Category: Circus

Review: Wunderage

Boundary-pushing, immersive acrobatics

By Narelle Wood

Wunderage, directed by Rob Tannion and Chelsea McGuffin is a collaboration between Circus Oz and Company 2, bringing together elements of acrobatics, music, audience movement and wonder in an exploration of pushing boundaries and strength.

Described by Company 2 director Chelsea McGuffin as “the tightrope between who we are and who we might become”, Wunderage plays with space both vertically and horizontally as circus performers showcase their strength, flexibility, courage and control. While I’m not overly sure whether I understood the ways in which the performance explored the space between who we are and who we might be, I did find myself marvelling at the sheer physicality of the performers. Phoebe Armstrong, Jess McCrindle, Chelsea McGuffin, Dylan Singh, David Trappes, Lachy Shelley and Skip Walker-Milne found themselves precariously balanced on bicycles, platforms and each other. And just in case walking across a tightrope didn’t seem difficult enough, there were headstands, point-shoes and high heels involved as well.

Harriet Oxley’s costumes were amazing and were very reminiscent of what I imagine 1920’s circus costumes to be like in both design and colour, as well as a touch of sparkle where appropriate. The musical accompaniment, provided by Grant Arthur and Bonnie Stewart, was able to strike the perfect yet difficult balance between providing enough atmosphere but not too much as to overpower the circus performance. There were so many different elements to love and as the show went on the tension only built as they performed more and more complex tricks, many of which don’t sound like they should be possible; balancing in a headstand while being pulled across a tightrope for instance.

As the acrobats moved between a variety of tightropes, Chinese Poles, platforms and mini-stages the audience were encouraged to move with them. And this was perhaps the only thing I was, not disappointed in, but perplexed by. Rob Tannion (Circus Oz Artistic Director) had said that part of what they wished to accomplish was the removal of barriers between the performers and the audience, and this is a really interesting premise. But in removing the seating, other physical barriers were created. It was often really difficult to see what was going on, especially when the performers were doing acrobatics on the ground, and this is from me who is reasonably tall and was wearing heels.

Theoretically, the tightrope and platform work should be visible from most vantage points, but there were a number of people up the back scrambling to see, often taken to equipment or standing on chairs to get better vision. I couldn’t help but wonder if you were a child, shorter in stature or someone with a disability how much you would actually be able to see and enjoy. There was a lot of jostling as equipment and people were moved about, and I found this more of a distraction than an opportunity to immerse myself in the show.

For anyone curious about acrobatics, pushing physical boundaries and immersive theatre, Wunderage is a fascinating, if not a little nerve-wracking, exploration of all three.

 

Wunderage runs until 30 June at Meat Market, North Melbourne. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on: 1800 710 499.

Photograph: Aaron Walker

 

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Review: Close Encounters

Deliciously camp sci-fi burlesque

By Bradley Storer

Australian all male burlesque group Briefs return to Melbourne with their latest work Close Encounters,and without a doubt the boys are better then ever! This time around the troupe have a thematic link tying the show together, the idea of ‘close encounters’ in terms of both science fiction and the connection between human beings as a whole. We’re invited aboard ‘the mother of all motherships’ by host and drag performer Shivanna (AKA Fez Fa’anana) as the boys of Briefs deliver a hopeful message from the future.

The audience is treated to a stunning array of burlesque, acrobatics, dance and comedy across the evening. Highpoints include a science experiment/juggling routine that first thrills then tantalizes with balls flying through the air and volcanoes exploding as a lab uniform vanishes. A sensual, spacey strip show featuring an astronaut floating through space in nothing but a g-string. A gorgeous and gawky ballet set to the futuristic thrum of Kate Bush. And all throughout, an inexplicable but wonderfully grouchy white rabbit who continually points to a ringing alarm clock – suggesting the inescapable tugging of time as it drags us into the future, perhaps? At every twist and turn of the performance, the audience were whooping and hollering in ecstatic joy.

Across the board, Close Encounters takes the aesthetic previously established by Briefs – queer, cheeky, joyful, political and daring – and deepens it in beautiful ways. The highlight of the entire show is a gorgeous sequence exploring the limits of the human body with Shivanna as icy extra-terrestrial mistress manipulating and contorting her aerialist test subject. Campy, deliciously overwrought elements crystallise into a stunning whole that can only be described as a piece of pure art.

Briefs continues to offer up work that arouses, disturbs and most of all, delights the audience. While it admittedly offers no solutions to the problems of humanity, it does give a glimpse of a time in which humanity has moved towards a more joyous tomorrow – and that is more than consolation enough.

Close Encounters ran at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne 20 – 24 March. See here for more information.

Photograph: Kate Pardey

Review: Wolfgang

Circus meets Mozart in a cheeky blend of classical and popular forms

By Lois Maskiell

Acclaimed Australian contemporary circus company, Circa, flip high and low art in their spirited and lively children’s show, Wolfgang. Titled after none other than the enduring Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself, the production offers little ones an energetic and hilarious foray into classical music, complete with a live accordion, virtuosic acrobatics and even fart jokes.

Sparks begin when acrobat (Kathryn O’Keeffe) enjoys a solitary birthday moment while she spins a Mozart record on a nearby turntable. In instants, Mozart (Paul O’Keeffe) and a clownish accordion player appear from a refrigerator door and the mayhem quickly escalates.

The next hour features a series of wild and whirling segments in which Mozart and the acrobat enter into a series of duet like routines. From first-rate tumbling to perfectly poised hand balancing, the performers showcase their astonishing skills. Children are heard gurgling and whooping throughout the theatre as amusing stunts – which at times only feature a music stand or moving spotlight – raise the roof with laughter.

Mozart’s character is performed with an overflowing exuberance that’s at once infectious and energising to witness. Towards the beginning his acrobatic companion is given a brief window to showcase her own talent and strength, though her brilliance is mostly overshadowed by the capricious genius of Mozart. Mozart embraces the limelight in his outlandish cycling routine: he jumps around, shifting positions as he dresses from underpants into an extravagant gentleman’s coat.

Circa delivers yet again with Wolfgang. By blending classical and popular forms, they continue in the same vein as their previous work like the circus-opera Il Ritorno, or their more recent interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Director Yaron Lifschitz takes Mozart’s elegant music and injects within it a certain joy and playfulness which teases traditions all the while reminding us to enjoy art wherever it’s found.

Wolfgang is being performed 2 – 12 January at Arts Centre Melbourne with a relaxed performance taking place 9 January. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: supplied

Review: Rock Bang

Risqué and riotous: Circus Oz and Die Roten Punkte join forces 

By Leeor Adar

They’re certainly a little batsh*t, but that’s the appeal of the faux German duo, Astrid & Otto Rot (Aussie Clare Bartholomew and Daniel Tobias), the “brother/sister” team behind Die Roten Punkte (The Red Dots). To be frank, I walked into the Merlyn Theatre with few presumptions about the night ahead. The question for me, as a circus fan, was whether there would be enough space for some excellent circus, or would the circus be ancillary to the Rot?

It’s always fun when circus serves itself up with other performing arts, and pairing the incredible talent of Circus Oz with Otto & Astrid with their wacky punk appeal actually works out like coconut ice cream and mango sorbet – it’s a natural union of bedfellows, risqué upon risqué. However, the standout for the show really came down to the relentless energy of all performers and the crème of the crop of Circus Oz, whether they were on swinging trapeze or punk dancing in space-disco getups.

Rock Bang follows the journey of orphaned siblings, Otto & Astrid, as they escape the seismic violence of the death of their parents into a life of baked goods and the Berlin underground. Almost fatally dependent on his sister, Otto watches on from his technicolour dream world to Astrid’s descent into a drug and sex-fuelled haze. It’s very tongue-in-cheek punk rock, and makes for some outrageously funny scenes due to the performers’ excellent physicality.

Ensemble April Dawson, Alyssa Moore, Kyle Raftery, Matt Wilson, Robbie Curtis and Rockie Stone were stellar; the ensemble was exciting to watch as they performed various acts throughout the show. My only real wish was for more of them and less of the music.

Director Rob Tannion’s vision for Rock Bang is clear, it’s an in-your-face extravaganza of loud punk vibes and fantastic acrobatics. I found that frequently it was just a little much, particularly in the first act where the piece was disjointed in places, and a little unsure of its direction. This cleared up dramatically for a far more enjoyable and succinct second act that combined dance and song far more effectively. A particularly well-crafted scene was at “rehab” where Astrid makes a bold escape. I absolutely loved the choice in body doubles for the action sequences that led to some riotous physical comedy.

Although I did spy some very under-13 children in the audience, the show is really a 15+ affair, given that gang-bangs and drug use are featured. My favourite moment in the second act was hearing a little girl ask her mother, “What’s rehab?” and I glanced at my friend honestly pondering how a parent should break the rehab seal to their offspring. Now, how punk rock is that?

 

Rock Bang will be performed 15 – 25 November with an audio described & AUSLAN matinee 24 November. Tickets are available online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.

Photograph: Mark Turner

 

Review: Lexicon

A homage to circus’ most loved qualities

By Lois Maskiell

NoFit State Circus has discovered two key ingredients for a fast-paced circus extravaganza: a series of short acts teamed with wistful and poetic imagery. A nostalgic school scenario opens the evening with the cast sitting at antique desks before being hoisted into the air in joyous mayhem. The juxtaposition of the mundane and gravity-defying displays fills the canvas walls as aerial artists, acrobats and clowns take over the classroom.

Lexicon, a title that perhaps tributes the rich vocabulary of circus as developed since Philip Astley’s equestrian-based entertainment of the late 1700s, sees an array of individual numbers come together to form a seamless whole. Staged in a circular ring of a tent that’s nestled amongst the greenery of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Lexicon harks back to circus’ golden age while delivering a contemporary experience complete with a superb live band, open rigging and on-stage costume changes.

Milan-born director, Firenza Guidi has an eye for creating beautiful visuals combining empty space and multiple focal points for maximum effect. Leading performers at the top of their game, Guidi has arranged a straps, slack wire, double ropes, rue cyr, trapeze, foot juggling, hand balancing and unicycle act each separated by a good dose of clowning and group acrobatics. In one instance a fire juggler proves that clowning is in fact serious business, he repeatedly sets himself alight and the audience erupts in laughter before he swiftly juggles a countless number of flaming torches with ease.

Embracing danger, the bizarre, outlandish comedy and vivacious personality, the artists all espouse circus’ most loved qualities by accomplishing reality-bending tricks that spark awe in children and adults alike. Their Edwardian-style steampunk costumes will make you want to throw your work attire in the bin and run away with the circus. Though, based on the talent of the cast only years of training would grant you entry into their ranks despite how easily their stunts seemed to be executed. Lexicon is a playful and joyous ride that not only transcends the mundane but the laws of gravity too, and it’s simply exhilarating.

 

Lexicon is being performed at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria until 21 October as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Tickets can be purchased online. 

For information about the Melbourne International Arts Festival access services call 03 9652 4242.

Photograph: Jim Lee

Review: Company 18

An evening of astonishing circus and variety

By Leeor Adar

I was lucky to bear witness to last year’s National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) showcase, and the astonishing talent left me breathless. I am always absolutely thrilled by circus arts, so I was a little surprised to see that the focus this year became more of a variety show of occasionally awkward (albeit sometimes spot on) jokes from Jan Van De Stool, and a closing song by Queenie Van De Zandt that could rival Eurovision without the fire and lasers. What a pandemonium…

Aside from the variety elements, and the occasional focus on theatre over circus for some acts, I was still impressed with the talented group. These amazing circus artists are elite-level athletes with three years of training behind them. Company 18 benefited from a new NICA initiative that provided individual artistic consultation sessions. Aside from the excellent networking opportunities this provided, Company 18 also had the benefit of discussing and honing their preferred skills with those at the top of their field.

The opening act of Jordan Hensley-Twartz performing diablo was certainly a jaw-dropping beginning. Hensley-Twartz’s ability and concentration was a very strong start to the night. It’s always difficult as the first act, as it sets the tone of the night – and on this occasion the bar was set high. As the night progressed, performers told stories through their bodies and choice of song. Notably, the joyous folk-hop as Hayley Mills circled the stage in her Roue Cyr was followed by a startling and dark performance by Ellen Henry on loop straps. I really began to enjoy the variety provided on the night.

As the night progressed, some real standouts emerged. Poppy Fairbairn and Zion Martyn were mesmerising with pointe adagio and risley. The choice of costumes by the pair and their play on the marionette made for incredible entertainment and a showcase of their skill. I could barely look when Fairbairn on one pointe balanced herself on Martyn. One would think the following act would struggle to keep up after such a crowd favourite, but Adam Malone absolutely smashed it with his hula hoop act. Malone’s blend of meditative dance and use of lighting made for an excellent alternate experience to the previous act.

For something a little different, the audience loved Shay Bowskill who had a large focus on comedy and physical theatre, which was less circus-focused. I was also delighted by Georgia Deguara on her aerial chair with the showgirl feel she injected as she performed to Rolling on a River.

Post-interval began with death-defying ferocity as Karla Scott tantalised on a swinging trapeze. I was delighted to see Elanor Nunn follow on tissu, which was absolutely gorgeous to watch; Nunn was able to stand between the soft materials in an incredible feat I did not think physically possible. This segment also brought something out of the ordinary in Zoë Marshall’s contortion carpet spinning. Marhshall’s performance was completely beautiful, and showcased both her poise and unique skill. Brooke Duckworth and Lyndon Johnson performed together in an endearing set of acrobatics, which they undertook with an ease that might tempt audiences to perform at home (don’t). An ethereal and powerful Emily Chilvers (on rope) and an elegant Liam Dummer (on straps) were in perfect form as they scaled incredible heights in their individual acts, representing in my opinion, circus excellence.

As Company 18 awkwardly smiled through the final sing-song, I have high hopes for next year’s talent, which given the excellence of NICA and its pupils, should remain more circus, and less variety show.

Company 18 was performed 19 – 22 September at the National Institute of Circus Arts. See here for more information.

Photographs: Aaron Walker

Review: St Kilda Royale

The Shuffle Club presents St Kilda Royale 

By Jessica Gittel Cornish

Inspired by the European cabaret halls of the 1800’s and 1900’s the Memo Music Hall opened it’s doors to showcase the youthful neo-circus production, St Kilda Royale. The heart and soul of the night was led by the energetic four-piece jazz and swing band, The Shuffle Club. The players were professional, talented and kept the momentum of the show pulsing forward throughout the night. Weaving in and out of the musical tunes were your favourite contemporary circus numbers including acro balance, juggling, hula hoops and a splash of modern burlesque.

The thing I love about circus is that there’s such a thin line between amazement and catastrophe. Performers hold the audience captivated in the moment, and have them wondering if such a stunt can be pulled off? In most cases this was the case at St Kilda Royale, but things didn’t always go to plan. A stray juggling ball and a couple run away hula hoops flung into the crowd, but it just added to the fun and the excitement of the live performance.

Shuffle Club 2.jpeg

My favourite act of the night was hands down a percussive juggling piece starring Joe Fisher and Shuffle Club front man who pumped out snappy beats on his mini drum kit. The duo successfully created a visually and musically engaging number. Followed closely by a romantic, fire eating, slash throwing number – again something I often didn’t see in my circus going days.

The transitions between items were smooth and the lighting design was basic, but effective. The performance was raw and brilliantly rough around the edges, and the night was filled with energy and fun that left the audience in high spirits. The cast have great potential and I hope to see them back on the stage again very soon!

St Kilda Royale was performed at Memo Music Hall 4 – 8 July. See their website for more information about the production.