Cirque Mandingue / The Great Spalvados, Roundhouse, London (3/5, 4/5)


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The Independent Culture

Cirque Mandingue, who open the Roundhouse’s Circusfest season, have strong and exuberant acrobats, slightly hampered by a clichéd sense of theatre. The core team do pyramid balancing, tumbling and stomping dance moves. The energy dips when they start clowning or telling stories.

Founded by Yamoussa “Junior” Camara in 2009, this Guinean troupe is the result of a meeting between Guinean performers and French circus director Luc Richard. Directed by Richard and Christian Lucas, Foté Foré is the company’s first show. Funds generated by this international tour will go back to the circus school in Guinea.

Many of the acrobats started their training on the beaches of Conakry. The best scenes in Foté Foré look like training sessions in public, the performers focused on their work. Eight performers pile themselves into a pyramid, scrambling up each other’s shoulders until all eight are braced into the design. Apparently relaxed, the man on top hitches up his brightly-checked trousers before stretching a leg up past his ear.

It’s much more fun than the framing device, which brings a gormless Western tourist through the action, gawping vacantly or failing to keep up with the acrobats. He’s often paired with the troupe’s contortionist, whose twists are terrifying but repetitive, especially when they keep turning up in comedy scenes.  

The acrobats cheerfully show off in solo sequences, but they work best as a team. They look like maypole dancers as they gather round a vertical pole, each man helping to brace it with a rope. Taking turns on the pole, they hold their bodies out vertically in mid-air, working their way up and down with little bounces or daredevil slides.   

The show has dance elements, from hip hop to stamping traditional steps, with live drumming from London-based group Wuntanara. Again, the more elaborate staging has less impact; street dance scenes are carefully set up, but lack the energy of the big group dances.   

Running throughout Circusfest, Il Pixel Rosso’s The Great Spalvados is dizzying and hilarious. In this brilliant immersive performance, two audience members are led through the brick tunnels under the Roundhouse, chasing after the ringmaster. Putting on false moustaches and video goggles, you and your partner become the daredevil Spalvado twins. While the goggles give you a performer’s-eye view of the circus, you’re pushed and guided through actions to match, even taking part in the trapeze act. I came out disoriented and grinning.  

Foté Foré until 7 April. The Great Spalvados runs until 28 April. Box office 0844 482 8008.