The first foot juggler to come out of New Zealand, Emma Phillips is an expert in twirling, whirling, and tossing umbrellas, carpets and even tables using nothing but her toes, arches and heels. A pandemic-induced return to New Zealand saw her settle in Christchurch, where she recently starred in the Bread and Circus Backyard Buskers Festival. Metropol catches up with the
Tables are Emma Phillips’ speciality. She juggles them with her feet, deftly kicking and spinning the large dining necessity in the air, while also tossing and whirling umbrellas in her hands.
Emma is the first known circus performer to come out of New Zealand specialising in foot juggling, and has gone on to blaze a trail in the esoteric art.
She is one of the only known Western artists to perform Chinese-style foot juggling in the world, and the first to combine umbrella and table juggling simultaneously.
A career which began, despite her Whangarei upbringing, in Christchurch. The now 30-year-old was introduced to the world of foot juggling while studying a Diploma in Circus Arts at Christchurch Polytech in 2008.
Inspired to take her foot juggling training to the next level, she then applied and was accepted to the Beijing Acrobatic Arts School and Wuqiao Acrobatic School in China.
“My real training didn’t really begin until I got to China,” she says. “And then I realised how hard it was!”
She was taught the traditional art of foot juggling “by China’s finest”. And while it remains her speciality, she is also trained in and regularly performs contortion and aerial hoop, too.
Emma started performing while studying, but it was after graduation that her CV really picks up. She has performed throughout China, Australia, Europe, Russia and the UAE, and most recently accepted a contract for the German and Austrian tours of Roncalli Circus Theatre.
Unfortunately, the contract which she says was “the biggest of my career” was thwarted by Covid-19.
On the night of the press premiere, the show was postponed for five weeks.
“I definitely considered staying in Germany,” she says.
But the opportunity to see her family in Christchurch won out. And the five weeks turned into the remainder of 2020 and, now, into 2021.
“I’m so glad I came home, spending the year with my family and my sister’s kids has been an absolute highlight,” she says.
A highlight the recent crowds at Bread and Circus Backyard Busker’s Festival can attest to, when Emma took her glamorous, vaudeville-styled performance to the streets.
“The New Regent Street Spectacular was amazing,” she says.
“It was such immersive street theatre with the opera singers and the musicians, and I was juggling a table in the middle of everyone!”
She also loved performing with the Topp Twins at the Isaac Theatre Royal gala, “which has always been one of my dream theatres to work in.”
Emma says her favourite part of the whole festival “was the community side of it” as she felt incredibly fortunate to be in one of the only performing festivals in the world.
For all the impacts of Covid-19, the fallout for the performing arts sector has been particularly harsh. So for 2021, Emma says she is trying to spin the lack of strict performance
schedule to further refine her craft.
“One thing I would like to do is have a little bit more fun with performance to just play and explore that creativity.”