Category: Circus

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.

Midsumma Presents RIOT

Dublin-based company, THISISPOPBABY have brought a perfect mix of outrageous comedy, skill-based acts and quality variety to Arts Centre Melbourne

By Ciara Thorburn

THISISPOPBABY’s latest show, RIOT is everything you expect and everything you don’t. This perfect montage of cabaret, drag, music, dance and circus, mixed with political undertones will leave you both reflective and inspired.

A glittery and sexy opening introduces four mysteriously hooded figures, who soon reveal themselves as RIOT’s talented vocalists (Alma Kelliher, Adam Matthews and Nicola Kavanagh). Spoken word poet, Kate Brennan delivers emotive stories that address diverse subjects from teen pregnancy to capitalism. Her powerful and rhythmical style give us a sense of the raw, reckless ride that we are about to embark on.

Drag artist, Panti Bliss as MC leads us through the evening’s performances in a camp and rowdy fashion. Add a sensitive strongman who defies gender norms (Ronan Brady) to this already spectacular group of artists, as well as a quirky and captivating tap-dance duo (Philip Connaughton and Deirdre Griffin) and the Lords of Strut, and you have one hell of a talented cast. The crowd favourite was easily the former stars of Britain’s Got Talent, the Lords of Strut – if you haven’t heard or seen these guys before, prepare yourselves because what you will see cannot be unseen. In a ruckus of ‘80s dance parody, lycra leotards and homemade mankinis their ridiculousness proves to be absolute genius. These guys really steal the show with their loveable stupidity and impeccable comedic timing.

What stands out most is the cast of diverse, passionate and highly-skilled performers who bring a mashup of specialties together to complement each other delightfully. Too often we see high (or low) budget shows where the performers look exhausted, run down, or like they would prefer to be somewhere else. Every act in RIOT brings a fresh performer to the stage boasting peerless energy and incomparable talent.

Dublin-based company, THISISPOPBABY have brought a perfect mix of outrageous comedy, skill-based acts and quality variety to Arts Centre Melbourne as part of Midsumma Festival 2018. RIOT is a pro-queer, pro-fun, pro-friendly spectacle where anything goes and anything can happen. It’s an absolute delight of a show and a great night out with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or both.
Dates: 31 January – 9 February
Venue: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
Prices: $30 – $79

The MC Showroom Presents The Odditorium

The Odditorium entertains, baffles and delights

By Owen James

A vaudevillian cabaret night full of circus tricks and magic is hiding at The MC Showroom, just off Chapel Street in Prahan. The Odditorium is packed full of beautiful simplicity, daring feats of showmanship and pure imagination.


Our host, Sophie DeLightful, invites us into this night of immersive entertainment with an invitation (or perhaps warning) of upcoming audience interaction, her raunchy and bold personality providing the energy and presence needed for a cabaret host – she fits the role perfectly. Her powerful vocals during songs scattered throughout the show are sensational, providing bursts of energy at just the right moment and her Buffer Boys will give any masseuse in Melbourne a run for their money.

The very talented Mr Marmalade charmed us for a solid half-hour, eliciting numerous gasps and rounds of applause from the audience. Marmalade is a highly skilled (and charming) magician who is also a truly beautiful storyteller – a simple paper bag can become an object of mystery with his carefully chosen words. His utter perfection in sleight of hand occurs just inches away from his transfixed audience, each trick as mesmerising as the last. Entering with just two small bags of tricks and a moustache with a life of its own, we get the feeling that Mr Marmalade’s act could travel and delight absolutely anywhere, street side or amphitheatre.

After a short interval, The Quizzical Mr Jeff brings his visual, prop-based comedy to the stage for the second act – and while the stage of the MC Showroom isn’t the smallest I’ve seen, Mr Jeff certainly needs every single inch of it for his dazzlingly physical finale! The Quizzical Mr Jeff is a daring performer, who uses every prop he brings onstage to its full possible extent (a personal highlight being a tango with a hat stand!). As we watch everyday objects take on a magical life of their own, this mystical man utilises audience interaction as well as a heavy reliance on precise timing of audio cues to bring his unique world to life – although further rehearsal to perfect the synchronised timing might have been beneficial.

Sound mixing and lighting from co-producer Alexandra Nel was simple but effective, LEDs creating soft washes of colour that faded into blackness.

The Odditorium entertains, baffles and delights, just like a true night of vaudeville and circus magic should. It is the perfect show for this intimate venue and a wonderful evening’s entertainment as an antidote to life outside – you will leave with pained cheeks from unavoidable smiles. I am looking forward to suggested future varied instalments of this collection of sideshow oddities!

Dates: 11 – 20  January

Venue: The MC Showroom, 48 Clifton St, Prahran

Times: 8:00pm

Prices: $22 – $35


Arts Centre Melbourne Presents The Unbelievables

A sizzling, sensational summer hit

 By Rebecca Waese 

Las Vegas thrills transformed Hamer Hall at Arts Centre Melbourne during the opening night of The Unbelievables with a terrific variety of gravity-defying acrobats, a sword-swallowing comedian, illusionists, singers, dancers, and circus talents. American producers, Simon Painter and Tim Lawson of The Illusionists, hand-picked top performers from around the world and the result is a sizzling, sensational summer hit.

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The show begins with transformationalist, Victoria Petrosyan who changes in and out of sixteen costumes designed by her husband Sos in 120 seconds, leaving the audience in a state of incredulousness and delight. Blademaster, Brett Loudermilk was a highlight; not only captivating in his ability to swallow metal swords and a few other surprises but as a charismatic comedian who connected with the crowd. The hand balancing acrobats, Alan Pagnota and Rafael Ferreira, a.k.a Dupla Mão na Roda, (look them up!) were favourites of mine as they defied gravity and social preconceptions about what a performer in a wheelchair might be able to do with strength, grace and unbelievable muscle control.

Outstanding vocals by Emi Secrest set the jazz-cabaret mood and the band served up sultry jazz and electric guitar interludes with stunning award-winning dancers.

The Card Illusionist, Shin Lim was a champion on Penn and Teller’s television series Fool Us and is currently the FISM World Champion for Close Up Magic. His artistry with cards was mesmerising and close camera work followed his sleight of hand as cards vanished into thin air and reappeared in puffs of smoke from his mouth.

Ukrainian sand artist, Julia Kurkina tied together fantasy and exoticism creating sand art pictures of exotic locales and of the very Arts Centre we were in. 

Ventriloquist Jay Johnson, a veteran in the game, took the gag to a new level with his rude monkey named Darwin and hard-to-please sidekick, Bob. Strong man, Artem Lyubanevych and aerial hoop acrobat, Aleksandra Kiedrowicz were riveting to watch and the Mexican speed juggler, Roberto Carlos got the loudest cheers of the night.

Comic host, Harrison Greenbaum held the show together and seemed to grow more confident over the night and better in tune with what the Australian audience found funny than in his opening patter. His humour was friendly for fans of all ages and he came out to mingle after the show with diva, Emi Secrest and they chatted with spectators, hopping into a photo or two.  

The Unbelievables is a polished, well-thought out show with fabulous talent and updated references on the classic variety formula. Treat yourself to some terrific summer fun for young and old.


Dates: 9 – 13 January

Venue: Hammer Hall, 100 St Kilda Rd, Southbank VIC 3006

Times: 3:00pm, 7:00pm

Prices: $30 – $120


Image by Jacquie Manning

Rebecca Waese is an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University in the Department of Creative Arts and English.


Sheer delight

By Lois Maskiell

Sidesault Festival kicked off with a roaring double bill on Wednesday the 8th of November. This experimental circus festival presented by Circus Oz is showcasing emerging and established circus artists in the wondrous Melba Speigeltent and features a range of independant artists from Melbourne and beyond. Casting Off by Australian troupe, A Good Catch and Unsuitable by Tumble Circus from Belfast certainly delivered the goods on the opening night.

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Casting Off commenced with three performers sitting under a table all the while deliberating how to start their own show. These candid clowns soon took their audience on a ride as absurd as it was touching. The dialogue was fresh, carrying the show along with popping originality. The acrobatics, fast-paced and true to the Australian circus tradition, were pleasingly raw and rough around the edges.

Performers Debra Batton, Sharon Gruenert and Spenser Inwood clearly have a bond that only years of training circus could provide. Debra’s one-liners, planned or improvised were goldmines of laughter. She dropped pearls of nonsensical wisdom, including forgetting what the meaning of life was on top of a three-chair stack. Gruenert threw firey tantrums that could outdo a toddler amidst her air-piercing acrobatics. Finally, the charming Spenser Inwood effortlessly executed an aerial cradle routine, throwing and catching Sharon while jazz scat-singing melodiously.

Casting Off was relaxed, personal and fantastically inappropriate. Not surprising to see these Circus Oz performers pushing their art to new places here in Melbourne.

The ambiance of the Melba Spiegeltent is like no other venue. It’s a space whose magic has been collecting like dust since it was made in Belgium in 1910. The second show on the bill, Unsuitable reflected the facets of this mirrored tent well with its revue-type show consisting of a series of individual acts.

Unsuitable by Tumble Circus premiered at Sidesault Festival, and to say it was welcomed warmly would be an understatement. This full-length show commenced with a short vignette of three mischevieous clowns who liked to kick each others’ butts to psychtrance.

Ken Fanning, Tina Segner and Angelique Ross demonstrated their talent in a series of individual and group acts. All our favourite apparatus took the stage: trapeze, tissue, hula hoops and even a group juggling act with all performers in spangled leotards, platforms and blonde wigs.

Highlights include Tina’s tissue routine performed in motorcycle helmet, Angelique’s poetic tightwire act that told the story of a trip on the metro and featured some edible props, and Ken’s clowning act that proves the art of buffooning is very much alive. He really had the audience in the palm of his hand, eliciting high-pitched cackles with ease.

Sharp, edgy and hilarious: Tumble Circus’s Unsuitable is guaranteed to keep you engaged and laughing.

Supported by the City of Yarra and presented by Circus Oz, Sidesault Festival runs from the 8th to the 18th and is not to be missed. For tickets and more information:

Image by Rob Blackburn