Category: Circus

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

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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.

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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.

 

Review: Precarious

Circus Oz’ Precarious has audiences smiling minutes in, gasping minutes later and applauding for many minutes more

By Joana Simmons

2018 marks Circus Oz’ 40th anniversary and if their new show Precarious is anything to go by, the company is far from a mid-life crisis and much closer to getting better and better with age. Set in the newly located big top in the Royal Botanic Gardens, this high-class show features a cast of multi-skilled circus artists and musicians. I was smiling minutes in, gasping minutes later and applauding for many minutes more.

The story of the show is simple: set in an imagined world, a bureaucracy called The Ministry of Seed control nature like a group of bumbling, tumbling fools. Times are precarious, good seeds are scarce, humans have a big impact on the environment, in fact they have the power to make everything come toppling down (literally).

The opening number features ambient sounds, which are looped to create layers and layers within this quirky world, as the cast deconstructs a giant tower of jenga blocks painted like a forest. From the get go their energy as an ensemble is a strong force, as they tumble, roll, balance, throw and catch each other fluidly. The conflict arises when one special seed goes missing and the apparatus and methods that all the performers used to get it back still have me in awe.

Artistic Director Rob Tannion and co-director Kate Fryer must have one incredible dynamic to produce another outstanding production for Circus Oz. I was fortunate enough to review last year’s Model Citizens which was this killer combo’s debut. The circus cast of Tara Silcock, Dylan Singh, Tania Cervantes Chamorro, Jake Silvestro, Jon Bonaventura, Emily Gare and Lachlan Sukroo each had standout moments across their apparatuses and in their supporting roles.

Peformers Jake Silvestro, Lachlan Sukroo and Tania Cervantes Chamorro. Photograph by Rob Blackburn.

Those who had me on the edge of my seat were Jake Silvestro in his rue cyr act full with smoky haze, Emily Gare with her balance blocks, Tania Cervantes Chamorro’s aerial slings and Lachlan Sukroo on something I have never seen before: swinging Chinese pole. Sukroo was like a monkey, only much more elegant. I found Jon Bonaventura to be a beautiful dancer and his hand balancing act featured incredible flexibility and was so well choreographed. Characterwise, all performers were absorbed in the world they created. I didn’t see any facial expressions that gave away the hours of training and effort that must go into their craft.

The comic duo of Sukroo and Silcock carried much of the story. The overall show stealer though was Tara Silcock. From doing hula hoops whilst swinging in the air, to every small and hilarious facial expression – I couldn’t keep my eyes off her – she was equal parts fearless and charismatic.

One of my favourite parts of this show was the live music. Musical director Jeremy Hopkins has created and performed a joyfully dynamic soundtrack with a huge range. There was not one point where he was not drumming, singing, looping, clapping, creating voice overs and who knows what else. Hopkins was supported by Sophia Exiner on keys, synth and vocals and together the pair created a full-scale sound that was perfectly suited to each act.

Other parts of the production that deserve congratulations are Laurel Frank’s costume design, Maddy Seach’s lighting design, Michael Baxter’s set and prop design and Andrew Dyson rigging that had him climbing to the very heights of the big top, only to slide down a ladder minutes later.

Circus Oz is made up of “creative maveriks, ground-breakers and risk takers.” Circus is far bigger than the canvas walls – it’s what makes us want to play again, delight in the gravity defying and marvel at magic. When work-life balance feels like the thing that is most precariously on the edge, escaping to a show like this, in a stunning setting, is an absolute joy. Buy a ticket, or twenty, as Precarious is highly enjoyable for everyone.

Precarious is being performed 26 June – 15 July at the Circus Oz Big Top situated in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Victoria. Tickets can be puchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 665 915.

For information about audio described performances, Auslan interpreted performances and companion cards, take a look at this access ticket webpage.

Photographs: Rob Blackburn

Review: Le Sacré

Daring and exciting fusion of circus arts and classical ballet

By Lois Maskiell

The National Institute of Circus Arts has joined forces with the Australian Ballet School in the bold, large-scale production, Le Sacré. With over forty bodies on stage, directing this large work, which fuses two distinct art forms as well as showcases diverse student talent, is no easy feat.

The directorial team includes NICA’s Movement and Performance Coordinators Zebastian Hunter and Meredith Kitchen along with Simon Dow, the Resident Choreographer at the Australian Ballet School. With additional creative input from Francois-Eloi Lavingnac, these collaborators have devised a piece using all the right key ingredients. Though despite the advertised aim to expose the themes inherent in Nijinsky’s the Rites of Spring, I found that the narrative development left any deep exploration of its themes to the wayside.

What was identifiable was two distinct parts: the first filled with riotous dance scenes and the second filled with smaller acts and the ceremonious choosing of the young girl or sacrificial victim. One ingenious directorial choice was how the ballet’s story is transferred from a pagan world of ritual to a twisted ball where power constructs are playfully altered through a camp aesthetic mixed with a techno sensibility.

The technical abilities of these bold, young students are manifold. Their talent is abundant, particularly during smaller group acts that made me wish for more solos. Standout performers include Georgia Webb, a chameleon of skill whose aptitude for acrobatics is as dynamic as her skill on lyra, rue cyr and hand balancing. Straps performer, Troy Griffiths had an intriguing presence, covered in tattoos and endowed with grace and flexibility, he was a brilliant embodiment of circus’ power to subvert the mundane to something extraordinary.

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Stark and beautiful choreography was found in a visually poetic rue cyr act that featured three wheels. Jessie Carson on dance trapeze was serene and of a penetrating icy calm. Her timing was in complete unison with her apparatus and like a seasoned performer she didn’t reveal a hint of exertion in her execution.

The ballet dancers doused the show with energy and elegance, approaching their form without such distinct specialisations as found in circus. With powerful leaps and complex foot work, the differences between the two art forms were exposed. An exceptional skipping rope act involved classical ballet steps accomplished in the minute gaps of the rope’s swing. The pas de deux and pirouettes in the second half were exact and powerful.

The stirring result of circus arts and classical ballet coming together in such a novel and bold production as Le Sacré is exiting to say the least. Collaborations like this do push boundaries and it would be wonderful to see more in the future.

Le Sacré is being performed at the National Institute of Circus Arts until 23 June. Tickets can be puchased online.

Photographs: Aaron Walker

Butterfly Club presents Gypsy Daredevil

Deadly sideshow stunts not for the faint-hearted

By Ciara Thorburn

Aerial Manx, the World’s Only Acrobatic Sword Swallowing Artist and three times Guinness World Record holder takes us into his world of pleasure and valour with his new solo show Gypsy Daredevil. Held in a basement of the intimate Butterfly Club at the end of one of Melbourne’s iconic laneways, it couldn’t be a more fitting venue for an amiable night of circus and vaudeville. The show presents a perfect unification of acrobatics, juggling, magic, street-style crowd work and incredible sideshow skills.

And I mean incredible.

Aerial Manx is unquestionably an Australian sideshow icon with a wealth of experience and his skills are next level, most of which have to be seen to be conceived. His presence onstage is a sight to behold: his extreme body modifications are an indication of his relentless commitment to his art. Being a unique and inimitable variety performer, our attention is undivided with the crunch of the first staple into his bare chest. But this is just the beginning, audience members look around wondering if the others knew what they were in for. Aerial Manx, a practiced master of tension indulges in the attention as the audience gasps and squeals in awe of the unexpected and the sublime throughout.

What surprised me most was that amidst the levels of sideshow extremity, there are elements of authenticity and beauty. The running narrative of #vanlife gives the audience an honest glimpse into the real life of this artist. It is not often that you can describe a freak show as heart-warming, but Aerial Manx holds his freak badge in high regard. The need for classic showman style banter becomes obsolete as he connects with his audience on a profound level, right before we experience quite possibly the most dangerous stunt ever performed.

With a name like Gypsy Daredevil, this show is not for the faint-hearted but for those who are looking for an extraordinary night out. Prepare yourself, your lovers, your gag reflex, and don’t try this at home.

Gypsy Daredevil runs until 12 May at the Butterfly Club.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9663 8107.

 

Hoopla Clique Presents Chores

A must-see family show for kids and kids at heart

By Ciara Thorburn

The show opens with a simple premise, two goofy looking guys dressed in man-sized onesies, with a voiceover of their mother screaming down the hallway to clean their room. These two goofs quickly prove themselves as talented acrobats, jugglers, and charmingly adorable clowns. What we are about to witness is a tight, well-choreographed and thoroughly developed show with humour and slapstick comedy that appeals not only to the kids, but to mum and dad (and grandma) too.

The best part? The ingenious, reverse psychology involved at the roots of the whole show. At one point the brothers (Julian Roberts and Derek Llewellyn) have the kids screaming “it’s still messy” or “you missed a spot”. One thing I know is that kids love telling adults what to do, and these brothers obviously enjoy indulging in self-induced audience chaos, while remaining undoubtedly in control. The performers embody the true spirit of clowning, setting-up scenarios where they enable the kids to outsmart the adults. I don’t think I have ever witnessed a kids show that integrates conceptual clowning techniques so immaculately.

And just as with any good kids show, there is a message. It’s the essence of the whole production. The performers intelligently characterise their twin-brother relationship, covering themes like sharing, cooperation, adventure, wrestling, comradery and danger. In fact, they do it so well that at some points, their stupid and smart clown logic seems lost by the adults, only to make perfect sense to the kids. It goes to show that these idiots speak fluent ‘kid’, they know their audience, and they know exactly what they’re doing.

With a simple concept and both a clear narrative and objective, this show is full of surprises and is an absolute delight to watch. The whole show has impeccable timing, great visual imagery, high-skilled circus and acrobatics, and flawless execution. Chores, a must-see family show for kids (or kids at heart).

This is a review of Chores as performed at Woodford Folk Festival, January 2018.

Chores will be performed 18 April as part of Showcase Victoria at Darebin Arts Centre. Tickets can be purchased online.