Winner of the Autopsy Award for experimental performance from The Arches and Summerhall 2014/15
Nominated for a Total Theatre Award for Circus 2015
Ringside. A woman on a trapeze. The ghost of every glamorous woman you’ve ever seen on a trapeze high up in the big top, performing to the roar of the crowd. But she’s up-close in this intimate one on one aerial performance made for your eyes only. You can hear her breathing, watch every muscle twitch, see the bruises as her body performs revolt not acceptance. Lots of sweat, no sequins.
Created and Directed by Ellie Dubois
Performed by Francesca Hyde (at The Roundhouse & York Theatre Royal), Ellie Dubois (at Arches Live), Cory Johnson (at Summerhall) and Vee Smith (at Platform)
Lighting Design by Chris Hoyle
Print Design by Ruari Lambert
Ringside(4 stars) – The Herald – Mary Brennan
“Ellie Dubois’s Ringside is a clever reminder that a short solo – hers lasts around 10 minutes – can encompass more than an event that sprawls on for longer. Trains rumbling overhead become like a drum-roll for Dubois’s deft aerial display. It’s circus, but not as we usually know it – her routine on the trapeze is for an audience of one: you. This is where the balance is so cunningly achieved, on the cusp of a voyeuristic peep-show – she’s minimally clad – that then teases greedy eyes with acrobatic brinkmanship. This is one of those “artesian well” pieces: the more you reflect on it, the more it delves deeper into the realms of female empowerment, vulnerability, intimacy and control.”
(4 stars) – Fest Mag – Matt Trueman
A circus for one, Ringside gives you your own personal trapeze show – and it’s a superb examination of the ways in which we watch. By paring back the performance event to its bare minimum—somebody watching somebody else—Ellie Dubois’s one-on-one piece reveals the dynamic between audience and performer afresh.
Alone in an animal autopsy chamber, a meat-hook hanging from the ceiling, a chalky hand takes yours. Cory Johnson, dressed in skimpy, sequinned shorts, guides you inside, inviting you to take in the trapeze above. She stands you below it, then performs a slow, shifting routine overhead, meeting your gaze throughout.
It’s both generous and uncomfortable – a gift from performer to spectator and a challenge to reflect on the act of spectating. When you make eye contact, there’s no escaping the situation: two people in a room, nowhere to hide, no safety net. Each pause begs a question: who’s going to perform, you or her? Do you offer a leg-up to the bar? What do you do with your eyes? With your hands? Do you clap?
This close, you see everything: the make-up, the callouses, the sequins and strapping. You see muscles and wobbles and toes wrapped round wood – all signs of somebody working for your viewing pleasure. Inevitably, there are hints of a lapdance—you’ve paid, don’t forget—and Johnson hangs, head below heels, like a limp piece of meat. However, the power shifts every second, and soon she’s peering down from above, towering overhead. Who, you wonder, is performing for whom? Impeccable.
(4 stars) – Exeunt – Catherine Love
Circus tends to be about spectacle. We watch, we “ooh”, we “aah”. We want to see extraordinary feats, performed by impossibly strong and glamorous superior beings. It’s distant and impersonal, yet heart-stopping in its aloof skill.
Ringside inverts that. Led into a tiny old demonstration theatre – one of those spaces in Summerhall that’s all gloom and damp and rusty surgical instruments dangling from the walls – a performer takes my hand in hers, chalk on skin. A trapeze hangs from the ceiling, the air around it vibrating with anticipation. It’s just the two of us in here, spectacle distilled down to the uncomfortably intimate. It’s still heart-stopping, but in an entirely different way.
Ellie Dubois’ miniature one-on-one show lasts just ten minutes. It feels somehow both longer and shorter than that. Cory Johnson performs each move slowly, carefully. The control is extraordinary, yes, but not superhuman. This close up, I can see each muscle strain under the skin, almost feel the effort in my own body as I watch her. She’s also glamorous, but in this small space there’s no hiding the bruises, the strapping on her legs, the tiny beads of sweat that begin to form as the routine continues.
I think about how often the spectacles we look at are women: women displaying their beauty, women not wearing many clothes, women required to make effort look effortless. There’s no hiding the dynamic of watcher and watched in Ringside. Johnson holds eye contact like a dare, her gaze unsettlingly direct. She smiles, too, a smile that hints at that feminine requirement to please in a patriarchal society at the same time as fiercely defying it.
Delicate yet robust, Ringside manages to hold a lot within its brief ten minutes. It’s also an intriguing subversion of form, innovating contemporary circus – known for its large-scale tricks and displays of virtuosity – in an unlikely direction. And it’s oddly haunting, its ghost likely to hang over the festival’s other dazzling spectacles, a reminder of what’s really going on when we gawp and gasp.
(4 stars) – TV Bomb – Hannah Wright
Ringside, created and directed by Ellie Dubois, stars Cory Johnson as a trapeze artist in a performance unlike any circus you’ve seen before.
Taking place in Summerhall’s Demonstration Room, and lasting only ten minutes, this is a show for an audience of one. Awaiting your performance slot, you are led into an antechamber. The smell of the room—animals, sawdust and hay—gives a visceral reminder of the venue’s past life as a veterinary school. It also has connotations of a time gone-by, of touring big-top circuses and the animals that used to perform in the ring.
On entering the Demonstration Room, you stand behind a sliver of light. Inside the room you can see a trapeze swinging but whoever set it moving is nowhere to be seen. Set slightly outside of the main space, you feel like a voyeur peeking inside. A noise behind you alerts you to the fact that someone is approaching. A girl comes and stands beside you; she takes your hand and smiles. It’s then you realise you are not a voyeur, but that you are waiting in the wings, ready to take to the stage with her.
The show is intensely private, and at times you feel as much a part of the performance as the girl on the trapeze in front of you. The room is absolutely silent except for the dripping of taps and the breathing of the performer. It’s far away from the ringside glamour you might expect from a circus performance and this means you concentrate so much more on the strength, grace and presence of this girl on the trapeze. It’s an intense, personal performance full of beautiful imagery and thought-provoking moments, causing you to question the relationship between audience and performer, and to focus on the strength and physicality of the female form.
This is Cabaret – Lu Cyrus
Traditionally in Big Top circus the female aerialist is an object of desire, her distance as much a part of the other-worldly allure as her skimpy sequinned costume and her spectacular tricks. She is meant to be both sexy and unattainable, and that’s what keeps the audience coming back for more. What happens when you remove that distance and strip away the mystique? Ringside, devised by Ellie DuBois and performed by Francesca Hyde, shines a revealing spotlight on the world of circus through an intimate one-to-one encounter with a female trapeze artist. The show, which lasts around 10 minutes, was shortlisted for a Total Theatre Award at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and is currently showing at the Roundhouse as part of CircusFest 2016, where it will appeal to all who enjoy the thrill of being immersed in another world – and who appreciate having it all to themselves.
Led by an usher to the outer shell of the auditorium, the audience member is left to make their way in the dark to a beam of white light on the floor in front of the stage. As the eyes readjust to this twilight zone of circus, they take in the vast space, the empty seats, the invisible public. Looking ahead to the stage there is a trapeze in the spotlight, and various other pieces of circus equipment lurk in the shadows, ghostly overlays of other shows. After a minute or two footsteps are heard, and a girl comes into peripheral vision from the wings. She is petite, her hair is swept into a bun, and she is wearing a signature circus leotard, which in the dusky lighting has a faded glamour about it. She stands next to the audience member, her breathing audible, and for a moment they share the same perspective, looking ahead, anticipating the performance. She takes their hand in her chalky palm, and gently leads them on.
What follows is a personal encounter in a public space, built on the intense rapport established between performer and audience through a frank and reciprocal gaze. At first being looked at so directly is unsettling, but this is a two-way exchange, less a challenging game of blink, more an encouraging invitation to trust. By the time the performer takes to the trapeze – with deftly executed, studied manoeuvres – the engagement is such that the audience feels an integral part of the performance. At such close range, the contraction and release of muscles is visible, as are the welts, sweat and bruises that bear witness to the terrific energy going into every suspension of movement and release into a swing.
Far from being some remote celestial being, Ringside reveals the female trapeze artist to be a living, breathing, vital woman, and the empowering celebration of that reality creates its own magic. The charge of the connection, that feels so genuine, both lasts forever and is gone in a flash. Ringside is that potent blend of being both deeply satisfying and hauntingly elusive. It will have you turning it over in your mind afterwards, and it will have you coming back for more.