Circus Oz – Intrigue, amazement, live music and laughs for all

Sunday 9 October 2016 at 1:30pm, in Frankston Arts Centre’s main theatre

Glittering in a silver A-line dress, a large spiky, silver fascinator on her head and sporting a baritone saxophone, musical director Ania Reynolds stood in front of the red velvet curtains. The show began with a few deliberate, wild honks of her instrument. The curtain was raised to reveal other musicians playing unusual-looking instruments. A musical game ensued, setting the theatrical tone for the show.

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The drum kit player and keyboard player were positioned at the rear and centre of the stage and anchored the musical narrative throughout. At some point during the show, nearly all of the performers played various instruments. This not only added to the richness of the soundscapes, but demonstrated that the performers are capable of an impressive diversity of skills in addition to a great variety of circus acts. For example, I observed performer Matt Wilson, at various points throughout the show, play the guitar, juggle silver batons amongst a group, play percussion, balance on one leg atop chairs stacked seven-high, and perform tricks on vertical poles.

Of course, the show was not about what one person can do in isolation. Circus Oz created magic and intrigue by seamlessly bringing together performing artists and art forms to complement each other. For each circus act, a unique atmospheric mood was cleverly created with live music. I was impressed and delighted by the wide range of musical genres and atmospheres married with each act. Fun Latin rhythms met dancing and tumble turns through hoops stacked three-high; funk grooves set the tone for a clever display of baton juggling amongst a group of seven people; a hard rock beat backed a ‘fire fighter’ climbing a ‘hose’ rope suspended from the ceiling, performing death-defying tumbles and falls; sparse jazz, eerie toy piano or slow ethereal keyboard effects were used for more still acts such as slow acrobatics focussing on strength and grace.

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In true Circus Oz fashion, the performance content was subtly interwoven with themes relevant to Australian culture now. Hosting the show was a character wearing a jacket sequined with colours forming an Indigenous flag. References to gay culture, transgender and the ‘new age’ spiritual movement were dropped here and there. A character by the name of ‘Infinity Love Beads’, whose narrative throughout the show was to perform a convincing ‘levitation’, used clever plays on words for tongue-in-cheek digs at the ‘new age’ movement and the current generation. Mixing up words such as ‘terrorist’ with ‘tarot-ist’ and ‘entitlement’ with ‘enlightenment’ provided some laughs for the adults in the theatre. There were many opportunities for all-ages comedy too, with the use of good-old slapstick humour.

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Having only seen Circus Oz perform under the big top prior to this show, I was interested to see how they adapted their performance for a much smaller theatre space. A large four-pronged, reinforced frame was arced high over the stage and this was used to suspend ropes, cables and trapeze. Though not immediately obvious to the audience, there was a strong person climbing up and down the structure like a concealed Spiderman, responsible for changing the various apparatus needed for each act, and using his body-weight to adjust the length of the cable suspended from the frame.

Though the show was packed full of quirk, amazement, live music and humour for all, I must admit that my favourite part of the show was more subdued, atmospheric and dance-like. After the interval, an intriguing percussion contraption was left in front of the curtain. On it, hung two drums, various bells, triangles, woodblocks and gongs. This contraption was played by three people to produce an eerie, ambient aura with string sounds, scrapes, ‘tocks’, gentle bells and cymbals. The sounds were used to respond sensitively to the graceful movements of a young man who was slowly twisting, turning, arcing and flexing his body on the floor to roll and cradle juggling balls around his body with ultimate control. It was a mesmerising display of sophisticated ensemble and movement, demonstrating the breadth of skill and artistic mastery that Circus Oz is capable of. For those seeking laughs and awe-inspiring spectacle, to those who enjoy fine artistry, Circus Oz 2016 is truly a show for everyone.

Copyright © 2016 Jade Barker

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