Category: Circus

Review: À Ố Làng Phố – Vietnamese Bamboo Circus

The epitome of modern circus

By Rachel Holkner

Asia TOPA is fast becoming one of my favourite Melbourne festivals. It is a hugely valuable months-long showcase of Asia-Pacific performing arts where the sheer volume of performances creates a powerful movement against the Eurocentric tradition of arts in Australia. The quality is consistently so high I would cheerfully throw a dart at the program to select a show. So, happily fed thanks to the Vietnamese menu currently on offer by Chef de Partie Vinnie Nguyen at Café Vic, I settled into the State Theatre for À Ố Làng Phố with very little idea of what would unfold. I was not disappointed.

À Ố Làng Phố (Vietnamese Bamboo Circus) is the epitome of modern circus, a flawless blend of storytelling, elite physical skill, music and choreography. The multitalented cast demonstrate a strength and depth of performance that is joyful and exuberant.

In an exploration of place, time and human relationships, the usual suspects of circus, such as juggling, contortion, dance and puppetry are utilised in a celebration of culture. What shone particularly for me were the harmonious interactions between cast members both within complex routines and in interstitial sections.

Delightful moments of clowning employed gentle self-mockery which was never demeaning of others, so often the go-to of circus clowns. All the comedy sketches were beautifully timed and added poignancy to the overall production.

The lighting, props and costumes remained straightforward throughout with the emphasis on bamboo as a material. Whether woven into a basket or disk, as a short stick or long pole, a juggling club or an instrument, it seemed bamboo was used in its every possible configuration except as a food. Its warmth was echoed by the sepia tones of the opening, transitioning through to a multicoloured and joyous conclusion. Motifs of pattern-making and rhythm grounded the entire performance.

My complete lack of any Vietnamese language proved no barrier at all to my understanding. Through song lyrics or occasional dialogue, the expression of voice and gesture were far more important in conveying meaning.

The entire simplicity of execution lent an elegance throughout, balanced beautifully by the undertones of truth and humour. All these aspects were perfectly integrated into a whole celebration of Vietnam and, by extension, humanity.

Asia TOPA continues through March 2020 at various venues across Melbourne. See http://www.asiatopa.com.au for more information.

Photography courtesy of Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Review: Cirque Stratosphere

All the requirements of a spectacular

By Rachel Holkner

There’s a disconnect in seeing a circus in a static building, particularly one as large and revered as Hamer Hall. But this is not mere circus, it is a reframing of circus arts as event spectacular. Spectaculars themselves continue to grow in popularity as extravagant productions with lavish sets and costumes, and an all-senses assault of lighting and music become the go-to for a big family night out.

For all the requirements of a spectacular Cirque Stratosphere certainly holds up – all the elements are present – yet the disconnect is amplified as I found none of the elements speak to each other. The show is presented as the story of NASA’s race to land a man on the moon in the 1960s, however it seems as if each of the departments went off on their own without an overarching vision. Lights and music are perfect for a ’90s rave (complete with hovering UFO for DJ Hikuri Roots), staging as if preparing for TRON and costumes lifted straight out of The Jetsons.

While beautifully realised, it is the costumes which amplified the misogynistic times of the space race. Reliant on 1960s stereotypes of women, with added boob cones, the roles for the female performers were framed as office staff and passive observers. Women were further marginalised as the two male clowns calling audience members on stage chose men nine out of ten times. If the jokes being written consistently require a male participant, perhaps there’s a need to write some different jokes.

The use of archival audio, from educational films, interviews and missions recordings, was well-intentioned, but the poor quality nature of these tracks meant that much of it was lost under the dance beats and bass drops. But in the end it was the lack of narrative holding this production together which really made it fail to launch. I found transitions stilted, the acts isolated and choreography tired. The only moment of surprise and delight was thanks to an unexpectedly talented audience member brought up on stage, which unfortunately highlighted what was missing from this circus.

There is no doubting the skills of these performers. Each worked flawlessly and tirelessly to present a solid show. Cirque Stratosphere suffers from these artists standing alone and not being part of a troupe, which goes against the mission to the moon theme where all had to work together.

Cirque Stratosphere is showing at Hamer Hall until 11 January and then Sydney Opera House from January 14th.

https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2020/circus-and-magic/cirque-stratosphere

Photography courtesy of Jordan Munns

 

 

 

 

Review: Humans by Circa

An incredible display of strength, vulnerability,  flexibility and a celebration of the human spirit.

By Sebastian Purcell

 

Humans offers 10 acrobats pushing themselves to the extreme as they explore the physical and emotional limits of their bodies. The breathtaking strength, masterful, and at times down right freakish choreography is set to a Spanish inspired soundtrack. This, combined with the inspiring performers (Caroline Baillon, Marty Evans, Piri Goodman, Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Bridie Hooper, Cecilia Martin, Hamish McCourty, Daniel O’Brien, Kimberley O’Brien, Jarrod Takle) leads us beautifully to reflect on our lives, loved ones, and the burdens we all must overcome to survive and thrive.  The show invites you to consider how much can we take as humans? How much weight can we carry? And, who can we trust to support us?

Yaron Lifschitz brings this extraordinary performance to life with a stripped bare stage and a lighting design that takes you from night to day, to sunset and dawn. The ensemble pushes the boundaries of comfort before the show even begins undressing in front of the entering audience, stripping away insecurities.

Humans focuses on the triumph over adversity and disability, in a moving display the loss of one’s legs is transformed into the strength of the upper body. This prompts the audience to reflect on our ability as humans to support and raise our fellow brothers and sisters up, or to go out of our way to make life difficult.

The performance insightfully demonstrated the power of teamwork. The most brilliant moments were the human chains, stacking three women on top of each other’s shoulders, a nod to female empowerment, and that only with the help of another are you able to have your elbow licked. This routine offered a light-hearted comedic moment but also offered a powerful representation of going it alone, and conforming to everyone else.

Humans is about perseverance. It shows that every muscle can be trained, that our weakest parts can be our strongest, and that failure is the bedrock of success. The body and mind are only as vulnerable as we allow it to be, a crash landing may not be the thing to fear but rather an opportunity in the strength and resilience it builds.

This is one outstanding piece of acrobatics that is a testament to endurance and dedication, but also a thought-provoking theatrical experience that will have you questioning your limits, your comfort zone, and hopefully leave you with the desire to stretch your own limits.

Humans presented by Circa plays at the Arts Centre Melbourne Wednesday 27 Nov – Sat 30 Nov 2019.

Visit https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/circus-and-magic/humans-by-circa

Photography by Sarah Walker

Review: Rouge

Oh Boy, Oh Girl, Oh Non-binary! Circus for grown ups

By Leeor Adar

Rouge is so white hot, my friend and I were squealing with delight, amazement and desire. It is just – that – good. It is also downright naughty, and if a little bit of kink is your thing, this show will deliver all the kicks and kink of your dreams.

The group, Issie Hart, Paul Westbrook, Lyndon Johnson, Jessie Mckibbin, Maddy Burleigh and Liam deJong, have toured Rouge internationally and thankfully brought their extraordinary arsenal of talent and skill to the circus ring of Melbourne’s Wonderland Spiegeltent.

Rouge isn’t your ordinary adult circus show. The breathtaking operatic vocals of Hart propel the work into unique territory. The mix of opera and circus art conjures up an old-world aesthetic whilst breaking modern boundaries. The audience is both delighted and surprised at the contents of the show, affirming that circus of this calibre will always draw the crowds.

Every artist in this show is a master of their craft, and each of them bring their own flair and character to the work. Westbrook’s camp black swan vibe is a riot, and the audience clearly loves the playful character he brings to the stage. Westbrook and Johnson perform an S&M-inspired tangle of love on the ropes with such ardour that you can’t look away. In terms of incredible pairings, Burleigh’s fluidity and control as she performs stunning tableaus with deJong is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Another stand out is Mckibbin’s fire-twirling, which is truly smoking hot. There is another routine featuring Mckibbin and three of the male performers that is whip-crackingly decadent, so that is a surprise I will leave for the audiences …

Prepare yourselves to be delighted by dancing lampshades, thumping beats, and every deviant indulgence you could endure, all served tongue-in-cheek. The inclusivity of the night meant that anyone and everyone could enjoy the sexiness of the show and unashamedly laugh, smile and swoon with abandon. It doesn’t hurt they serve up some delicious cocktails to boot – it really is good to be a grown up sometimes!

Tickets available: https://www.wonderlandspiegeltent.com.au/ticketing?/event/rouge/a4e28589-bc44-404e-9330-95a5fda4f522/

Photography by Jodie Hutchinson

 

 

 

 

Review: Circus Oz Presents AURORA

Dazzling visuals and flying penguins

By Leeor Adar

Circus Oz’s latest offering, Aurora, is a whole lot of fun for the family, offering dazzling visuals and humour with a nod to the climate and its refugees.

Directed by Kate Fryer, the talented ensemble includes a polar bear (Tara Silcock), a band of flying penguins (Sam Aldham, Matty Brown, Adam Malone, Spenser Inwood, Shani Stephens, Jillibalu Riley), and a fantastic live music soundscape featuring Jeremy Hopkins and Selene Messinis.

Children will be completely entertained from the get-go, with the band of flying penguins eliciting laughter and smiles from the crowd, including a few bouncing props tossed amongst the audience – for those holding a glass of wine, be warned! The penguins soon show their prowess with the flying trapeze, peppering humour from high above as they perform extraordinary acts, leaping to one another with audible gasps from the audience.

Silcock emerges to the audience grinning, and commences a polar bear/climate awareness rap, which is admittedly a difficult feat to perform in a polar bear suit under the hot lights. But Silcock is up for the challenge, flanked by Hopkins and Messinis on drums. The rap is a touch breathless, but my partner and I shared a sad look about the current state of affairs for the polar beast. It quickly turns playful again, as Silcock attempts to enjoy a hearty meal of a toy penguin, much to the outrage of the surrounding children in the audience, prompting her to commence an artful foot juggle with the toy penguin.

The unfolding of Aurora tells the story of toxic waste and rubbish piling up, and the plight of the animals fighting for food and territory. Circus Oz attempts to explore this through a combination of humour, and acts that dissect its impact on the environment and its inhabitants whilst showcasing the many talents of its ensemble. It’s hard to inject the realities of our environment to children, and while its not lost on the adult spectators, I do wonder if the younger members of the audience are cognisant to what is being performed.

Stand out, Adam Malone, is electrifying in his Washington trapeze act suspended above the toxic waste, mostly balancing on his head (gasp!), and later again proving his mercurial performance style in a hoops act. Sam Aldham’s notable collection of plastic rubbish from a rope as he climbs it precariously above the ground, is another nod to the pick-up-your-rubbish fodder for the children in the audience. Matthew Brown is a regal addition of the classic ringmaster trope, adding a level of gravitas to the mostly light-hearted entertainment.

Aurora, with its quality selection of circus acts, music and high-energy performances makes for an enjoyable romp for all of its spectators.

You can catch Aurora until 6 October at the gorgeous Royal Botanic Gardens. Don’t forget to take the younger members of your tribe! Tickets: https://www.circusoz.com/shows-and-tickets/about/10021/aurora.html

Photography by Mark Turner

Review: Sesame Street Circus Spectacular

Full of wonderment and surprise

By Narelle Wood

Silver’s Circus presents an action packed circus show, with something to entertain everyone. Sesame Street characters such as Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Bert and Ernie, start the show with a song and a dance, and are soon joined by a number of different juggling and acrobatic acts. Before you know it the beloved fluffy characters have decided the circus looks like a fun, and wander off to wonder what circus acts they might be able to contribute.

The circus acts themselves include everything from juggling, monocycle riding, acrobatics, hoola-hoops, motorbikes, and what I’m going to refer to as the rings of death. Most of the ‘oohhs’ and ‘aaahhhs’ came from the adults in the audience, with perhaps the difficulty level of some of the tricks being a over the really little ones’ heads. But for most part everybody’s eyes were wide with amazement and there were plenty of moments that the two little people with me were in absolute awe. Four motorbikes in the spherical cage was “crazy” (in a good way) according to my nephew, and my niece was very much taken with tightrope walker’s ability to cross the rope in pointe shoes and on pointe. It was, however, the dogs that were a clear crowd favourite, especially when the dogs were being naughty.

There are moments when the music is really loud, making it hard to understand some of the talking, and there are times where the lights are really bright, or turned off altogether. The music and lights worked really well to highlight the performances and allow the stage to be reset but, while most of the kids coped, it is worth thinking about this if there are any members of your party that have light or sound sensitivities.

That been said, there was definite excitement from everyone to see the Sesame Street characters live on stage. I’m not sure the younger kids would have understood the jokes or what the Sesame Street characters were singing about, so I would have liked to see the Sesame Street characters worked into the show a little bit more.

Sesame Street Circus is a show full of wonderment and surprise, with the occasional nerve-wrecking moment. It is definitely a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Silver’s Circus’s Sesame Street Circus Spectacular is playing until the 11th of October. Tickets available at http://www.sesamestreetcircus.com.au/tickets

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