Intriguing blend of acrobatics, physical theatre and music that's pushing the world of circus in new directions
For the next few weeks, Edinburgh's going to be full of performers complaining about their Fringe reviews. But circus company Svalbard are still sore about one of theirs from early 2016.
'It's the first thing when you type in All Genius All Idiot on Google,' says Ben Smith, when I meet the group in Berlin in May. 'It's like, "this show is shit".' The offending review (from the Guardian's Lyn Gardner) dates back to an early performance at Jackson's Lane, when Ben and his fellow Svalbardians – Tom Brand, Santiago Ruiz and John Simon Wiborn – had only just started touring their work. And they acknowledge that, at the time, it needed some tweaking.
'To be honest, it wasn't a very good show,' admits Tom. 'We didn't do a very good job. We played it in Jackson's Lane [in London], it was very small for us. We were not used to small spaces at the time.'
Today, things are quite different. The international quartet – they met at circus school in Stockholm, but hail from Britain (Ben), Germany (Tom), Spain (Santi) and Sweden (Simon) – have spent the last two years travelling the world with All Genius All Idiot, refining and improving after every performance. I meet them in the German capital to chat about the show prior to its Edinburgh run; later that evening, they play to a packed house at the Berliner Festspiele and completely win over the audience with their mash-up of acrobatics, physical theatre, dance and music. It feels almost like a club night.
Presented by Aurora Nova (who've brought the likes of Trygve Wakenshaw, Counting Sheep and Thomas Monckton to the festival in recent years), All Genius All Idiot is the kind of work the Fringe was born to showcase. An abstract look at love and masculinity, this highly physical performance is just as theatrical and musical as it is acrobatic, and features an original soundtrack composed and performed by Ben – though he's keen to highlight the input of the whole team in its creation.
'I knew all of these guys have different musical capabilities,' he says. 'I know that Simon can play the guitar super nice, then it was like, it would be really cool if Santi rapped in the show, Tom made a bass guitar … '
'For sure Ben is the musical brain behind the show,' Tom adds, 'but we're also involved in the process.' And their love of working together, and keenness to incorporate multiple visions, is a big part of what makes All Genius All Idiot interesting – not to mention chaotic. Throughout the show, the stage is littered with a mind-boggling array of objects and props, among them a shopping trolley, a mask, rope, a bowl of water, a homemade bass, high heels, antlers and a good handful of glitter. Altogether, it's a delightfully weird party that often threatens to veer off course but is held together by the strong bond between these four talented performers.
'It's us describing a certain view on the philosophy of life that we all share,' says Simon, nodding to the contradiction of the show's title. And it's an apt one too: for all the show's raucous, animalistic energy, it's balanced out by moments of slow, thoughtful movement and exhibitions of great skill.
All of which is a testament to how hard this foursome work. 'People don't think about how much work we have to put in to be in the physical state to not injure ourselves during these shows,' Tom says. 'People don't think we've gone through education for five years to be able to do this.'
And he's approaching Edinburgh with caution: 'I'm excited and I'm curious but I'm expecting it to be hard work. I'm not expecting it to be a pleasant month at all. I'd rather go in there with a bit of pessimism, rather than think it's going to be fine. We've done Adelaide but it's way easier than Edinburgh I think, from what I've heard.'
But despite the inevitable fears, Svalbard are approaching the month with the passion and dedication that makes All Genius All Idiot such an intriguing addition to the world of circus.
'I want the people in Edinburgh to talk about us every single day,' says Santi, 'and that every single day the house is full. It's not because I'm a proud person, it's because we are hard workers. But I want the work to pay off. It's that simple.'
Svalbard Company with Aurora Nova and Follow the Rabbit Quirky and outrageous, All Genius All Idiot revels in the absurdities of life, using extreme circus artistry to highlight human behaviour at its most animalistic. Svalbard bends the edges of contemporary circus and blends it with theatre, physical comedy and live…