Interview with Silvia Fratelli of Mimbre

Silvia has joined Nearly There Yet to do a run of performances of The Party. Silvia is a joint artistic director of and performer with Mimbre. We couldn't pass up the chance to ask her some questions!

How did you get into circus and performing?

I got into circus by accident...I’m a former gymnast who stopped competing and training all together at the age of 14. When I moved to London to improve my English and become an interpreter and after 6 years of not doing much physical activity, I felt the need to move my body again and a friend suggested I should check Circus Space (now NCCA) as they run adult acrobatics classes. I discovered they also run a BTEC course in Performing Arts-Circus, so I applied, got in and ‘’the rest is history…’’. That was in 1996. I never looked back!

What is your background?

Gymnastics, from age 6. And I joined my local theatre group for a couple of years before moving to the UK. 

What is your main discipline? Do you find yourself strongly based in that or do you work with other disciplines?

My main discipline is acro-balance/partner acrobatics and I’m specifically the flyer of a women trio (Mimbre). I’m strongly based in this discipline, as it requires many hours of training just to get in tune as a trio and have time to explore and develop our own style within this discipline. I also run my own company Mimbre together with co-founder Lina Johansson and have a young son, so the combination of everything doesn’t leave much time to train anything else…Through being a performer and touring, I felt that I have also learned a lot about how to be on stage and relate to an audience. That has been an incredible and exciting learning curve!

What does your company, Mimbre, aim to do? What balance to you aim to strike between narrative and aesthetic?

Back in 1999, when Mimbre started its journey, we were one of the few female- led outdoor arts company in UK. The main reason that inspired us (myself, Lina Johansson and Emma Norin, the other two co-founders of Mimbre) to create a female acrobatic company was to challenge the predominant gendered roles within contemporary circus.

We specialise in acro-balance, the technique of creating human pyramids and imagery, which is typically a technique performed by a strong man and a small woman being lifted and thrown in the air. We challenged this assigned gender roles and created a unique style where women lift women and show how strong as well as graceful they can be and should allowed to be. Mimbre itself means wicker, a structure that’s both flexible and strong.

Since the beginning we really strived to use this highly physical language as a way of portraying human emotions and connections rather than just as a spectacle. We quickly realised the power of this language and the subtle ways that physicality can be used for imagery, not only representing the thrill and ‘wow factor’ but also human relationships and specific atmospheres.

This intrinsic nature of the acrobatic language has allowed us to bring narratives and characters forward and create strong connections with our audiences.  The public reads a lot in physical movement and very often gets completely absorbed by the stories we tell. Many times people come forward after a performance to tell us how much they had recognised themselves and their lives in what they saw in the show and in the relationships and closenessbetween the performers and they might go away energised or inspired, which for usis a great achievement!

Whilst touring with your company Mimbre, which have been your favourite venues and why? 

This is a very hard question…we have been touring outdoor theatre festivals since 2000. There have been lots of fantastic places we performed at.

At the beginning of our career we did an amazing festival in France: Chalon dans la Rue. We were novices and we felt everything was at stake at the time. The festival is also a showcase and helped us to create a strong international network that we still benefit from nowadays!

Other highlights include Fira Tarrega in Spain in 2001, when we drove from UK to Spain during a French diesel strike and we had to keep asking truck drivers to sell us cans of diesel to get there in time (we were very determined and so excited to perform at a major international showcase).  

Performing in Bogota, Colombia was a special one too, meeting lots of the young aspiring performers that are now in London and the rest of the world with great careers in circus.

 And last but not least performing at Watch This Space (NT) and GDIF has always been a brilliant experience, seeing these festivals grow so much and attract big, enthusiastic, multicultural audience; a very special London treat for us!

Which character do you play in the production

I play the acrobat girl who gets pulled on stage during pass the parcel and then ‘has’ to join the party…

What is your favourite scene from the show?

I love the Musical Statues scene. It’s a timeless game that kids and adults enjoy playing and watching. I love the joy and fun of it, the acrobatics in it and how the kids respond to all the little things that happen and how they essentially become an integral part of the game. Also having the responsibility to hold the last handstand of the game is quite exciting and nerve-wrecking…

How important do you think it is for children to go and watch live theatre?

I think it’s very important and it can be a very inspiring and forming experience at any stage of childhood. Whether it’s just a sensory experience, a morale tale or a bit of fun I think it’s very beneficial for kids to get drawn in a different world and develop their critical thinking from an early age through watching live theatre.

Very often we get amazing feedback at the end of our shows where parents highlight how inspiring the performance has been to their kids and they've gone away cartwheeling and talking about the show for days afterwards! 

What advice do you have for an aspiring performer? 

Train hard, follow your dream and don’t compromise: do what you love, not what other people expect from you! Create work that you really care about and the audience will feel and appreciate that.