls, London International Mime Festival, Polari LGBTQ+ Literary Salon, and Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. We thank all of our partners for your support.

A full list of participants in Total Theatre Artists as Writers 2021 follows, with short biogs for each artist.

Dorothy Max Prior

On behalf of the Total Theatre Magazine Editorial Team

Contact Max on:

Featured image (top): Naomi Silman. Photo Juliana Hilal

TT Artists as Writers 2021 – Participants List

Lorna Rees. Photo Jayne Jackson

Lorna Rees

Lorna Rees is an outdoor artist. She is artistic director of Gobbledegook Theatre, a multidisciplinary arts practice who make innovative, national and international touring work, usually inspired by Earth Sciences. Lorna is also an activist, with a long history of socially engaged practice making interventions under the title of ‘Disruption & Joy’.  

Twitter: @thegobbledegook

Instagram: @gobbledegooktheatre

Talita Moffatt

Talita is passionate about diversity, access and equality in their broadest sense and has earned her stripes in the arts industry as a dancer, teacher, project manager then producer. This year Talita has returned to the studio to lead and direct her original concept piece The Paradise Bar bringing together an all-black cast of Deaf and hearing performers to share aspirational stories through a fusion of dance, spoken word, BSL, music and film. 

Lane Paul Stewart

Lane’s theatre practice speaks strongly of his northern working class origins and the LGBTQIA+ community, challenging overused representations of these groups and championing the notion of the ‘other’ with material that advocates non-elitist theatre, critiques social inadequacy and is always hopeful for change. Lane completed his masters degree at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and presents work through his company, Facing North Theatre. 

Instagram: @lanepaulstewart & @facingnorththeatre

Facebook: @facingnorththeatre

Jamie Wood: I Am a Tree. Photo Ben Duffy

Jamie Wood

International Art Clown Jamie Wood is a performer, director and teacher renowned for creating striking and accessible theatre. His work reflects a training in fine art, theatre, clown and dance. Over the last ten years he has focused on touring his trilogy of critically acclaimed solo shows, Beating McEnroe, O No! and I am a Tree.

Twitter: @jamieofthewood

FK Alexander

FK Alexander is a Scottish performance artist who works with noise music to make action-based live art. The pieces  are often durational, site responsive or unrepeatable. This work frequently involves hammers, strobes, volume, sensation, destruction, and Judy Garland. FK has gratefully received various awards, and has toured extensively across the UK, Europe and America.

Twitter: @fkalexander

Instagram: @f.k.alexander @thewretchedpast

Naomi Silman 

Naomi Silman is a performer, clown, director and teacher with award-winning Brazilian theatre ensemble Lume Teatro. In 25 years of celebrating theatre as the art of the encounter, she has created and performed shows in a variety of languages including physical theatre, clowning, dance, street theatre and large-scale outdoor community-based interventions. Born in London, she trained with Philippe Gaulier and at the Lecoq school before moving to Brazil in 1997.

Instagram: @lumeteatro @naomisilman


Andrew Simpson

Andrew Simpson is a theatre maker, performer and clown based in Glasgow.

He makes original performance work solo and in collaboration with other artists, working outdoors and indoors. His practice is influenced by a diverse range of artists including Odin Teatret, Jackie Chan and Limmy.

Instagram: @adrenalismscot

Liza Cox

Liza Cox is a theatre maker, director and puppeteer. She is co-artistic director of Baubo, a new physical/street theatre company rooted in visual design and traditions of clown and bouffon. As a performer-maker, her process is rooted in materiality and play. She trained in Lecoq and is currently undertaking an MA in Performance Design at Leeds University.

Jonathan Irakiza 

Jonathan is the founder-director of Young Circus Performers company, which is based in Kigali, Rwanda in East Africa. He has worked for 15 years as an artist, circus performer, acrobat, and theatre performer; and as a circus and acrobatics trainer and ‘circus entrepreneur’. He organises holiday camps for vulnerable children, tours to refugee camps, is currently setting up the Rwanda Circus Arts Festival, and is founder of Rwanda’s artistic cycling project for vulnerable children.


Twitter: @rwacrobats

Instagram : @rwacrobats

Lily Norton

Moving and creating from a young age, Lily is an autistic dancer, writer and visual artist who works with both traditional and digital media. As an advocate for disability justice and a proud queer, non-binary disabled artist, Lily is passionate about inclusivity and developing creative integrated methods of increasing accessibility to dance and the arts.

Ruby Burgess

Ruby is a circus and physical theatre artist based in Bristol. She is a graduate of the Circomedia BA course where she specialised in static and swinging trapeze, and now teaches. She is interested in creative accessibility and making absurd comedy about socio-political subjects. She also runs a circus podcast which you can find at  

Instagram: @notmymonkeyspodcast

Eliezer Kasereka Mbakulirahi

Eliezer is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2014, he met German theatre director Claus Schrowange, who trained him in Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques. He worked for two years in the Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo), learning how participatory theatre could contribute to peace in war-torn regions. In 2016 he co-founded The Rutshuru Amani Kwetu Theatre of the Oppressed group for peace, reconciliation, legality, and equality.

Rowan Prescott Hedley

Rowan Prescott Hedley is a poet, playwright, songwriter, and performer based in Dorset. They use mixed discipline performance with improvisation and audience participation to engage traditional audiences in non-traditional theatre and question their assumptions, biases, and perspectives. They feature queer, neurodivergent, and intersectional themes in their work.

Notes for Editors

More about Total Theatre Magazine

Total Theatre Magazine champions artist-led critical writing, putting the practitioner at the heart of the discourse about their own work and the work of their peers. For more than thirty years the magazine, first in print and now online, has played a crucial role in promoting and championing alternative theatre and performance practice in the UK. The Total Theatre Magazine website can be viewed at  The Total Theatre Magazine Print Archive is at 

Total Theatre Magazine also runs a number of other projects, including Total Theatre Talks, presented in collaboration with festivals and venues across the UK; Total Theatre Training & The Writing’s On the Streets, offering one-off or short-course writing workshops; and Total Theatre Artists as Writers, a three-month+ scheme mentoring artists who wish to write about their own and other’s work.

Total Theatre Magazine first ran the Total Theatre Artists as Writers training and CPD programme as part of our Total Theatre Print Archive project in 2019. For that incarnation of the programme, participants reflected on their own practice in relation to artists’ work explored through the archive: See  This went so well that TTM ran the programme again in 2020 (completely online this time). The third iteration runs November 2021 to March 2022. Articles generated from the programme will be posted on the main website: 

More about our partners

Out There Arts 

Out There Arts / National Centre for Outdoor Arts and Circus produces the Out There International Festival in Great Yarmouth each September with one of the largest programmes of circus in the UK, as well as producing other large-scale shows and events, including the new Fire on the Water. They also run the Drill House International Creation Centre – a 20,000 square feet complex for creation, training, fabrication, community activity and events working with UK and International Artists and Companies.

Out There Arts is funded by Arts Council England and supported by Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Norfolk County Council. 

For more information on Out There Festival 17–19 September 2021, see  

Without Walls

Without Walls is a consortium of over 35 festivals and arts organisations that brings fantastic outdoor arts to people in towns and cities across the UK. Since its formation in 2007, Without Walls has developed and toured over 200 new shows by UK companies and supported the Research and Development of over 75 projects. Without Walls commissions have toured widely both in the UK and internationally across 22 countries.

Without Walls is managed by XTRAX, an independent management and production company based in Manchester with over 20 years’ experience in Outdoor Arts: 

Without Walls is supported by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation.  |  | @WWconsortium

London International Mime Festival 

The London International Mime Festival (LIMF) is an annual theatre event in London. Its directors are Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan, winners of the International Theatre Institute Award for Excellence.

It was established in 1977 by Joseph Seelig and Nola Rae and it is the longest running event of its kind in the world – a month-long showcase for ground-breaking visual/physical theatre, new circus, object theatre and live art. 

LIMF returns in 2022 with a full programme of shows at venues across the capital from Wednesday 12 January – Sunday 6 February.  In addition to these performances, LIMF will run live and online workshops, after-show discussions with artists, and a new series of short films created by international artists. 


Polari is an award-winning LGBTQ+ literary salon. It was founded by author Paul Burston in 2007, and began in a bar in Soho. Since 2009, Polari have been based at London’s Southbank Centre. They also tour regularly, funded by Arts Council England.

The recent Polari Prize Tenth Anniversary Tour showcased writers long- and short-listed for the Polari Prize book awards for emerging and established LGBTQ+ literary talent, as well as winners from the Prize’s ten year history, dating back to 2011.

Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance

Rose Bruford College, based in Sidcup, south-east London, is a drama school offering degree programmes in acting, directing, and other theatre arts. The college teaching, learning and training ethos is based on artistry, collaboration, community, discovery, diversity, employability, independence, and professionalism. Students and staff work in collaboration across a number of campuses to make and produce over 75 shows a year.

The College mission is to achieve social and cultural impact by delivering the highest quality vocational training and education. Their teaching covers a wide, innovative spectrum of subjects and delivers proactive graduates who are creative, empowered and employable.