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Movement and circus artist Natalie James: ‘I was scared of heights, but now I am an aerialist’

Natalie James Natalie James

Natalie James will be performing a solo piece as part of hip-hop cabaret evening WorX at this year’s Breakin’ Convention, which is a festival of hip hop and dance theatre at Sadler’s Wells in London. James tells Giverny Masso how she tries to convey femininity and confidence through the piece…

How did you get into circus?
Circus was a development from my background in dance and gymnastics. I could see myself being up in the air. I did my degree at the National Centre for Circus Arts. I found it really hard, it was physically and mentally demanding. When something is so physical I find it also takes a mental toll, especially as I was raising my daughter by myself at the same time. However, I definitely know I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t been through that process.

What kind of circus and dance skills do you have?
My circus skills include hoop, aerial trapeze, aerial silks and trampolining – a bit of everything. In terms of dance, I started doing street dance, then I was introduced to contemporary dance in secondary school. After that I did dancehall and reggae and I have done freestyle and breakdance.

Tell me about your solo piece at Breakin’ Convention?
I thought: ‘How can I use a sexual song but keep it tasteful and do something that works in the concept of the show? How do I, as Natalie James, feel comfortable being in that space?’ I use the concept of my character imagining in the future what intimacy will be like with her husband. It doesn’t have a linear narrative, but I imagine my character is on a train and listening to a song that takes her to another place, which is this fantasy of intimacy with her spouse. I’m trying to create a sense of femininity and confidence.

Tell me about your process for creating work?
Sometimes I think: ‘How do I want this piece to look?’, but I also think about the way the music makes you feel. If I have an idea I’m a bit unapologetic if I make changes to it last minute, as long as I’m communicating with the rest of the team. Some people get scared of last-minute changes.

What challenges have you overcome in your career?
[At the beginning] I was scared of heights. As an aerialist I like to spin and to be pulled up and down – on and off the ground. But that means I have to trust the person lifting me and that was tough at first. Overall, I have been my own biggest challenge. Sometimes I have a vision for something and it will seem so extravagant and wild, I talk myself out of it. So going forward I’m conquering that.

What other plans do you have?
I am doing Hip Hop Palace – The Round Table at Underbelly Festival Southbank on April 26. I teach dance and circus in a few places. I have a couple of business ideas and I’m writing a book. I’m also reinventing a style called Broken Doll, which is a fusion of styles I invented in 2010.

CV Natalie James

Training: BA in Circus Arts at the National Centre for Circus Arts (2012-15)
First professional role: Performer in Blueprint at Stratford Circus Arts Centre (2008)
Agent: None

Breakin’ Convention runs at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London from May 3-6. More information is available at: breakinconvention.com

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