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Meet the amazing acrobats using sexuality to inspire art

The power of gay male and straight female friendship is captured by 'acrobalance' artists JD and Nikki

Meet the amazing acrobats using sexuality to inspire art
JD and Nikki | Photo: Fabio Affuso

Nikki Rummer, from Seattle, Washington, and Jean-Daniel Broussé (JD) from Toulouse, are two London-based ‘acrobalance’ artists; they’ve traveled the world as both a double act, and as part of the six-person Barely Methodical Troupe.

Here JD, 29, who identifies as a gay man and Nikki, 37, who identifies as a straight women, reveal how their different genders and sexualities inspired their latest show, Knot…

How did you two meet?

Nikki: Six years ago now. It was by chance. There’s a school here in London, the National Centre for Circus Arts. I was working with somebody else who was moving to Belgium. JD was working with someone else [with whom] he didn’t really get on… So the two of us were kind of lost souls. We happened to meet each other here, training. We decided we’d give things a go, and clicked.

I’m guessing it’s nothing like a romantic relationship, but being professional partners in this way you have to find that unknowable spark?

JD: Yeah, completely. I feel like you have to get on artistically. And then, also, it’s the practicalities that make it like a relationship. You know, if I want to go on holiday, or go away with my boyfriend for two months, obviously that puts her out of work! So it’s something you need to check.

Are you around each other all the time?

Both: Yep!

Nikki: But we get on really well. It works. It’s a weird job for finding work-life balance. There is the whole logistics side, the business side, having to do that together. Even when we’re not physically together, we’re on the phone.

Do you train every day?

Nikki: Yeah, but that’s the fun side!

JD: Two hours a day, but it varies. The regime, if we’re on tour, is very different to if we don’t have anything on. If you’re creating a show…

Nikki: …then it’s more like four or five.

Have either of you ever danced with a same-sex couple?

Nikki: We don’t think of what we do as dance – although a lot of it is! But yes.

JD: We’re in this company with six of us. Five boys and Nikki’s the only girl. That obviously involves much more working boy-with-boy. It’s different projects, working with different people. I haven’t done any duets with a boy, yet. I am talking about it with my boyfriend, he’s a dancer too. We haven’t got round to it yet, we’re both busy, but one day!

Is it really important that you stay the same weight? If you gain or lose weight, does it throw off routines?

JD: On my side it wouldn’t be too much of a problem if I gain weight.

Nikki: Although there are some bits now where I lift you… That would be hard.

JD: Oh yes. Maybe not.

Nikki: To be honest, my weight hasn’t changed since I was 16! I’m lucky, I’ve got that physiology where I just don’t change!

JD: Same with my body. We don’t fluctuate that much.

Tell us about the plot of your show Knot…

JD: When we did cabarets and other kids of work, we’d always have to be the ‘star-crossed lovers’. She says no, I say yes; I say yes, she says no… We were asked to come together at the end [of a show] and kiss on stage. We were like ‘Yeah, fine.’ But then when we came to kiss each other, I pulled away. I turned my head. It was really awkward on stage. But we thought ‘We could do something with that.’

In the first half of Knot we present as a couple to the audience but then play against expectations. When [most] people come, they don’t know about the LGBT side of it. So then I come out. And the second half is more about our relationship of how we work together despite the initial relationship we had. It’s very autobiographical.

Is there a positive message in there about the power of gay male and straight female friendship?

Nikki: Yeah, definitely. That’s the heart of it. A lot of it’s looking at the strength and endurance of companionship. When you have an ally, whatever form that takes. It’s platonic love, in a way.

Can you elaborate on the plot any further?

Nikki: A big part of it is about our relationships with our families and our parents in particular – our fathers. The expectations that dads have. And dreams, for us.

For JD coming out as gay was part of that not fulfilling a father’s dreams or visions for his future. Then, for me, my father passed away. So it was more about that dream I know my father had for me and me. And fulfilling that by doing what I’m doing. But also not getting married, in the way my grandmother desperately wanted me to! It’s these different relationships in our lives that mould us.

JD, is your industry easy to be out in?

Yeah, it’s very easy, it’s a very accepting community. There are a lot of gay people.

Is the character’s coming out experience in the performance the same as yours?

It is actually, of the day I came out to my dad at 23.

Your company is based in Britain, but have you performed around the world?

Nikki: Yeah – Taiwan, South Korea, France, Spain, Sweden. We’re going to Brazil with a different show. It’s always nice to get international gigs.

Finally, have there been any negative or homophobic responses to the performance?

JD: Actually it’s been really nice everywhere. It’s not advertised that the show has an LGBT [subtext], so there’s a real mix of people. I think if it had an LGBT label I don’t think some of these people would come. It’s actually been overwhelmingly nice. It’s really important to people to know if it’s a true story or not!

Nikki: There was one powerful experience with a little boy, about 12. After the show he came up to me and said ‘Is he really gay?’ I said ‘Yeah.’ He had this confident look on his face, and I don’t know if that was about his own sexual identity, or challenging his own views of what it meant to be a gay man, it was clearly something that meant a lot to him.

We haven’t made it for children, there’s not an agenda that way. So when you get that sort of response it takes you by surprise, how much it can mean to a person. I would have loved to have sat down with him, found out what was going on in his head, but that of course wouldn’t have been appropriate! But the show is such a personal story that people are touched by it.

What we’re playing with is the fact that the reality of our working relationship is more like a marriage than these fictional Romeo and Juliet-type stories. There’s more of a reality of companionship and the ups and downs. All the life admin you have to juggle in a partnership! It’s real! What’s the reality, and what’s the fiction of being in a relationship with somebody.

Knot runs at The Place from 17-18 April as part of CircusFest before continuing its UK tour. For further details about their show dates please visit nikkiandjd.com/2018 and for more information about CircusFest’s full 2018 program, please visit roundhouse.org.uk.

 

 


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