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Photo by Aaron Walker

Brisbane born and bred, Ela Bartilomo’s roots are firmly planted in Brisbane, beginning her performing career in Circa’s youth troupe Circa Zoo, before attending the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne and graduating with a Bachelor of Circus Arts in 2017.

Ela might be one of the newest acrobats in the Circa Ensemble, but is already an accomplished artist and creative, having performed at a number of events including Brisbane Festival, The Awesome Festival, Woodford Folk Festival, Mullum Circus Festival and Breanna’s Make a Wish Foundation Ball. Ela also co-produced and performed in Out of This World Children’s Show, which toured to the Melbourne and Adelaide Fringe Festivals, and was an ensemble member of One Fell Swoop.

Amidst devising and performing in the world premiere season of Peepshow, Ela sat down with us for 10 minutes to give us an insight into where she’s come from, and where she’s going on her Circa journey.

How did you manage to end up on the journey with Circa and where did it all begin?
I did dancing when I was younger, then gymnastics, and then tennis – and I wasn’t very good at any of them – and then finally, I followed a friend to a Circa Zoo audition. That would have been around 2009, when I was in Grade 8. I was just doing some handstands in the corner on a chair, and then I was asked if I wanted to audition too. So I did, and ended up in the Circa Zoolings program for about six months, and then moved into Circa Zoo – that’s where it all started!

Did you naturally gravitate to a particular discipline?
Well, I then auditioned and was accepted into NICA in 2014. I wanted to do rope – I REALLY wanted to do rope – but a lot of people told me that I was really weak and couldn’t hold myself up very well, and I wasn’t ‘naturally inclined’ to do rope. Since my back was so bendy at the time I was encouraged to do contortion or lyra. I was so keen to do rope though, so I compromised by doing rope as my first choice and did contortion as my second speciality. I didn’t want it to just be contortion, so I chose to do contortion handstands, which then turned into contortion handstands on chairs.

Who says you can’t have it all right?
Exactly, who says that?

Ela in By a Thread (Photo by Aaron Walker)

So besides studying, what performance experience did you have before joining the Circa Ensemble?
While I was studying at NICA, three of my classmates and I teamed up to try and make a show. We tried making some serious stuff, but as vibrant people we ended up gravitating to making a kids show. It was called Out of This World Children’s Show, which we performed at Melbourne Fringe, Adelaide Fringe (twice), Rola Bola Children’s Festival, WA Circus Fest, and Woodford Folk Festival. Around the same time, I was recruited into a show called By A Thread by One Fell Swoop, so for a lot of second year I was doing early mornings with the kids show, doing school in my pyjamas, then going to By a Thread in the evening. Another highlight for me was in third year, where I was able to perform with the wonderful show Kaleidoscope with Company 2 in Brisbane Festival.

Bringing all that experience with you, what are you doing in the studio at the moment with Circa?
We’re currently in rehearsals for Circa’s newest show Peepshow, smashing out the creation process with lots of creative jams and learning each others bodies – as a new person you’ve got to be open to suggestions and jump into it as much as you can, because you don’t know what to do! Like, hello, contortion chair handstands right here.

What you do love most about being a circus performer?
I’ve always been a bit of an arty person – I used to only go to school for art, and spent my morning and lunch and afternoon in arts. What I love about circus is the visual art crossover, and having another medium to create tangible art.

Ela and Jarred in Peepshow (Photo by Kurt Peterson)

Visual arts are a passion and a talent – what other secret superpowers do you have?
I play guitar, and I sing a little bit. I like to keep learning things, so I tell people I can do things, and then force myself to learn them and not be a liar. I started doing some graphic design recently and now people also think I’m a graphic designer – what they really don’t know is I think “Ahhh so many YouTube videos – must learn them all!”. I would say I’m also 70% fluent in Italian – but I think I’d need to live there to become fluent.

Any superstitions or firm beliefs you live by?
You need to have a group sync before going on stage, to understand where everyone’s head is at. I’ve done a show without one once, and it was SHOCKING! Also, the end of the bed should never face the door – that’s bad luck.

Any final words or advice for people who dream of performing on stage?
No one knows what they’re doing! Just fake it til you make it – keep speaking Italian until it works! I was the clumsiest, nubdiest person, and I just really wanted to be a physical person even though naturally my body wasn’t good at that. Endure the bruises, endure the knocked knees, and you’re going to succeed.

Circa is based in Meanjin (Brisbane) on the lands of the Jagera and Turrbal people. We respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the many lands on which we create and perform. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
Always was. Always will be.