Capilotractées (French for ‘far fetched’) is a Finnish performance duo — Elice Abonce Muhonen and Sanja Kosonen — specialising in ‘hair hang’. Hair hang is an aerial act in which performers are literally suspended from their hair while performing acrobatic numbers. The hair is woven around a metal ring, which is then clipped to a rig, giving the performers the illusion of flying and levitation.
There are only a handful of hair hang performers in the world. Muhonen and Kosonen’s act at Roundhouse’s Circus Fest is their UK premiere, although they have previously performed across France and Belgium. Both are formally trained in circus acts: Muhonen in trapeze and Kosonen in tightrope dancing. This training certainly shows. How many people can nonchalantly sit cross-legged in mid air?
The show does not follow the conventional circus fashion of presenting feats of human endurance in a shroud of mystery and drama. Rather, the act is peppered with deadpan humour, quirky props and modern clothing instead of theatrical outfits. The duo showcase a variety of talents beyond hair hang — including a wicked electrical guitar duo (in mid-air, of course).
One of the downsides of hair hang is that suspending one’s entire body weight by one’s hair will always be painful, even with years of practice. While a typical acrobatic number can impress the audience with its apparent effortlessness, Capilotractées is more closely related to body suspension (in which performers are suspended by hooks embedded in their skin), in that it is an act impressive for its difficulty, rather than its elegance.
Possibly as another side effect of its technical limitations, a large proportion of the act involves no hair hanging at all. Although the duo are funny and the intervals of dancing or singing are good for mixing up the performance, after a while this starts feeling as a way to fill up the allotted time slot. Moreover, the skill and art of hair hang conjure up images of Chinese mysticism and Marina Boyd juggling in a glittering leotard. While the deadpan jokes and pinstripe trousers serve to freshen up the act for the 21st century, they also don’t quite work with the aesthetics of the act itself.
Perhaps Capilotractées is a young act; the duo had only been working on it since 2010, so maybe a more cohesive act will emerge with time. Having said that, the physical accomplishments of the performers should not be downplayed. There are certainly very few opportunities in life to see a tightrope walker traverse what is essentially another woman’s hair, and Circus Fest is one of them.
Capilotractées is showing until Sunday 6 April at:
Chalk Farm Road