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Iceland Mag

Culture

Iceland's sensual circus; it's not only about sex

By Agnes Valdimarsdóttir

  • Sirkus Íslands A man in drag may not be shocking, but just go and see the things he does in that dress! Photo/Spessi

  • Sirkus Íslands Corset wearing acrobats. That's a Skinnsemi thing. Photo/Spessi

  • Sirkus Íslands The Jökla Circus Tent awaits as circus-folk grab some grub. Photo/Spessi

As soon as I walked into the Jökla Circus Tent at Klambratún in Reykjavik, a girl wearing limited amount of clothing and red shining knee-high boots, comes down from a rope, quite seriously asking her fellow circus members if they’ve seen her glitter underwear. I’m obviously in the right place.

 

From New York to Reykjavik
Skinnsemi (a play on the words ‘skin’ and ‘reasonable’) is the adult section of Sirkús Íslands, Iceland’s only Circus, and for the first time this summer, Iceland’s only travelling circus. The variety show was created by a former TV-presenter, Margrét Erla Maack, now a Circus Queen. Margrét had gone to New York back in 2007 where she had learned belly dancing. In New York, she befriended comedian Reggie Watts, who got her a gig at a club called The Box, where she used to belly dance between acts. “It was there where I first discovered this concept of an adult circus”, Margrét says, “but this was before Sirkús Íslands was even established”.

In the fall of 2007, Margrét came back home to Iceland and saw advertisements for handstand classes at Kramhúsið. That’s where she met Lee Nelson, an Australian national, and the founder of Sirkús Íslands. The handstand classes were, essentially, the beginning of Sirkús Íslands, and later on, Skinnsemi joined in.

Is this going to work?
What ‘The Box’ in New York had and what was missing in Reykjavik, was a place or a club that had enough ceiling height for it to be possible to do acrobatics. This was a slight problem, but in 2011, a burlesque dancer and a friend of Lee’s from Texas, contacts Lee and wants to get the 411 on the burlesque scene in Iceland. There was none. It was at that point that Lee called Margrét and she decided that they’d have to do a show. They had a month.

Ragnheiður Maísól Sturludóttir 

"Being a part of Skinnsemi allows me to showcase the clown within". Photo/Spessi

The first Skinnsemi show was in 2011 at a club that was then called Bakkus. It was in a tiny backroom, which in a sense added to the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of the show, and it was packed. More people than the space would allow were interested in coming. After a successful first show, Skinnsemi Adult Circus was alive and kicking, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 when a Circus Festival was held in Reykjavík and Sirkús Íslands along with Skinnsemi performed in a real circus tent. The decision was made: If Sirkús Íslands buys a real tent; Skinnsemi will be a part of all future Sirkús Íslands events.

An adult twist to a kid’s show
“What’s fun and challenging is taking a skit from a kid’s show and spicing it up a little bit so that it’s funny or shocking to adults”, says Margrét. While we’re not doing much burlesque, we’re taking elements from burlesque and using them in our shows. “Often times we’re doing a skit for a children’s show and we get ideas on how it’d be funny to do it in certain ways but those ways may not be appropriate for children and that’s why Skinnsemi works so well, we get to play around and be silly for a living”. A large part of Skinnsemi’s operation includes doing private corporate shows and they’ve recently performed, in the circus tent, at a 40th Birthday Party.

“It’s not all about sex either”, says Margrét, “but sometimes jokes go over children’s heads but appeal to adults. In our show we’ve got a Beyonce skit and a Wrecking Ball skit, that yes, children would recognize the songs, but the jokes that go along with it are geared towards an audience with a deeper understanding.” 

Margrét Erla Maack The original brain behind Skinnsemi. Photo/Spessi

A travelling circus
“We’re Iceland’s only variety show” says Margrét, but mentions that when she tells people that, that are not from Iceland, they look at her quite doubtfully. It doesn’t help her case much when others Icelanders are asked if it’s true and they’ve never heard of Skinnsemi. That should change this summer however, when Skinnsemi, along with Sirkús Íslands, travels the country, pitching their 800sq.m. (8,600sq.ft) tent in five different cities/towns – beginning and ending in Reykjavik.

And the best thing about a circus? “You don’t need to speak Icelandic to enjoy the show, that’s the beauty of a circus show”, says Margrét before she rushes off to get undressed, as the premier of Skinnsemi is about to hit the stage.  

Axel Diego Believe it or not, this performer can create artwork with bodyparts usually used for other matters... Photo/Spessi

Sirkús Íslands locations and dates for the remainder of summer: 
Akureyri: July 23rd - August 3rd
Selfoss: August 6th - August 10th
Keflavik: August 13th - August 17th
Reykjavik: August 20th - August 24th
 

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