STEP UP Creatives ensemble: Tallie Ellis (Designer)

Tallie Ellis

Circus folk are fit. And eating heavy chocolate cake in the middle of exercise isn’t particularly agreeable. I blame Becci’s birth.

It took me a good part of the week following to recover from our energetic “Circus Skills” session, led by Catherine Boot and Ria Ashcroft. The STEP UP Creatives ensemble had embarked that Sunday to explore the processes and motives of devising and refining within the broad spectrum of Circus Theatre – it also made the ensemble a lot better ‘physically’ acquainted. Tactile being the word of the day. From subsequent moanings via Facebook I understand the feelings of temporary crippling were mutual…

The morning began with a complex. A complex I have not faced for a while: here is a circuit; there are the mats; 45 seconds for each exercise. Go. Keep going. Yes, keep it up. Now, stop. Remember how to breathe. Gulp water and open some windows, please? Stretched and sweaty, we continued with handstands, cartwheels, roly-poly’s (all to varying degrees of success) and further stomach cramps from laughing! It wasn’t any more achievable on my part with Cat harmlessly teasing, “You probably haven’t done these since you were six!” Unfortunately Cat, my shamed six-year-old self had no chance of doing it either. A small blessing at this point was that Tilly and her camera had remained upstairs and had not come a-clicking to document our…”achievements.” Later in the day, however, accomplishments were digitally immortalised. (You can find these wonders somewhere on the internet: unhelpfully vague; self-worth intact.) Aside our general apprehensions, everyone’s efforts remained spirited: as Lesley and I proved, a debatable attempt at a cartwheel is far more exciting, aesthetically, as a dim yet perky frog. And I am also optimistic that Gareth‘s half samurai, half break-dancer moves are well worth squeezing into the final production…

Considerably warmer and after attempting Ria’s ‘sexy cat’ back stretch (a move best suited for private audiences) we tried some simple acrobatic moves. ‘We tried.’ The most fitting and noble description of the day’s efforts. It would (as is the incentive in any proper primary school) have ensured, if we’d had any, each of us skipping home to show off an extensive collection of shiny reward stickers! We rotated in groups, optimistically aiming for arrangements which I’ve roughly, sketchily sketched:


(1) Matt and Ollie had a moment with this move, glued to each other for an awkwardly long time…
(2) Becci and I got our head around this one by imagining ‘the base’ needed a regrettably difficult trip to the toilette…clench…
(3) With me at the base, Georgie (who was generally amazing at everything all day) was oh so very, very close to a no-handed flight…

After a much needed break, we played with eye contact and control. So. Jumping up and down in pairs, we locked each other’s gaze, as one was up and the other was down. Selina and I successfully managed to pout a lot and dry our eyes out in determination! Splitting into threes, two people locked eyes, mirroring each other’s movements, while the third travelled around the room absorbed in trying to steal the attention of one of the pair. Being of quite different heights and with a substantial amount of chest and elbow in the mix, Jenny, Lesley and I became quite hysterical and learnt someone will do – and touch – anything to get noticed! As a whole group we tuned into each other’s attentions by singling one person out and closing in, moving them around the space until another victim was fixed upon by all.

Removing the meaning or normal use of objects, we then explored the properties of non-traditional juggling items: how it moved in the air, on the floor and on our body; and imagining objects as other things, so that a bottle became a microphone, a hat suited as a soggy nappy and our pile of objects served as a tensely drawn out game of chess.

Somewhere in the middle of all this were orders for tea and coffee, eating food things and the traditional sing-song around a special person’s birthday cake.

After nourishment, Ria set us with a new physical improvisation: one frustrated person gave commands to another, who was doing anything other than what had been asked of them. A loud and tiring escapade which advanced into the non-compliant acts to be carried out with excitement and pride, with the insubordinate vocalising that they had completed the instruction correctly. I’d like to document here, that Ollie Smith was rather mean as my partner: one direction being, “Don’t take any of your clothes off…”, the result of which would have been highly inappropriate, and another suggestion, “No, no. Quieter Tallie. Less animate!”. The ensemble now knows, thanks to Mr Smith, I’m no stranger to projection…

Clap. An amusing silent game where  two people left the room, while the rest of us conspired an activity or motion, using any of the objects lain before them, for the pair to figure out. When they got something right, or just about, we gave them a clap and a cheer. No noise was more raucous then when Lesley amazingly worked out her task was to wear an IKEA bag as a shell and, deeply immersed in the characterisation of a turtle, ‘ate’ from a certain company member’s uniquely fragranced leather boot. Lesley gets an ‘I went the Extra Mile’ sticker.

To finish the day, Cat talked us through a personal, physical sequence. Each on our own island of mat, we slowly become aware of what parts of our body were touching the floor and altered it, always moving fluidly. This continued to leading our movements with various parts of our bodies and finally imaging being caught in the wind or gliding along with a drift. Having been very excitable all day, this was calming and private, each with our eyes closed and concentrated in our own minds. The mindset continued as we each created a short sequence to perform, compiled of a handful of moves, positions and object exploitations that we had experienced as a conclusion to the whole session.

From the vastness of this post, and the RSI afflicting my fingers, I trust it gives testimony to our zombie like appearances by the end of the day! A very big thank you to Cat and Ria for putting us through our paces and giving as such a full and interesting education into their practices. As someone who constantly analyses and stimulates people and space, the exposure to these new ideas made me more aware of my own dimensions and proximities and where exciting, playful spatial design concepts can spark from. Physically, it allowed us to move and place our bodies in ways that sometimes come unnaturally or self consciously – all adding to our catalogue of ideas and memories we will assuredly come back to in the next few months. It was wonderful to see everyone develop their skills and approaches, to add to the strength of the group and for their own personal experience. The day cheered on our creative progress; it made our ensemble stronger – it also revealed that we are all genuinely crazy and that laughter is the guaranteed secret weapon of our creative ensemble!

On Twitter? Follow the whole STEP UP Creatives training ensemble in one handy list.


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