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Circus artist Lil Rice: ‘We broke the world record for the most Cyr wheel spins in a minute. We were dizzy!’

Lil Rice. Photo: Roger Robinson Lil Rice. Photo: Roger Robinson

Lil Rice makes up one third of Alula Cyr, which bills itself as the world’s first all-female Cyr wheel trio. She tells Giverny Masso why her company wants to create more female-centric circus…

How did you get into circus?

I went to Glasgow University, where I studied philosophy and theology, which I realised was going to make me go bananas. I then worked for my aunt, who runs a circus called Giffords. This led me to study a BA degree at the National Centre for Circus Arts. It was amazing and very full on; we were there from 9am to 7.30pm and we did a mix of many skills. I focused on tight wire in my first year, then I tried the Cyr wheel, which I’d never done before.

What exactly is the Cyr wheel?

It’s a large ring that rotates upright and also moves gyroscopically, like a penny. You do acrobatics inside it. It’s still a relatively new discipline. Fi [Thornhill], Jess [Ladley] and I were the first women to learn Cyr wheel at National Centre, and only two other people had learned it before that. When you commit to a move, the weight of the wheel takes you there. It’s so beautiful and mesmeric.

Was the training challenging?

Yes, it’s really hard. There is a lot of conditioning; it’s an amazing discipline as it uses your whole body. As there had not been any women before us we were taught all the same tricks as the men learned. We do many power moves, which women are often not taught. Normally women are expected to do the more graceful and flexible moves. It was not even a thing for us, and we didn’t notice it until we left school and saw we were different.

Tell me about your show, Hyena?

We won the best entrepreneurship award at the National Centre and received £10,000, which we used to research the show. We wanted to make a show about women, because we are women and at that point there were not many female-centric circus acts. This is our debut tour and our debut full show. We are producing it ourselves. One of the things we noticed is there’s a real lack of young up-and-coming female producers in circus. It is difficult, but very rewarding.

How is circus often male-centric?

There are a lot of females in circus, but you find you are watching a show and the women on stage are there in relationship to a man. Or often it is tiny, flexible women being thrown on stage by a huge man. It’s about being aware how we represent women on stage and not filling a show with clichés, like a woman being thrown around, slightly against her will. We are also teaching workshops alongside Hyena, which are sponsored by the Arts Council England, to young women about making responsible art.

How quickly can you spin in the Cyr wheel?

We just broke a world record. It was the most rotations in a minute with three people spinning inside a Cyr wheel. We did 61 rotations in 60 seconds. We were dizzy! We also broke the record for one person spinning in a wheel, which was 59 rotations.

CV: Lil Rice

Training: National Centre for Circus Arts in London (2012-14)

First professional role: Performing with Cirque Eloize at Birmingham Hippodrome (2014)

Hyena is running at the Albany in London on April 12 and 13 as part of CircusFest 2018, and at the Malvern Theatre on April 24. Visit thealbany.org.uk and malvern-theatres.co.uk

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