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Alula and Hyena at Underbelly: Cyr Wheels on the South Bank

As the visitor promenades along the South Bank (in SEEN’s view the best place in London) they cannot help but notice the splendid Underbelly Tent, THE Summer destination for thought-provoking performance, comedy, cabaret and burlesque. You will also find the excellent HYENA, the electrifying new show by the world’s only all-female Cyr Wheel trio, on until 11th June 2017.

1. Alula - Cyr Ball Pose - Photo by Craig Dagostino

But it’s more than a display of athleticism and grace. It adheres to Alula’s ethos of their work embodying a message. Marrying precision and poignancy, Alula Cyr’s debut production celebrates female strength with awe-inspiring acrobatics and synchronised displays of sisterhood. HYENA is a unique and profound experience that illuminates the thrill of physical ritual and the heart-wrenching need to belong.

Mixing striking Cyr wheel skill with artistic gymnastics, contemporary dance and song – the specialities of Alula co-founders Fiona Thornhill, Jessica Ladley and Lil Rice – the rallying cry for HYENA is “Join the pack, smash the patriarchy”. Rice explains:

“HYENA is a show about womanhood – it’s about beauty, power and the thin line we walk between human and wild animal. We wanted to make a show that would inspire everyone, but particularly women and girls, to find their voice and stand together. There are some brilliant all-female companies out there and we want to join them in making work that is free of thinly veiled chauvinism and implied sexual intrigue.”

The title HYENA alludes to the uniquely female-dominated social system of brown spotted hyenas, a reference point for the fierce and complex friendships formed between women, which the show explores. Patterns of conflict and resolution in the show draw from the trio’s own tribal solidarity and fierce friendship, formed as they trained together at the National Centre for Circus Arts.

In HYENA, Alula unveil inventive and previously untried forms of expression through Cyr wheel, many developed during their ‘hour of the impossible’ – sixty minutes of rehearsal sessions spent experimenting with difficult and never-before-seen set pieces such as the Cyr Ball, where each Cyr wheel is combined to form a sphere in which the trio perform.

Much of the show’s innovation stems from each artist’s background: Ladley uses her professional training in contemporary dance to experiment with movement within the wheel, while ex-gymnast Thornhill performs acrobatics inside and around her wheel, and vocalist Rice sings heart-rending anthems to female friendship as she spins.

HYENA was developed in conjunction with Jacksons Lane, a collaboration that included previews of the show being performed at the art centre’s Transmission residency programme. The show is directed by Rosamond Martin and Layla Rosa and original music is composed by Ollie Clark. Jacksons Lane’s Artistic Director Adrian Berry said:

“I’m thrilled that after two years working with Alula we are finally able to premiere HYENA in the capital at Underbelly. It’s a fiercely physical and empowering piece of ensemble circus which is going to blow audiences away.”

SEEN recommends that you catch this unique show while you can. Hopefully, Alula will return in the future. Theirs is a message that deserves a wider audience.

Underbelly Festival
Belvedere Road Coach Park


Photography Craig Dagostino