Rings of fire a far reach from Peel Forest farm

Ashley Carr performs in the Cirque Eloize production of Cirkopolis. Photo: supplied
Ashley Carr performs in the Cirque Eloize production of Cirkopolis. Photo: supplied
For circus performer Ashley Carr, informing his New Zealand-based father, a farmer, about his chosen career was not easy, he tells Rebecca Fox.

His role as ''odd job man'' on his father's Geraldine deer farm could not be farther afield from Ashley Carr's life as a travelling performer with Cirque Eloize.

Carr's father, Graham, moved from England to New Zealand 30 years ago and ever since Carr has spent holidays at Peel Forest Estate.

''Its quite different. It's very good, it's a good change of life. It's a good purity of life, very simple, which is very good. Hardworking but in the most beautiful surroundings.

''I get out whenever I can.''

The great thing about Cirque Eloize's Cirkopolis tour to New Zealand, including Dunedin this month, is its timing, allowing Carr to remain in the country for a southern hemisphere Christmas.

''I'm looking forward to coming down and spending Christmas with Dad on the farm. I don't get to see him much during the year, so it'll be good to have a family Christmas. Normally I'm playing in one city or another.''

Carr has been working with Cirque Eloize for the past 10 years, playing 35 countries and nearly 400 cities in that time.

''I've been around the houses a bit. The life, the people you meet ... it is very rewarding.''

For Carr, who grew up in the English countryside, it all began as a hobby. A bit of juggling and ''mucking about'' while on holiday in Greece, a few street shows and it ''rolled on from there''.

''I ended up doing more shows and getting more enjoyment out of it. When you've got a passion for something, it gets you going; if it gives you enjoyment and you get nourishment out of it, it feeds you. You work harder.''

He went to theatre and circus arts school at The Circus Space and the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

''Dad was probably ripping his hair out at the time, thinking 'what the hell is he doing'. Mum was like 'good, off you go'.

''Then they came to my graduation from circus school and saw me jump through a ring of fire. When he saw the community we have within circus, the brotherhood, the family feel. It's a far reach from the farm. We've gone through that.''

Over the years, his father has seen him perform in the Chekhov Festival in Moscow and at other venues around the world.

''We do what we can to hook up,'' he said.

While still a student, he co-founded the Kicking the Moon Company, which won the first annual Jerwood Circus Award in the United Kingdom. The Guardian described Kicking the Moon as ''a delicious mix of circus and theatre''.

He also came to New Zealand and performed at the Applaud Festival.

With funding from Arts Council England, Kicking the Moon's show went on a multiyear world tour.

He also launched a solo show, Bien Accroche, which he presented in theatres and festivals throughout the world.

''One stepping stone led to another stepping stone and I ended up in Canada.''

Ashley Carr has been working with Cirque Eloize for the past 10 years, playing 35 countries and...
Ashley Carr has been working with Cirque Eloize for the past 10 years, playing 35 countries and nearly 400 cities in that time. Photo: supplied

This background led to an invitation to join Cirque Eloize's production of Rain: Comme une pluie dans tes yeux, in which he performed for several years.

In Cirkopolis, Carr has a central role, created for him.

''I'm the central character of the show, which means I'm sort of the counterpoint to what goes on around. I'm the red line. It starts with me and they take people on a journey through one tableau to the next set of images.

''Lead people through the journey as seen through my eyes, so to speak.''

The show is an hour and a-half of non-stop acrobatics, juggling and aerial.

''If someone is not on stage, it's because they're off changing costume, putting magnesium on, drying their hands and getting ready to go back on for the next set.

''It's high-octane stuff. There is a lot of humour in it.''

Although he admits that at 42, he is ''no spring chicken'' when it comes to ''flipping in the air''.

''For any acrobat, it has an effect on what you do and how you do it. My role in the show is less acrobatic. I have my own number created for me. It's all physical work but it's not the same acrobatic charge.

''You do what you can with what you've got.''

Aches, bruises and breaks are all part of the job so the artists do a lot of preventive work with physiotherapists and work on their core muscles.

''Accidents happen and also there is the wear and tear of doing eight shows a week for a month, having just come off three months. It all takes its toll.''

Life on the road could be challenging with the cast and crew putting on up to eight shows a week. Before the New Zealand tour they had been to Brazil, Paris, Edinburgh and Austria.

''Life with the circus - you have to deal with injuries, adapting to the different-sized venues, you have to deal with many different things.

''But we've got good at it over the years. We know what we are doing now.''

He enjoyed the family and community feel of his livelihood.

''With people 20ft in the air, you have people's lives in your hands. You live and work together, you work really, really hard, so the community feel is quite intense.''

The company is based in Montreal, which is where Carr lives and, when not on the road, enjoys his other passion - kite surfing.

''It gets me out of that little black box and gets me into the ocean completely away from that side of my world, or I go see my Dad.

''I go climb a tree or something.''

It is not just the work itself, it is the travelling - changing cities every five or six days.

''You're taking planes and trains - it's the whole life around it that can be a challenge. It's a good challenge.''

It is not all bad, though, as he has travelled to many countries and met a lot of interesting people.

''I've spent Christmas in 10 or 11 different countries.''

To see

Cirkopolis, Regent Theatre, November 23-26

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