Tight Roaring Circle

Dana Caspersen / William Forsythe / Joel Ryan

Roundhouse, London
26 March 1997 - 27 April 1997

The installation of a monumental white bouncy castle in the Roundhouse, London by William Forsythe, Dana Caspersen and Joel Ryan re-animated the iconic railway structure as a choreographic instrument, tracing movement through architectural space. 

Tight Roaring Circle saw choreographers Forsythe and Caspersen set up an interaction between fields of light and movement as the audience became the dancers surrounded by a soundscape wrought from Ryan's tuning and playing of the building itself as a vast musical instrument. A poem by Yukio Mishima on failure was printed white on white on the walls of the castle, which if you tried to stop to read would cause you to lose your balance.

Image: Bouncy castle installation Tight Roaring Circle by William Forsythe, Dana Caspersen and Joel Ryan in the Roundhouse, London, 1997. Photograph: Matt Antrobus

Writing: Choreographing the Castle

The artists on the role of choreography
Read more

William Forsythe and Dana Caspersen on choreographing Tight Roaring Circle

Choreography, to be a valuable thing, must be an utterly transparent vehicle, something which burns up in passage, making visible that which moves. Tight Roaring Circle turned out to be such a thing. It is a choreographic environment which produces a specific and extraordinary kind of social interaction, sets people into motion informed by a delight in trajectory, a laughter invoking rhythmical relation to others and a kind of entertainment which takes place over longer stretches of time.

It was for us an extremely interesting and wonderful thing to be in the castle, in this room of no spectators, only participants, and experience the arising of a choreography which was incapable of being false. It was never false because the parameters of destabilization, unavoidable inclusion in the event, the sheer absurdity and the fact that the castle led you to move in a certain way created a situation where there was no room for actions that were not connected to the present. This is authentic reaction, something which often gets lost in the rigors of the ballet world, and yet without which ballet is utterly meaningless and, in fact, corrupt.

The castle continues to be an important and useful thing for us to think about: how the parameters of an event or a dance must be connected to the social, economic and psychological realities of the present in order to allow a response that is vital and meaningful. And then, how a dancer’s response to the realities of a performance situation must be informed by an awareness that they are always in discourse with a great many things, among them historical tradition, learned physical and psychological patterns and the nature of the society around them. And how a dancer’s work, then, is to react authentically in the complex energetic architecture that is choreography located in time, how they must consider where they are in order to become incandescent and burn away the form through which they are acting.

Image: Audience members on bouncy castle, part of Tight Roaring Circle by William Forsythe, Dana Caspersen and Joel Ryan in The Roundhouse, London, 1997. Photograph: Sarah Ainslie

Making Tight Roaring Circles

by Michael Morris
Read more

Making Tight Roaring Circles

by Michael Morris

How we got to the castle is a long story; the project went through so many different changes. I do remember the meeting when we came up with the idea of the bouncy castle, of creating this massive white pneumatic fortress so big that it threatened to burst out of the Roundhouse. We wanted it to be squeezed in, this big white geometric soft plastic square that was bursting out of its iron ring. And we still didn't tell the press what we were doing. We worked with a company called Southern Inflatables from Hampshire who made children’s bouncy castles for fairgrounds. They set about making what ended up making the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest in the world. It was massive, and on the walls was a text by Yukio Mishima that was to do with failure. It was printed - in white - onto the white walls. You'd stop to try and read it and of course you couldn’t because you lost your balance.

The other element is the soundtrack. Joel Ryan was responsible for the roaring sound coming from speakers into the turrets and making an amazing piece that the public were convinced was interactive. But it wasn’t – the sound was recorded in the Roundhouse and then it was processed and relayed back. It was a complex sound system - and when I think of that project I think of the sound as much as I do the physical nature and athleticism it brought out of people.

Image: Inflation of the bouncy castle inside The Roundhouse, London, 1997. Photograph: Matthew Antrobus

How we made Tight Roaring Circle

Joel Ryan
Read more

How we made Tight Roaring Circle

Joel Ryan
9 April 2002

From the first moment I walked into the Roundhouse it was clear that here was a sonic contraption of absolute brilliance, which would elaborate and assert itself on whatever I made. Though we could not have anticipated the dance spawned in the cloud-white invulnerability of Tight Roaring Circle, there were many attempts to predict some of its contours. I started with the belief that there were natural durations present in the setting which, if built into the music, could put it in tune with the dance. Some of these had to be quantifiable, intrinsic to the architecture and acoustics of the Roundhouse and the dynamics of a human body of so and so many kilos rebounding ballistically. I tried to extract from measurements of space, 'time constants' for calibrating the structure of the music. But knowing there were many more subtler, and harder to pin down, I decided to do the final mixing in the Roundhouse with the sound system in place.

Visits to the Roundhouse were undoubtedly the most fruitful source of ideas for everyone involved. I saw it first alone on a cold January night during a run of the Chinese State Circus complete with its famous 17 Girls on a Bicycle. The building dwarfed the gymnasts and resisted the romance of the exotic, an important clue about the authenticity of its scale. But the band, thin reeds, strings and the barking gong of Chinese opera, provided as bewildering an initiation as could have been hoped for.

Later that year we all went together when the building was empty and began to grasp the scale of what was crouching behind the parking lot. The presence of the building refuted most of the ideas about the installation that had been imagined at a distance. The scale of the upper space, its round sky-eyed wooden roof, the wiry prosthetic iron work mystifying gravity, and the hidden plan of the undercroft, suggested an animist script concealed in this invention of industrial Britain. The symmetry of the scaling circles served the scope of a new mode of transportation, but traced the cosmology of a tribe grown away from magic.

Image: Inflation of the bouncy castle in The Roundhouse, Tight Roaring Circle, 1997. Photograph: Sarah Ainslie


Read more

Well I jumped for joy. – Antony Gormley, the Guardian


Thank heaven for those who want to cross boundaries, invite the unexpected and allow people to do things they wouId not otherwise do. There is a unique excitement that surrounds the announcement of a new Artangel project, and Tight Roaring Circle at the Roundhouse in north London is no exception – part of the excitement is that you do not know what will be required of you. I have never seen the pin-stripe so animated, the brassiere so sporty. Age and profession have no meaning here. Beneath the generous gesture and its candid humour is a profound realisation... – Antony Gormley, The Guardian, 15 April 1997

By the time Tight Roaring Circle opens, the Roundhouse will be transformed. There will be heat. There will be light. There will be a variety of “internal structures” in addition to the Roundhouse’s own; most notably its circle of 24 iron pillars topped with decorative arches and spandrels and 24 iron ribs which curve majestically up to a vast domed roof. Who but the early Victorians would have expended such care over a garage for 23 steam engines? Too bad the huge central turntable - a device for revolving engines into their berths - had its innards removed long ago. Forsythe the boy genius would have loved to play with that. – Jenny Gilbert, Independent, 16 March 1997 

Invisible choreography in a distant room? Not exactly. Tight Roaring Circle is something different. A performance? Not really, the only dancers involved are the audience. Whatever it may turn out to be, it is more than an installation that you look at for a couple of minutes before walking away. – Allen Robertson, Time Out, 26 March 1997

As you wander inside, this initial impression is confirmed. You are immediately engulfed by the booming, dissonant sounds of futuristic horns that blare, blast and soothe in a series of peaks and troughs. Scary. And then, like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters looking over the top of the mountain, you finally see it in its vast, wondrous, grandeur - a huge, white bouncy castle. – John O'Reilly, The Independent, 27 March 1997


About the Artists

Read more

Dana Caspersen

Dana Caspersen trained with a variety of people including Maggie Black and Erik Hawkins and danced with the North Carolina Dance Theater before joining Ballett Frankfurt in 1988 and then later the Forsythe Company in 2005. In numerous collaborations with William Forsythe, she has worked as a dancer, actress, author and choreographer. As a choreographer she has undertaken commissions from Sylvie Guillem, Klapstuck Festival, Ballett Frankfurt, Korzo Theater and Channel 4.

William Forsythe

William Forsythe founded The Forsythe Company in 2004 and is internationally recognized as one of the world’s foremost choreographers. He has been commissioned to produce architectural and performance installations by Daniel Libeskind, Creative Time and the City of Paris. His installation and films have been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale. Forsythe and his ensembles have been awarded the New York Dance and Performance Bessie Award and the Laurence Olivier Award. Forsythe has been conveyed the title of Commandeur des Arts et Lettres by the government of France and has received the German Distinguished Service Cross and the Wexner Prize.

Joel Ryan

Joel Ryan studied physics and philosophy at The Claremont Colleges and the University of California, and then music technology at Stanford University and the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music. A pioneer in the design of musical instruments based on real time digital signal processing, he has collaborated extensively with composers and artists including George Lewis and Malcolm Goldstein. Formerly a Research Associate at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories of the Univesity of California, he now works at STEIM in Amsterdam.

Images: (left) Dana Caspersen, William Forsythe & Joel Ryan in their installation, 1997. (above) Portrait of Ryan, Caspersen and Forsythe. Photograph by Sarah Ainslie


Read more

Who made this possible?


Tight Roaring Circle was commissioned by Artangel with Beck’s. Presented with the support of the International Initiatives, Combined Arts and London Dance Network Strategic Programming funds of the Arts Council England, the London Collaborations and London Calling funds of the London Arts Board, The Quercus Trust and Camden Leisure and Community Services. 

Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial Angels, Guardian Angels and The Company of Angels.