Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Interview: Melanie Chy, starring in La Soirée

Having won its second Olivier Award last year, La Soirée has returned to the Southbank Centre’s Spiegeltent for its sixth season in London. 

Lots of La Soirée favourites have returned to London with the show which runs to 17th January 2016. However, new to the line-up is Melanie Chy who revives the ancient art of hand balancing. 

I recently sat down with Melanie to discuss what it has been like to join the La Soirée family, her memories of making her circus debut aged six and why it’s important the art of circus continues to evolve…

You are brand new to the La Soirée family! What has it been like to join the show?
It’s amazing… really amazing! La Soirée has a really huge reputation in our industry all around the world so it has been a dream for a long time to join the team. I’ve worked with some of the individual performers in different shows, but it’s special to now be part of the La Soirée family. Being in London makes it even more of a privilege! 

Have you ever been to London before?
No I haven’t – this is actually my first time in England! It’s really strange because I grew up travelling; my parents and grandparents were circus performers so I’ve travelled my whole life since I was born. I’ve been all over Europe and all over the United States, but I have never been to England!

What are your first impressions? This spiegeltent here works so perfectly for the show!
In general spiegeltents are so intimate and the audiences feel really, really close to you. What’s so special about this spiegeltent is that around the stage there are rows of chairs, I’ve been in similar venues – like in Germany – where it’s a dinner show so they have people sitting around tables instead. With it laid out like this people are much more engaged – they can get quite rowdy!

Have the English audiences been wild?
[laughs] Yes! As soon as you step out you can sense that the atmosphere is really fun. 

I love that La Soirée breaks so many rules of conventional circus. What do you think people can expect?
I think people want to be surprised, some people come here wanting to interact with some of the performers. People seem to be open to being pulled up onstage and becoming part of the show. Sometimes when you’re performing you can almost feel a wall between you and the audience, but here there is no wall and you can see on people’s faces that they are ready for anything. Audiences want boundaries to be broken which this show definitely does, that’s what makes it so special.

What’s the atmosphere like amongst the company backstage?
Because the show has been travelling for so long it’s a very tight group; most of the performers have known each other for years. It’s like a family atmosphere and I’m coming in like a new child to the show. They’ve all been very open and have tried to make it easy – I have been introduced into the family which is really cool. 

Melanie Chy in La Soirée

You make a spectacular entrance in the show on your motorbike! How did you develop your act?
It’s an ongoing process. I started performing when I was six years old as a part of my parents’ act – I had a little solo which was maybe two or three minutes long [laughs]. At the time it was Chinese style contortion – my father is Chinese and does Chinese acrobatics. 

What did you do?
I started by balancing rice bowls on my feet! Of course, as I grew older I started wanting to do other things and you have to develop your skills so I was interested in doing a handstand act but there are so many performers out there so you have to find something special to make you stand out. That’s how the motorbike came into it, I’ve continued to work hard. 

How long have you been performing the motorcycle act?
I’ve been doing my motorcycle act for almost twenty years and, of course, it has changed loads from when I first started. I’ve put in brand new choreography to integrate it into La Soirée. I come from a more traditional circus background so we had to find a way to mould it into the La Soirée style. I’m doing things with the motorbike which have never been done in a spiegeltent before which is very exciting!

It’s interesting that you come from a more traditional circus background and have joined La Soirée which has revolutionised circus over the last eleven years. Do you think it’s important that circus continues to move forward, develop and reach out to different audiences in new ways?
Everybody has to move with the times and circus is evolving. Of course I still love traditional circus but times change and the audiences change and people’s attention spans are much shorter. People want to see something new, so we try to take the skill from traditional circus and present it in different ways.

How do you find the lifestyle of living out of a suitcase and constantly being on the move?
For me it’s one of my favourite parts of my job, I love being able to travel so much. Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming with the jet lag. Coming here, for example, I travelled from Hawaii so flew to Germany four days before coming to London – I just had four days to repack all my stuff and drive from Germany to London. When I got here we started rehearsals straight away the next day. It can be a bit draining so you just have to keep pushing and pushing. It’s good – I think it’s such a privilege to be able to travel all over the world. Other people have to pay to go on vacation, but for me it’s my job!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

La Soirée runs at the Southbank Centre’s Spiegeltent until 17th January 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2: Tristram Kenton

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