It’s a Circus Out There!

Published on 23 May 2016

Performance art takes centrestage at the annual Bornfire Festival.

BY MARCUS GOH

Did you know that you could join a circus right here in Singapore? Just sign up with Bornfire, a group of circus practitioners who are one of four circus groups on the island.

This special-interest troupe meets every Tuesday evening at Kallang Community Club to practise object manipulation, where they physically interact with one or more objects as a form of performance art. Through the use of props such as Hula-Hoops, plates, diabolo (a juggling prop) and bowling pins, members learn how to juggle, as well as master plate and poi spinning. For the uninitiated, poi refers to specialised spinning equipment that is often attractively lit up. One of the group’s most visual performances, the aerial silk, can only be seen during their annual Bornfire Festival. Acrobatics will also be included in the mix within the next two to three months.

Aside from regular performers, the Bornfire bunch is often joined by newcomers who eventually become part of the group. Members range in age from six to 66. The general public is also welcome to join if they’re keen to learn circus skills.

Bornfire circus practitioners are self-taught and engage in peer-to-peer teaching. “The circus is a very funny world. Essentially, we do the things that people don’t want to do. We use a lot of falling, isolation and negative spaces. It’s not just about being colourful, it’s another form of expression,” explains Yap Zi Jing, 27, a Bornfire circus practitioner.

BIRTH OF BORNFIRE

It may surprise you to know that Bornfire has been around since 2006 — ever since founder Xyn Foo attended a poi workshop and thought of integrating it into dance. Together with a group of dancers and graphic designers, she started Bornfire to provide a safe platform to practice fire arts. Soon after, the first Bornfire Festival was held at Esplanade, which comprised performances and workshops.

The handful of circus practitioners eventually expanded into a regular group of 30 to 35, and five years ago, they started their routine practices at Kallang Community Club, sharing their knowledge with anyone interested in picking up circus skills.

So what makes Bornfire different from other circus troupes? “We don’t advocate animal entertainment or belittling humans — like freak shows, for example,”
says Yap.

LORD OF THE RINGS Throw it, twirl it, twist it — the Hula-Hoop is one of the most versatile props for circus arts. PHOTO Phoa Kim Meng

SKILLS SCHOOL

In 2011, Bornfire practitioners took part in a circus festival exchange in Cambodia. The circus school in Cambodia had started a social enterprise, providing education and work opportunities for low-income children, allowing them to develop circus skills and gain an education.

Recalls Yap, “After that trip, we came back and asked ourselves, ‘What can we do? How can we build this sort of social circus in Singapore?’ ” Fired up by their experiences, the group started intensive efforts to make an impact in Singapore through circus arts. This was where Tom Bay, chairman of Kallang Community Club came in. He offered them a regular venue to practice, and Bornfire’s weekly sessions began.

HELPING AT-RISK YOUTHS

In the spirit of social enterprise, Bornfire also started participating in workshops and camps for at-risk youths. “One of the young boys who joined us two years ago was never afraid of falling down. Because of his curiosity and naughtiness, he was one of our fastest learners,” shares Yap.

She also has high praise for Jonathan Goh, a 20 year-old fire spinner and student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, who was part of Bornfire’s mentorship programme. “He joined us when he was 16 years old. His skills grew exponentially, and he’s one of the few people in the group who can execute any performance because he loves his props so much. He experiments with them in such diverse ways that he can master his props very quickly.”

Goh had struck a pact with Bornfire, where he had to do well academically if he was to continue performing. He’s now in his second year of an Arts Business Management diploma course.

PHOTO Rogan Yeoh

Fiery Fiesta

Highlights of this year’s Bornfire Festival.

The annual Bornfire Festival, now into its 10th edition, has evolved to include games, talks and dialogue sessions with international circus practitioners from Japan, Germany, Italy and Taiwan. One of this year’s speakers is Taiwan’s Chen Hsing-Ho, a former Cirque du Soleil performer and advocate of circus arts in his home country. This year’s event, which takesplace in June, includes the following:

The Gala Show

The festival’s main event, this hour-long showcase comprises a variety of circus routines including balance, movement and prop manipulation performances.

10 June, Victoria Theatre, $28, $35 (online booking), $38 (door sales)

Open Stage

An open-mic session for potential circus practitioners. The challenge for this year is to perform in a way you’ve never done before — be it with or without music or costumes.

11 June, Kallang Community Club, free admission (registration here)

Battle Stage

For all the circus geeks out there, this is a chance for you to show off your best tricks.

11 June, Kallang Community Club, free admission

Improvisation Stage

Musicians and circus artists who have never worked together before will be selected to create a performance — in just two minutes!

12 June, Kallang Community Club, free admission

Bornfire Festival 2016 is on from 3-12 June. Tickets for the Gala Show are available on this website.

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