Focus on: All Genius All Idiot

Evan Beswick travels to Berlin and enters the weird and ungainly universe of the Svalbard circus troupe

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All Genius All Idiot
Published 22 Jul 2017

Berlin, die Festspiele, late spring. There's something distinctly un-German, and most definitely un-springlike going on inside. An Englishman wearing antlers, high heels, and a very small quantity of lace, soars powerfully into his falsetto range. A Swede in what appears to be the lion's share of a sheep's fleece leaps off and on to his colleagues. A Spaniard mounts a Chinese pole and produces confetti from his crotch. There's a German, too. He's in a backwards suit with an odd mask, his movements creepy, uncanny. It could easily be the setup to a bizarre joke. It could easily be a mess, if it weren't so, well, so rockstar.

Fast forward to the next morning, and we're basking in the Berlin sunshine. The quad who make up Svalbard Company (Ben Smith, England; Santiago Ruiz, Spain; Tom Brand, Germany; John Simon Wiborn, Sweden) look and sound remarkably fresh for such an energetic performance, followed by an after-party at which the feasibility of them surviving a 23-night run in Edinburgh came up several times. I pick up differing opinions on this particular issue. "It is quite an intense show but, I think, now we know what to expect. I'm prepared for the worst," says Wiborn sagely.

"I was destroyed after the show," says Smith, less sagely.

One senses these are, however, differences the lads can handle. They go back a while, having met in Stockholm while studying at the University of Dance and Circus. They lived together on a ship (the boat was called Svalbard) where they forged a strong and creative friendship: "After classes, we would go to the studios and play around. He [Smith] would play piano; he [Brand] would do acrobatics, improvise stuff, like hippies!" recalls Ruiz.

"And on Friday nights we would go to clubs and dance crazy!" adds Brand. "Oh my God!"

Quite a gang. But for all the acrobatic and musical fireworks, I wonder if it's fair to say there's even a theme of love running through the performance? All four nod. Wiborn explains: "That's why we created the company, because we were best friends in school and this was created between the love of us. It's our baby!"

And what a strange baby it is. In the light of day, All Genius All Idiot begins to make sense. The gang talk of it as a "universe", and that fits. It's an odd, surreal universe with its own laws of physics. It just needs to hold off collapsing under its own gravity for 23 nights.