A unique part of the London cultural scene, Somerset House is an historic building where surprising and original work comes to life. From its 18th-Century origins, Somerset House has been a centre of debate and discussion – an intellectual powerhouse for the nation. Somerset House is today a key cultural destination in London where one can experience a broad range of artistic activity; engage with artists, designers and makers; and be a part of a major creative forum. An environment that is relaxed, welcoming to all and inspirational to visit, whilst providing a stimulating workplace for the cultural and creative industries.
Since its opening in 2000, Somerset House has built up a distinctive outdoor public programme including Skate, concerts, and an open-air film season. A diverse range of temporary exhibitions throughout the site focus on contemporary culture with an extensive learning programme attached. Now home to the biggest community of creative organisations in central London – including the The Courtauld Gallery and Institute of Art , King’s College London Cultural Institute and over 100 other creative businesses – Somerset House currently attracts over 3 million visitors every year.
Circus Originals, to be featured in the East Wing Galleries of Somerset House, explores the history of contemporary circus from the beginnings of the genre in the 1800s, through to the radical acts of the 1980s, to present day approaches. Throughout its history circus has always attracted the independent-minded, the delightfully curious, and the daringly different. This display uncovers a selection of the pioneer performers and ingenious acrobats who have transformed the circus genre, and demonstrates how their work has had an external influence on art, culture and the way we think.
Rose English Installation:-
Circus Originals features a new, site-responsive installation by Rose English, who emerged from the conceptual art, dance and feminist scene of 1970s Britain to become one of the most influential performance artists working today. Her fascination with circus – and especially equestrian arts – includes pieces drawn from the history and mythology of legendary riders, past and present. In new installation entitled Remember This!, she traces the roots of her fascination through the figure of Katja Schumann, a renowned rider of the traditional circus.
Alongside the Circus Originals exhibition, Somerset House will feature the biggest outdoor circus event in London – namely, Circus Sampler. Original partnerships and unusual collaborations have created exciting and distinctive contemporary circus shows to be premiered over two weekends at Somerset House in high summer. Bringing outstanding outdoor performances to the courtyard at Somerset House, Circus Sampler
matches hip hop theatre with Chinese pole and tight wire, virtuoso juggling with basketball skills and brass bands, hoola hooping with roller-skating to celebrate 250 years since Philip and Patty Astley pioneered circus in London. All performances and participatory events will be free to see on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Somerset House and visual theatre producers Crying Out Loud (based at Somerset House) have joined forces to commission and present compelling, large-scale work from 65 artists, including experimental hip hop theatre collective Far From The Norm, hoola hoop acrobat and twelve times Guinness World Record holder Marawa the Amazing and the Majorettes, juggling maestros Gandini Juggling with live brass music from French circus company Circa Tsuica.
To kickstart the first weekend of circus activity across the site, on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 July, Far From The Norm and a group of international and London artists perform the London premiere of new show Union Black that combines their signature fast-paced footwork and physical floor-work with Chinese Pole and tight-wire. Union Black is a bold fusion of humour, hip hop and circus that draws on the worlds of football and the politics of Brexit. Between performances, Marawa and the Majorettes stage their special brand of synchronised hoola hooping and roller skating, inviting audiences at the end of each show to learn how to spin a hoop.
On the second weekend, Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 August, trailblazers Gandini Juggling give the world premiere of a special commission, Cascade, accompanied by the rousing brass music played live by French company Circa Tsuica. Performing within the rhythmic rise and fall of the 55 water jets of the courtyard fountain, 30 jugglers will send balls large and small flying through the air in a constant flow of movement, water. For Cascade,
the Gandini’s are joined by ten basketball players and ten amateur jugglers.
Circus Originals Exhibition Dates: 25 July – 7 August; Opening hours: 10:00-18:00 daily; Address: East Wing Galleries, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA; Transport: (Underground) Temple, Embankment / Rail: Charing Cross, Waterloo, Blackfriars.
Circus Sampler Dates: 28 – 29 July and 4 – 5 August; Opening hours: 12:00-17:00; times of performances vary; Address: Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA.
[Credits: Somerset House Press Office; Twitter & Instagram: @SomersetHouse; old.ridehesten.com; pinterest.com; playtosee.com]