CircusFest, The Albany, London
Hyena by Alula Cyr is my recommended must-watch show so far this year. I have never really been a fan of Cyr wheel – not to suggest that I don’t like it, more that I have never seen a Cyr wheel performance that left me wanting more. Hyena, however, had me wishing the performance would never end.
Before I talk about the show proper though, I think the group of ‘mini hyenas’ who open for Alula also deserve some recognition. An energy filled group of young people from the local Deptford area take over the stage with their own animalistic tribe, performing dance and acrobatics with a distinctive style. Their dedication and professionalism is spot on and each and every one of them has a special skill to share.
Having heard a lot of good things about Hyena, my expectations as I take my seat are perhaps a little higher than they normally are. I am happy to say there is no disappointment. Hyena is an exciting, vibrant and honest exploration of a complex female bond. The show is a celebration of the power of womanhood and highlights how our abilities as individuals can benefit womankind as a group; or in Alula’s case, a tribe. But what has really made me fall in love with this show is it’s truthfulness. Despite being primarily a feminist work, Hyena does not shy away from some of womankind’s less favourable qualities.
The bitchiness and rivalry all women are capable of is playfully displayed from the start, when Fiona Thornhill and Lil Rice exclude Jessica Ladley, making her an outsider to the tribe. Their reaction to Ladley’s craving for inclusion is almost childlike and brought back memories of the playground politics of teenage girls.
In true female form, Ladley finds strength in this exclusion, using the feelings of rejection to build power deep inside her, exploding across the stage as a solo, unstoppable force; hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. The result is breathtaking, uplifting and inspiring. My thoughts suddenly changed from playground politics to women within politics, and how the oppression of women brought out the determination of movements such as the suffragettes. Hyena is a show that truly embodies the resilience of women.
The theme of rivalry runs throughout, with Thornhill and Rice frequently locking horns, always mischievous and finding moments to provoke one another. There is a cheeky quality to their friendship which keeps the piece lighthearted and easy to watch, which is important considering the varied audience they play for. Friendly feminism, as easy to enjoy as it is to understand.
Whilst easily fitting the ‘contemporary circus’ label through experimental form and meaning-driven content, Alula are not afraid of milking tricks for claps. While some contemporary shows pull away from displaying tricks for the sake of tricks, Hyena shows no shame in letting the audience know that a big trick is coming, nor do they avoided expressing their relief when a trick goes well. In other show’s I’ve seen I haven’t been a fan of performers quite so blatantly playing for the audiences reaction. In Hyena though, it works.
Firstly, the timing of this has been well considered. They do not open the show by demanding the audience’s appreciation. As the show progresses, the three women earn the audience’s friendship through their openness and honesty. The emotions they show are real and, as an audience, we can share in that experience. We grow to like them, and become part of their tribe. Secondly, the use of a ‘look what I can do’ attitude fits the show’s themes. Thirdly, Thornhill, Rice and Ladley are very talented, hard working, powerful young women, and their skills deserve the recognition they receive.
Hyena encourages the audience to challenge the world’s perception of female potential and capability. Any women who can stand up and say, ‘I can do this’ should be applauded, supported and encouraged. With this in mind I think Alula’s use of ‘tricks for claps’ is empowering.
As a show, Hyena has something to offer everyone. Beautiful movement, excellent acrobatics, stunning live vocals (written by Alula’s very own Lil Rice), and if that ticks even one of your boxes, then seeing all three artists spinning in one wheel will just be the cherry on the cake.