La Clique: Lj Marles on circus, family and Beyoncé
By Jay Darcy
Tonight, La Clique opens at Underbelly at Depot Mayfield. The residency will be the acclaimed circus company’s Northern premiere, with its residencies usually taking place in Edinburgh and London. Ahead of the show’s opening – and its exclusive launch party next week, which we are thrilled to be attending – we were invited to a media preview day.
After watching a few of the performances, I was offered the chance to speak with the cast. As much as I’d have love to speak to everybody, it was my birthday and I had places to be, people to see, food to eat, and cards to unseal (hopefully full of money!).
I chose to interview high-heeled aerialist Lj Marles because he’s the physical embodiment of “fabulous”.
Lj, who has worked with La Clique a few times, told me that both of his numbers in the show are aerial but the first is aerial straps whilst the second is tension straps. They use the same equipment but they are used differently. He said his tension straps number is unique to him; nobody else does it.
He described the first act number, which we did not get to see, as “a more comical, breakdancer act”. The number is performed to the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ and Run-DMC’s ‘It’s Tricky’.
As for the second song, Lj admitted, “I heard [Beyoncé’s] ‘Alien Superstar’ and was like, ‘That’s mine! I will make an act to it.'”
Some of Lj’s acts are based on songs, whereby he hears a song and envisions an act, whilst other acts start with a concept or character and he finds the music to fit.
Lj told me that there is a bigger concept and more context to the ‘Alien Superstar’ number in the show. We look forward to seeing the show to find out what that is!
I told Lj that the act embodies Renaissance, and Queen Bey has yet to release the visuals, so he’s giving us what we were denied.
“You need to come see [my act]; this is like the only visual we’re gonna get!” he joked.
We then took it back to the beginning. Lj got into circus by accident. He was a self-trained dancer; he and his friends would recreate music videos and learn routines – way before TikTok! They would do local talent competitions and dance shows before they came across the opportunity to take part in a circus show, where he was trained in circus skills, such as aerial. He was the only one in his friendship group that continued with the circus show. After this, he completed the youth and later degree programme at Circus Space (which is now called the National Centre for Circus Arts).
“It wasn’t until my second year when I was like, ‘Oh, I have to make a career from this; I’m not doing this just for fun,’ which at the time I was,” he admitted.
I was curious as to how Lj’s parents took his decision to carve a career out of circus because, whilst the arts are intrinsic to Black and brown communities’ cultural identities, they are not always valued professionally or seen as a viable career path. I speak from experience, for my brother, who works in finance, is my father’s favourite child whilst he’s never taken my success so seriously.
“They were just happy that I had a job,” he said candidly. His parents were happy with him doing a circus degree because previously he was not interested in studying anything else – and if he did not go to university then his parents expected him to get a job. Whilst his parents never went to see any of his dance performances, they turned up for his performances at the circus school and realised he had serious talent. After that, they would always make the effort to see his shows. They even flew to New York to see him perform off-Broadway!
One of the reasons Black and brown parents worry about arts careers is because careers in the arts often do not pay too well, and they want us to have better lives than they did. But worse than the work not always being the best paid – sometimes there’s no work at all!
Indeed, working in television, I’ve realised there’s very little work in the winter – and this year is exceptional; there’s hardly any work, period. I was curious if things were similar in the world of circus and cabaret.
Lj said he has been very fortunate to always have some work going. There are some quiet periods but most of them are by choice so that he can have a break in between contracts.
Lj told me that there’s a nice variety for circus performers. There are long-term contracts, short-term contracts, the cabaret scene (lots of one-off or weekly gigs), opportunities to teach and do workshops, etc. There are options.
I ended the interview by asking Lj what’s next – or what he’d like to do in the near future.
“Well, Beyoncé would come see the show and bring me on tour, obviously!” he laughed.
Lj told me has already achieved two of his big goals. The first was to work with the Canadian circus company Les 7 Doigts (Les 7 doigts de la main), also known as The 7 Fingers. The second was to perform at Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain (The World Festival of the Circus of Tomorrow), which circus performers call “the Olympics of circus”.
His final main goal is to be a director, creative or choreographer of his own show, rather than working in somebody else’s own show. He even admitted to having a concept for an entire show to the Renaissance album.
Speaking of, he wants the producers to do a Club Renaissance at the Spiegeltent!
You can catch Lj in La Clique, which runs at Depot Mayfield from May 25 to July 9. Stay tuned for our coverage of the exclusive launch party next week!