Cirque seeing is believing

Cirque O L I O

South Bank Piazza

September 20 – 23

In a Brisbane Festival program anchored by dynamism and optimism, Cirque’s “O L I O” is a perfect school holiday week addition. The world premiere of the family friendly show sees a mixed melting pot of miscellaneous magic, circus, variety and art being presented in the South Bank Piazza.

Though there is nothing new in its acts, their realisation is still astounding especially in its performers’ gravity-defying acrobatic feats which include rapidly spinning from aerial head strap connection and foot fire of a flaming archery arrow while upside down on hand balance stands. Every concept is elevated; partner acrobatic spins occur with each performer is on roller skates and hoop performances become even more impressive as more are added to every limb during a routine, with sound and lighting design adding to the dynamism of each number.

There is no narrative through-line with a range of acts simply taking to the stage to present their physical feats, with dance routine and occasional comedy number punctuation in between. The potpourri approach to its 70-minute curation is perfectly pitched to maintain the awe of younger audience members, who may even find themselves of stage as part of its wonder. Indeed, there is something quite glorious about seeing the joy of children’s experience of live production, especially in response to the simple magic of our emcee (of sorts) clown’s card ticks, ventriloquism and interaction with audience volunteers.

While it is pitched as family entertainment, however, “O L I O” also serves as reminder that magic really is for all ages, especially as things finish up with a lovely shadow puppet reminder of the idea at the centre of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’. For a family show with the simple purpose to amaze, astonish and transport audiences, it both a lovely summation of its sentiment and the perfect conclusion to its variety of entertainment.

Suave circus style

Cab Suave (Sparkle Society)

The Ron Hurley Theatre

January 21 – 22

In a twist to traditional cabaret fare, Sparkle Society’s “Cab Suave” promises a film noir-themed circus show. The premise is introduced immediately as our narrator, Private Investigator Dick Johnson (Jack Wilde) tells us of the greatest case he has ever worked, at Cabaret Suave, a questionable establishment run by four scandalous dames (Winter Chapman, Abby Kelso, Laney Mejias and Latonya Wigginton). From here the story isn’t exactly prominent, but it barely matters as its stylish aesthetic is what operates at the show’s forefront.

In true film noir style, our narrator is trench-coated against threat of prevailing darkness, the contrast between light and dark coming with the circus performances that follow in the tight 60-minute show. Amazing acrobatics and impressive circus tricks include exciting aerial silk work that sees Kelso striking stunning poses and spiralling her body into and out of various positions before wrapping herself high up on the silks and dramatically falling towards the ground, a showcase of static trapeze skills from Latonya Wigginton and group acro-balancing to affirm the strength and skill of the pyramid of performers.

One of many particularly memorable moments comes courtesy of a hoop routine that sees Kelso atop Wigginton’s shoulders, while both are spinning hula hoops around their waists, however, balance, poise and coordination are on show throughout, including as Wilde impresses with some circus fare though a juggling routine that graduates to him throwing blades while balancing on a free-standing ladder. And Mejias brings the cabaret as the show’s provocative songstress, including through providing a feverish accompaniment to Chapman’s exciting fire twirling routines.

Costumes are fitting with the vintage aesthetic, while live music both transports audiences back in sensibility and enlivens things from a modern perspective. Indeed, the sultry feel of classic film noir is elevated by the show’s dynamic soundtrack, which culminates with infectious reminder that a little party to never killed nobody. Touches of humour, too, add to the engagement, notably through the detective’s comic timing of his increasingly hyperbolic descriptive commentary about his clients.

Sparkle Society, which was founded in 2019 by established circus performers and this show’s directors Wigginton and Kelso, has been waiting through COVID delays to finally commence what will be a show tour to festivals in Melbourne and Adelaide, and,  as audiences at Brisbane’s preview season can attest, it has certainly been worth the wait. While Cab Suave’s distinct identity is certainly interesting, it is ultimately its exciting circus performances that resonate most in testament to the demands of the artform and the high degree of strength, power, flexibility, courage, stamina, and grace of its practitioners.

Next level circus 2.0

Humans 2.0 (Circa)

QPAC, The Playhouse

November 10 – 20

“Humans 2.0” begins with a flash of light as eleven bodies appear, moving in harmony around a round stage space framed by exposed lightbulbs, before their physical limits are pushed to extremes. Created by director Yaron Lifschitz, “Humans 2.0” is circus at its very best, an aesthetic amalgamation of acrobatics, sound and light that builds and expands upon Circa’s internationally acclaimed work “Humans”.

Precarious positioning sees perhaps more balancing close to the ground than in other Circa shows, but such segments are punctuated by aerial rope, silk and swing pieces and human towers that grow on stage to three and four people high and move about with impressive synchronisation. And as if the gravity-defying feats aren’t impressive enough, when human catapults launch performers across the stage, audience jars are appropriately agape.

All members of the ensemble of performers (Jon Bonaventura, Holly-Rose Boyer, Nathan Boyle, Alice Muntz, Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Gerramy Marsden, Kathryn O’Keefe, Paul L’Keefe, Lachlan Sukroo, Billie Wilson-Coffey, and Ashley Youren) are incredibly talented as they leap and are caught by each other and tower about the place in realisation of the bold choreography. They also show immense respect to the stillness the exists as part of movement, which brings an essential intimacy to the show’s sensibility. Expressive contemporary dance is embedded within circus stunts and there is a slow motion focus on intentions from performers when at the front of the stage, connecting them more with the audience that would otherwise be possible.

When Paul Jackson’s dramatic lighting pulses red along with composer Ori Lichtik’s original techno-type music, things become even more dynamic. Like the floor is lava and their bones are jelly, the performers’ infectious dance scene soon morphs into them contorting themselves almost inside out, illustrating the immense physical strength required to hold their bodies tight while being twisted about with limbs suspended between four other performers.

This second in in the company’s Humans series, is still very much a love letter to our species, with new skills and sequences serving only to refresh and enhance its symphony of humanness. But “Humans 2.0” is also powerfully poetic in its exploration of what circus can be in all of its complexities, with the company continuing to reinvent the genre’s possibilities. Audiences see a performer jump from standing on another’s shoulders to their head in one move, and another jump from torso to torso of performer bodies on the ground until one arches up to a bridge with him still in place. Indeed, there are many astonishing moments that lead to spontaneous applause, such as when a performer is held aloft only by his face. Transitions are smooth and the energy doesn’t ever drop, despite the program being one of so many short and sharp movements.

At the core of it all is the idea of supportive strength from unity, the connectedness that unites humanity and the trust that enables reliance upon others. Awareness of one’s self and others is vital to success in the work and, as such, brings the thematic depth that serves as Circa’s signature style, in combination with the vivid harmony of the synchronicity of movement on stage. The commanding dexterity from the company’s disciplined performers is simply remarkable, resulting in more open-mouthed audience reactions with every show.

Photos c/o – David Kelly

Fiafia fun

Auntie’s Fiafia Night

South Bank Piazza

September 8 – 11       

“Auntie’s Fiafia Night” is about paying respect to the woman who have shaped us in a multitude of ways. It’s a concept cemented from its outset with pre-show celebration in song, appearance on a couch to the side of the stage of the night’s ready-to-be impressed Aunties and warm welcome from emcee Lana Siligia.

Also immediately clear is the work’s passionate celebration of culture, art and resilience, but also collaboration… most notably between the traditional dance, ceremony and song of local Pasifika community groups and the jaw-dropping acrobatic skill of world-renowned Brisbane circus group Casus. From the show’s very first number the circus group bends, balances and later juggles its way impressively around and above the stage. Indeed, the skilled performers appear frequently throughout the 75-minute work, with their astonishing pyramid formations, human skipping ropes and contortions into and jump through circus rings, featuring in complement of the variety of other performance groups that feature as part of its program of commemoration of Polynesian legends, stories and culture in music, song and dance.  

The integration is seamlessly crafted, such as when a hoop routine emerges from a Tahitian number that begins with explanation of the graceful Hawaiian hula dance’s inspiration of the hula hoop movement around different parts of the body. Most notable amongst the early feats, however, is when Lachlan Macaulay walks across the outstretched arms of another atop a pyramid of performers and then when he precariously balances atop a build of seven chairs and two benches on a table. And when the gravity-defying feats take advantage of the heights of the Suncorp piazza space such as when Jessie Scott hangs upside down to dangle Macaulay from his head with an aerial strap, audience members are left amazed by the spectacle. A further Casus highlight comes courtesy of Ela Bartilimo’s aerial rope work and footfire of a flaming archery arrow while upside down on hand balance stands, to the swelling sound of high-energy drums.  

Beautiful as any of the night’s vocals are, under Airileke Ingram’s musical direction it is percussion that sits at the heart of the show’s high energy, oceanic score. There are some light and shade moments that come courtesy of lyrical guitar sounds and quieter performative pieces like share of a Samoan myth of warning against vanity from a woman within our mirrors, but before long things are back to crowd-pleasing colour, movement and exuberant energy in celebration of a range of cultures.

With musical numbers that retrace genealogy back to ancestral times, “Auntie’s Fiafia Night” carries a clear message of the collective power of community. With so much often happening on stage audiences are spoiled for choice of where to look as Maori Kapa Haka, Samoan seated dancing, Cook Island routines, Tahitian dance and even fire twirling sees 80+ performers providing the show’s entertainment. It is the mix of traditional and contemporary, however, that gives the work so much of its appeal, which is especially seen when sassy House of Alexander performers shante onto to stage to vogue some fierce drag death-drop type moves all with appropriate accompanying attitude.

With cheeky humour and an intrinsically inclusive sensibility, “Auntie’s Fiafia Night” is fun for all ages. The Samoan night of celebration of family, lineage and culture’s combine of gravity-defying acrobatic feats with traditional slap and fire dances, chants and ancient urban legend stories, is a delightful experience from start to finish that like its Brisbane Festival run is over all too soon.

Contemporary collision

Collision (Casus Circus)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

July 14 – 18

What happens when you mix three circus performers and three street performers? Than answer lies within experience of “Collision”, and the answer is absolutely appealing. As theatre-goers of this oft-called circus city, audience members familiar with pioneering contemporary circus company Casus Circus know to expect something special, however, the collaboration with urban street dance mover and shaker Mad Dance House, under the direction of Natano Fa’anana, takes it to all sorts of new levels.

Things start curiously, pre-show with a bunch of green grapes pedestaled amid a binge of blue lighting. The fruit becomes a playful motif that features from time to time, but doesn’t contribute much beyond its frivolity. So, it seems to be an authentic introduction to a show that doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously and thus is infectious in its appeal… along with moves leading to ‘that’s amazing” type audience commentary.

Ché Pritchard’s choreography is impressive, in both its boldness and subtly. The first of a range of short scenes starts with the ensemble of performers Ela Bartilimo, Riley Colquist, Sam Evans, Ben Garcia, Amy Stuart and Wanida Serce lined across the stage, making small individual movements before morphing into one being to animal across the space. Immediately, there is a lot going on, with restrained integration vigorous Shiva sorts of traditional Indian hand gestures and shades of sitar sounds apparent in its initial soundtrack.

The dynamic soundtrack (Music Dessign by Natano Fa’anana, Jesse Scott, Che Pritchard and Andrew Haden) heightens things from there, including with some ‘Superstition’ and Salt-N-Pepa familiarity. Truly wonderful mashups and snippet hints at familiar beats vibrantly add to the transformative effect of what is occurring on stage. The sentiment is not all one-note though, with sound and lighting combining to create an early intimate, lyrical moment in the ‘rain’ before Wanida Serce (who we saw in Pink Matter’s “The Type” last year) explodes into a vigorous dance number. And her costume is sensational! Indeed, all of the costumes are striking, while still being simple and versatile.  

“Collision” is first class in its consideration of a distinct and exciting aesthetic to match the on-stage showcase of acrobatic and athletic prowess. There is no narrative focus to the show, however, abstract as it might be, there is not denying its energy in the celebration of the performers’ physical languages. The choreography demands athleticism and the performers all rise to its risk-taking challenges, putting their bodies on the line for our entertainment.

Acrobat Amy Stuart is sensational in her provision of a slick early highlight which sees her simultaneously balancing and twirling multiple hula hoops. She also shows formidable strength and focussed control in anchor of a later human tower of the three female performers. Circus acts are all executed with precision. Ela Bartilomo’s aerial rope work and her elevated hand balance routine, in which she intertwines as one with Riley Colquist is a mix of strength, skill and beauty. Colquest is an astonishing contortionist of extreme flexibility and enticing facial expressions that tease the audience during a balancing routine upon the tallest platform heels you are ever likely to see.

Dance numbers are also appealing in their whimsy. There is a dance off to Cornershop’s ‘Brimful of Asha’ while apparently awaiting a bus (#asyoudo), and Sam Evans gives us a brilliant robotic routine, especially in rapid rewind. At one point he also astonishingly routines with just his chest and torso as instruments. Even when miming a circus performance, he is thoroughly entertaining. Ben Garcia, meanwhile, amps up the audience even more with a late breakdance show of impressive power moves, which only adds to the infectious energy of the show’s experience.

Even as individuals spin out of line to a soundtrack of frenzied static, there is still a clear sense of the performers working together in what turns out to be a perfect partnership. “Collision” is a charismatic and thrilling showcase of our city’s contemporary circus and street dance talent. And best of all, you don’t need to know a lot about dance to enjoy it, know it is good or be proud of it as a Brisbane collaboration.

Who says sheep don’t fly?

Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show (Circa)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

March 2 – 21

Everyone in the audience is excited for opening night of “Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show”. It is a thrill that is only amplified as the curtain is opened to reveal more than just the initially seen large present box at the front of the stage. The collaboration between acclaimed Brisbane-based contemporary circus company Circa and Aardman Animations, creators of the multi-award-winning TV series “Shaun the Sheep” devised by Richard Starzak, is a spectacle of staging, using the height and depth of QPAC’s Lyric Theatre to full advantage to roll a hill of astroturf green down from Mossy Bottom Farm. It is in this meadow where everyone’s favourite sheep Shaun and his flock of animal friends animals interact and play unbeknown to the oblivious Farmer, presenting, as they do, un-baaa-lievable circus skills and thrills while a digital billboard (Video Director Craig Wilkinson) orients the audience as to proceedings, including with clips from the original movie.

Introduction to the show’s characters is accompanied by a dynamic soundscape such as when menacing music complements appearance of a red-rag determined bull with a wheelbarrow. And before long, we settle into a story of sorts told in short snippet scenes that suit its young audience demographic. An eclectic Act One ends with the animals accidently cutting the power fuelling the Farmers’ tv, meaning that they must improvise with the chaotic-at-first circus of the show’s title that takes up Act Two. A live video of the on-stage antics not only captures the circus acts from a different perspective, but allows for some additional humour as the animals play things up for the camera.

Whoever says sheep don’t fly, has clearly never seen the extreme physicality and awe-inspiring feats that feature at the core of Circa shows. And in keeping with the intricacy of the company’s artform, the all-ages opening night audience is audibly astounded by the range of tricks that showcase the agility, strength and skill of the company’s performers. With hoop diving, towering hand balances, aerial hoops and silks amongst others, there is much to awe over. Of particular note are a triple trapeze act and a late-show multi-person Chinese pole routine that sees a performer balance momentarily unattached on the mid-air outstretched body of another. Whether it be by occurrence on a see-saw, in interaction with a runaway tyre or taking jump-rope to new heights, movement is integrated so as to feel like more than just a stunt. And when lights go out things really sparkle courtesy of some neon juggling pins. 

More than a typical circus show of skills, “Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show”, which is created and directed by Yaron Lifschitz is about character connection and Circa’s performers embrace this distinction with their every gesture and facial expression. And, of course, the splats and spills for comic effect are appreciated by children in the audience. The physical slapstick comedy of the postman in interaction with a pesky, protective dog creates a comedy highlight for these younger audience members. The functional, but still detailed costumes of the excited high-tailed sheepdog Bitzer and alike, meanwhile, are appreciated by all.

While the show’s creatives have crafted an abundant visual spectacle, this is enhanced by wit that is all the more appreciated though the show’s lack of verbal communication (apart from some gibberish speech from the farmer and the postman, as it would be from the perspective of our protagonist animals). There is still, however, a break in the fourth wall by the Farmer, to engender some audience participation and emotive ‘baas’ of appropriate exclamation from the sheep. The resulting largely-visual humour is such that it can be appreciated by both young and older audience members alike through, for example, a punny ‘A Star is Shorn’ solo section and a woeful animal attempt at creating their own claymation.

If modern circus portrays characters and tells stories, then “Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show” is modern circus at its playfully charming best. Indeed, the heart-warming show is shear brilliance, experience of which is the gift that keeps giving in recollection of feats displayed with a deceptive appearance of ease.