In conversation with Annabelle Holland about Kecca Rossa, this years only UK Circus Company remaining in ‘Jeunes Talents Cirque Europe 2010’.

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Kecca Rocca have been flying the Bristol Circus Theatre flag high this year, the only UK company to be selected for the next stage of the prestigious Jeunes Talents Cirque Europe (JTCE) programme for 2010, they are preparing for the showing their final piece in Paris in November.

The team comprises Annabelle Holland (Artistic Director), Jonathan Priest (aerialist, performer), Methinee Wongtrakoon (contortionist, hand balancer, dancer, performer from Stockholm), Nathan Hughes (film maker), Anna Barrett (technical manager, lighting designer) and Abi Hill (production manager, stage manager). 

JTCE is an artistic support programme for emerging creators in the circus arts field in Europe. It is aimed at assisting artistic research and creation in this field.

It has been a whirlwind year for Kecca Rossa and Annabelle.

Mike Martins (MM) Theatre Bristol Producer:

Firstly I’d like to say congratulations for making it through to the next round of this prestigious European Circus programme, tell us how your adventure in the Jeunes Talents scheme began?

Annabelle Holland (AH) Artistic Director of Kecca Rossa:

I wrote the application to take part a year ago and we were told in November 2009 that we had been among 10 companies from the UK to be selected from 140 companies Europe wide. We were given training sessions on how to make a presentation (led by Crying Out Loud) which were invaluable as well as mentoring from Rob Tannion (Stan Won’t Dance, DV8). This part of the process was great as all the selected companies took part and there was a real feeling of camaraderie and UK pride amongst us all.

Kecca Rocca enjoyed our first of three residencies at Circomedia in Bristol, and then took to the stage in London in front of a panel of European judges amongst the other 40 European companies. The standard at the London event was extremely high, it was great to see such a diverse group of companies showing such different work, and it was hard to see how the judges could choose between them. We showed chunks of work, which did not fit together as a show and felt that our piece was very cronky compared to some of the other work we saw. Thankfully for us, the judges were looking for exciting new ideas that needed developing, not a finished show and saw something in our work that excited them.

MM:  What happened after the showing?

AH:  Straight after the showing we had a panel interview with around 30 judges, which was initially the most terrifying part of the process but turned out to be an enjoyable way to meet some of the most influential people in circus in Europe. I found out that we had been selected for the next phase while I was in India, which resulted in a strange scene of me jumping up and down and whooping in front of a large group of Indians who didn’t understand what the strange woman was doing! When I returned I had the great news that Crying Out Loud wanted to produce the show, which was amazing, not only as they are well respected and successful producers, but also as they produce one of my heroes James Thierree.  Appearing on the same web page as him, resulted in more whooping, in the privacy of my own home this time!

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MM:  Tell me about the show itself, I realise it’s not a finished piece yet, but how would you describe it?

AH:  ‘BED’ is a voyeuristic journey into the private world of the beds and the heads of others – an eye to the keyhole of the bedrooms and dreams of everyday people. With one foot in the waking world and the other foot in different dream states, the show takes you on an astounding and surreal journey of constantly changing environments and emotions. It blends circus, video, music and theatre so they create a fantastic world of dark and light using poignant, beautiful and sometimes humorous imagery, derived from real life experiences. A world where anything can, and will, happen. Nightmare, Joy, Insomnia, Passion, Frustration, Loneliness, Love, Desperation, Fear, Insanity… All of these things, and more, come to us at some time in the middle of the night, in the only place where we are truly alone… our dreams.

MM:  It sounds like quite a complicated process working with so many mediums and trying to capture such a broad and complicated subject, how do you manage the process?

AH:  We are fusing essentially five different components, circus performance, complicated rigging, video, theatre and lighting. So, yes, this does make for an unusual and complicated process, which, each time we work together, develops.  As we work we are constantly finding new ways to work together so that we can devise organically with most of the artists involved having input from more or less the beginning. We have recently had the time to generate our own video footage to work with which has enabled us to be more creative.  This has had mixed responses, particularly from Jonathan who has found himself in some bizarre situations – in bed in the sea, drowning in a river, ripping a heart, being dragged through the forest in his pyjamas, in bed in a car park and in bed with a sheep!

MM:  How did the development of the original idea begin?

AH:  The first exploration of these ideas was in 2006 at ‘What If?’ A great initiative set up by CAST and Theatre Bristol to enable local artists to explore new ideas without the pressure of having to create new work. The experiments we set up had such a great response that I was spurred on to explore further at the next ‘What If?’ in 2007, where I was first mentored by Rob Tannion.

I’m extremely grateful to ‘What If?’ as, without it, these ideas would be just unexplored ideas and an unfulfilled dream that I could not have afforded to make.   As a result of seeing the work Helen Crocker suggested I apply for JTCE. I laughed as I’m not so ‘Jeune’ any more but realised then that it’s about the idea being ‘Jeune’ rather than the participants!

Everyone involved in the process has put in an overwhelming amount of work and energy with all of the devising leading up to final selection being unpaid. ‘BED’ initially was developed purely because of the goodwill, hard work and generosity of many people. We are excited to now have the backing to take it where it deserves to go.

MM:  What happens next?

AH:  We are now gearing up to two weeks in Paris with a residency in La Villette and a final 20 minute performance in Cite Internationale to the Parisian public and a brace of international judges and bookers. And then hopefully we will have even more support and resources to be able to fully realise the show.

Sadly, Bristol won’t get to see the fruits of our labours until Autumn 2011 when, with Crying Out Loud’s support we will be devising the full length show to tour in September/October 2011 and beyond.

MM:  What else do you feel you’ve learnt from this fantastic experience?

AH:  The events of this year and the development of this work have been amazing, my professional development as a director has been on a steep learning curve and I have been so lucky to have Rob Tannion there to mentor and advise me. I didn’t dare to dream that we would be this lucky and enter such a prestigious arena with high profile people showing an interest in our work. Before I had applied for this I was feeling gloomy about the economic outlook and the future of funding in this country. It just goes to show that it’s much more productive to apply for these things than being negative and gloomy! You’ve gotta be in it to win it! Cheesy I know but it’s out there, you just have to go for it.  Having said that we are far from the end of our journey and we still have a lot of work to do, this is a great opportunity and we are very aware that we haven’t proved ourselves yet.  Hopefully we are well on the way though!

I really must also thank the many people who have supported us, it has been quite overwhelming. All the artists and riggers who participated in the original explorations, What If, Crying Out Loud, Kate Hartoch, Briar Munro and Mike Martins from Theatre Bristol, Fineline, Enlightened, Circomedia who have been extremely supportive and their rigging staff who have been unendingly patient and helpful, not to mention Helen Crocker, without whom I would never have written the application.

MM:  Huge thanks to Annabelle for taking the time to do this interview, and we wish her huge success and look forward to seeing the show next year.