Seasonal circusing

Jingle (JACs Entertainment)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

December 15 – 23

“Jingle” is described as an all ages magic, cirque, singing, dance and comedy Christmas show spectacular for anyone from 1 – 100 to enjoy, and it is not long into its 70-minute show time that it becomes evident that this is indeed true.

Things start strongly with a dynamic soundscape pumping out commanding compositions of this-time-of-year classics as we are taken into the amazing edge-of-your-seat feats of acrobatics with a new take on the Christmas story of “The Nutcracker” courtesy of an expressive contortionist and hand-balancing routine from Soliana. The Powerhouse Theatre offers a perfect platform to showcase all range of circus acts, with its raked seating allowing even those towards the back of the stalls, an impressive view of the scale of their heights, the beauty of their choreography and uniqueness of their execution. And the aerial acts are even more striking because of this, especially when we see an performer not only showcases climb and wrap tricks but roll up, rather than just the usual free-fall dropping down, their silks.

There is no real theme to the show, apart from entertainment. The over a dozen incredibly-talented performers all have impressive, unique skillsets which combine in a potpourri of entertainment, with internationally acclaimed juggler Cody Harrington standing out as a clear crowd favourite as his incredible tricks build upon each other in their brilliance. Clearly, this new Christmas show really is one for all ages with guide, internationally acclaimed comedy host Magician Dom Chambers, engaging with children and adults alike, particularly with his card tricks and sleigh-of-hand magic. There is also some fun audience participation from both children and adults.

Music numbers are appropriately themed and delivered with style by powerhouse vocalist Ellen Reed. Her ‘You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch’ is a teasing testament to her talent, and her late-show ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ is heart-warming, but still melancholic.  Familiar in sound, but still very much its own, it is a glorious light-and-shade version that scales to great vocal heights yet also allows for some sit in the essentially quite sad holiday staple.

While, ‘Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let It Snow!’ does not feature in her set list, before things end, it does joyously filter down upon us as the perfect punctuation point on a richly aesthetic experience. Lighting lushes over each number to give it a distinctive feel and costumes contribute much to the often impressive visuals, such as when aerialist Katrina Lilwall, ascends to high above the stage, suspended in the air by her hair as she swings about and performers acrobatic poses, while winged in angel attire. It is a stunning, standout moment that encapsulates the sumptuousness of the combined artistry of the show.  

Bigger and better than its Brisbane Festival “Cirque O L I O” work, “Jingle” is like a mini Cirque du Soleil show for the whole family. Like a chocolate box of only the best assortments, it gives us an array of Australian-based circus, song and dance (from impressive tap to ballet numbers and even twin dancing reindeers) in a magical festive holiday treat. And its diverse, creative entertainment will surely stimulate the senses and entertain the passions of audiences of all sorts during its extended holiday run.

Disco delights

Velvet Rewired

Wynnum Fringe Garden – George Clayton Park, Raine & Horne Wynnum Spiegeltent

November 16 – December 4

There was much conversation from audience members while in line for entry to the 8pm opening night show of “Velvet Rewired”. It was coming, largely, from those who had just seen the 6pm performance, raving to us about how wonderful it was. They needed to be spruiking, however, to those yet to purchase tickets, because this is fabulous entertainment that everyone should experience before it heads south for a season at the Sydney Opera House. The new, reinvented “Velvet Rewired” is the showcase event of the Wynnum Fringe Festival, now is its third year. Its home of the Raine & Horne Wynnum Spiegeltent within the Wynnum Fringe Garden of George Clayton Park on the shores of Moreton Bay, allows audience members to get up-close and personal with its performers, including commanding headliner The Diva, Marcia Hines.

As Hines makes her way out into the audience at one point, it is clear that love for the iconic national treasure is still strong. The Australian Queen of Pop’s voice is as powerful as ever, but still richly warm, and is smoothly complemented in duet with Tom Sharah as Country Mike in ‘You to Me Are Everything’. It is, however, her 1977 hit ‘You’ that really pinnacles the show. And, joined, as she is by a cast of internationally acclaimed circus performers and dancers, the highlights are plenty in this fusion of flawless glamour, glitz and jaw-dropping feats. Multi-skilled circus artist Beau Sargent stuns with aerialist work high about the stage. Indeed, as he hangs from an aerial hoop from just his neck, audible gasps replace the mouth agape awe of onlookers. Harley Timmerman’s too, provides a memorable aerial accompaniment to a multi-faceted ‘It’s Raining Men’ number’.

As with so many numbers, there is so much going on with James Browne’s set and costume design and Amy Campbell’s choreography, that our eyes are spoiled for choice upon where to settle. When ‘greatest dancer’ Craig Reid, aka The Incredible Hula boy storms the stage, our attention is commanded to the one spot. The multiple Guinness World Record holder, is clearly the King of the Rings as he simultaneously hulas hoops on multiple limbs and even while ascending into the air. The Skating Willers, Pierre and Stef too, have difficulty keeping their feet wheels on the ground with a daring number, especially for those seated in its front row danger zone.

As with previous “Velvet” undertakings, while seats close its thrust stage allow for intimate appreciation of the precision, strength and balance of circus performers, those located further back in the venue are rewarded with appreciation of the full spectacle of the show’s dynamism. Inspired by Studio 54, “Velvet Rewired” is full of exciting colour and moment in celebration of freedom, with Matthew Marshall’s vibrant disco lighting design adding to the excitement in its precise execution.

Under The DJ’s (music director Joe Accaria) watchful eye, Siren dancers Sasha Lee Saunders and Jacinta Giliano ensure that energy never wanes as the setlist takes us through over 15 of-era classics, including ‘Disco Inferno’ and ‘Boogie Wonderland’, though not always as we might remember them. In balance to the exuberant sparkle, there are even some more avant-garde moments and more subdued numbers as classic disco era songs are considered anew.

Like its previous incantations “Velvet Rewired” is a fusion of discotheque, nightclub, burlesque and carnival. The Australian-made global smash hit cabaret presents the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas along with the death-defying world of Cirque du Soleil, which results in sheer entertainment of the most exhilarating sort. So break out the sequins and get yourself down to see it at the Wynnum Fringe Speigeltent as soon as possible so you can then be the one urging others along to its disco delights.

Cirque seeing is believing

Cirque O L I O (JACs Entertainment)

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.