I first met Rhiannon Walker when she was just 14, a bubbly enthusiastic young girl with a peculiar talent for standing on one hand. In other communities she would have been relegated to cartwheels in the backyard with her parents watching from the window in stupefied awe: ‘She’s very good, but you can’t spend your life doing cartwheels, Brian’.
But Rhiannon grew up in Mullumbimby (well Goonengerry actually) nurtured by Spaghetti Circus, one of the premier kids’ circus companies in Australia. As it turns out Rhiannon is a professional circus performer who is about to get her Arts degree from a prestigious university in Stockholm, and guess what she’s majoring in? One-handed handstands!
Today Rhiannon is 23 and she’s returning home for the upcoming Mullum Circus Festival as part of A Simple Space, a show she performs with Gravity and Other Myths with eight others including her fiancé Dan, also an acrobat.
Rhiannon literally did run away from the circus to join the circus. At 18, when she was on a European tour with Spaghetti Circus, Rhiannon decided to stay (she had a British passport).
‘I moved to Bristol and that’s where I met my fiancé Dan, and after that we auditioned and both got into one of the leading circus universities in the world – DOCH (Dance and Circus University in Stockholm Sweden). It was amazing. My teacher was a 65-year-old Russian man who didn’t speak any English. It was a three-year course but we dropped out two-and-a-half months before we finished because we got offered this show with Gravity and Other Myths. We have been touring that now for almost two years internationally. It’s an award-winning show – but when we finish, we are going back to Stockholm in January to get our Bachelor of Arts degree in circus. It’s incredible that we can do that now. I have a European passport, otherwise it would have cost half a million dollars!’
Adelaide-based Gravity and Other Myths grew out of the Adelaide Youth Circus (Cirkids) and is one of the many world renowned troupes travelling to Mullum to not just perform but to engage in training and skill sharing with other circus practitioners.
Like most circus performers Rhiannon has honed her specialities.
‘I am a hand balancer. I do one-handed handstands on pointy sticks. I am also a flyer. Our main thing we do is group acrobatics. Dan is also a flyer; even though he is a big boy, he is a phenomenal acrobat. It’s an hour-long show. It’s centred around games. It’s our pushing ourselves to the limits. We are very neutral and raw onstage, trying to be ourselves; none of us in glitter. It is far from cabaret; it’s about showing what the human body can do even if we fail. The show is all up close. It’s only a 6m by 4m stage; no matter how big the stadium, people come within half a metre of us. You can hear us panting, hear the strain of what we are doing.’
Performing circus is relentless. It’s not an industry where you can afford to let yourself go! ‘It’s relentless. Your body gets used to it and your stamina gets built up, but you are always exhausted at the end of the show.
The boys are sweating. It’s like ultimate bonding; we are all so close. There are nine of us in the company, and eight acrobats and one live musician, and we are all really good mates. When you work that closely together it really bonds you.
‘As for the games: they are elaborations of what we did as kids. Although I don’t remember skipping was quite as risqué… We do strip-skipping and we do a game that is like falling. It’s pretty much like when we were kids and trust games taken to the next level – like not falling from the ground but from three people high and you have to catch me. We have been compared to Cirque du Soliel with a fist full of grit…’
‘The beauty of our show,’ says Rhiannon, ‘is that it doesn’t always turn out the same every time. These are games so, like in games, they often end up different!’
Rhiannon is excited about returning to Mullum to participate in our local circus festival.
‘Teaching is an amazing passion. It’s incredible being able to pass on your knowledge to people who are passionate.’
And what does the future hold? Well, a wedding, that’s for sure. Rhiannon and Dan will be returning for their Byron wedding next year. While they haven’t planned anything specific yet, bride and groom will no doubt do something spectacular. ‘I am one of those girls who always has shorts under my dress!’ laughs Rhiannon, who may well be performing the world’s first one-handed bridestand.
Catch Rhiannon in her performance with Gravity and Other Myths on the Sunday morning of 27 September. Mullum Circus Festival – Friday 25, Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 September at the Mullumbimby Showground.
For tickets and info go to mullumcircusfest.com.