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Santa Madera review at Shoreditch Town Hall, London – ‘blood, sweat and a Cyr wheel’

Juan Ignacio Tula and Stefan Kinsman in Santa Madera at Shoreditch Town Hall, London. Photo: Christophe Raynaud de Lage Juan Ignacio Tula and Stefan Kinsman in Santa Madera at Shoreditch Town Hall, London. Photo: Christophe Raynaud de Lage
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Blood, sweat, soil – and a Cyr wheel. This is the stuff of Santa Madera, an eye-widening feat by circus performers Juan Ignacio Tula and Stefan Kinsman that keeps you amazed and slightly anxious for an hour, produced in collaboration with Compagnie MPTA and performed as part of the London International Mime Festival.

This daring show starts by examining the metallic materiality and sheer weightiness of the Cyr wheel – there’s palpable danger in the air as Kinsman lets it spin on its own around the space while nonchalantly manipulating the supine Tula into the centre. You fear for skulls, ankles and knuckles, but the worst never happens (although minor flesh wounds were sustained later).

In the wheel both performers play easily with dynamics, modulating from dizzying speed to slow, lolloping rotations, faces inches from the ground. All the while, the grinding drone of an electronic soundscape emphasises the clang and clattering impact of the wheel. The space at its centre becomes a site of intimacy, camaraderie, sometimes eroticism. Onstage soil adds an earthy, sensuous quality to interactions that veer between personal and ritual.

Tula and Kinsman tussle and shout, sometimes they ride the wheel together, one perched harmoniously on the other’s shoulders. Religious imagery appears – Tula props the bearded, bare-chested Kinsman onto the wheel, from which he hangs like a strawberry-blonde Jesus – and dissolves again.

In its study of vulnerability and masculinity, Santa Madera pushes at the boundaries of what the Cyr wheel can say. Hopefully with Savlon at the ready.

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Two fearless performers take to the Cyr wheel in an evocative and gasp-inducing show