By Joana Simmons
In their newest show Model Citizens, the Circus Oz crew has made a masterpiece that blows our socks off and tickles our feet as the same time. Featuring a highly energetic all-Australian cast, and an absolutely fantastic live band, we are taken on a journey to explore the myths of modern Australia, what it means to fit in; to be a model citizen. The range of circus acts is immense, all skillfully choreographed and intertwining with the blue set and giant everyday objects, with a delightful dash of the company’s trademark Aussie charm.
The Circus Oz Big Top on Birrarung Marr buzzes as the audience of all ages piles in to the well-lit, well structured, technical canvas wonderland. The blue set designed by Michael Baxter, with a giant pair of scissors side stage, provides a familiar yet unrecognizable backdrop for the world we are about to enter. We are asked to wonder what makes us us, to open our eyes and mind, as the models come to life: flipping over and around each other to the punchy drums. There’s a real sense of play throughout the show, contrasted with the element of danger in the acts and the deeper questions we are searching for answers to. We crane our necks gasping as the performers hang and spin high above us on various circus apparatus, each with a wonderful twist – a giant pair of Y-Fronts, a huge safety pin, trapeze and more. From the contortion to hula hoop, spring sequences, adagio, fire, juggling, balancing to rollerskating, each act seamlessly glides into the next, with no divide between storytelling and ‘tricks.’ This show is something greater than people making shapes to music.
I could rave for days about the band. The original music by musical director Ania Reynolds had me tapping my feet and at the edge of my seat. Reynolds was joined by energetic musical ensemble – Michelle John, the multi-talented and highly hilarious Matt Wilson, Alex Wiebel Wiebel and Jeremy Hopkins (whose new rendition of “Waltzing Matilda” was a standout). From synth to drums to guitar, bass saxophone and violin, the soundtrack united the show.
Moreover, the athletic performers ought to be properly chuffed at how they all kicked some serious ass, and clearly have trained for a very long time to be the top of their game. All performers’ characterization was natural and they don’t only make it look easy: they make it look fun. Individual acts that had the audience going berserk included the “Peg Acrobatics” featuring Jake Silvestro, Lachlan Sukro, Steph Mouat, Luke Ha and Mitch Jones – a delightfully playful, well-choreographed and comic sequence. Meanwhile, Jarred Dewey’s contortion irons were graceful and stunning, and Freyja Edney is a multifaceted performerand incredibly strong; she also wears an apron like a boss. It was the penultimate piece however – Alex Wiebel Wiebel on the slack ropes – that absolutely tore the top down.
It’s hard to believe it’s Artistic Director/ Concept creator Rob Tannion’s first show. Everything is so well put together, with the right combination of comedy and something to think about. He has something wonderful to share, and I am excited to see what he will bring next. Shows of this magnitude take an army of creatives to bring to life – Laurel Frank’s costume design was both fitting with the theme and all the individuals’ bodies. Lighting by Sian James-Holland gave a real sense of originality and ingenuity, especially paired with Ryan Taplin’s rigging design (never before have I seen a giant pair of undies from which one can suspend themselves). It gives me so much inspiration and pride to see what is capable when such creatives work together on something with such overt dedication.
If you still think circus is just tightropes, jaded bearded ladies, and seedy ringmasters, you couldn’t be more wrong. Circus Oz has created its own ballsy brand, and has bought us a terrific show in Model Citizens. Go with your kids, your partner, your friends: it’s worth every penny, and will get your heart racing and a smile on your face.
Model Citizens – Circus Oz Big Top premiere in Melbourne
Season 20 June – 16 July 2017
Duration 2 hours (including 20 minute interval)
Venue Circus Oz Big Top
Location Birrarung Marr, Melbourne (between Federation Square and Batman Avenue)
Tickets $30 – $95 (plus booking fees)
Image by Rob Blackburn