Two Australian contemporary circus shows full of energy and promise.
Image: Aeon by award-winning Sydney-based contemporary circus company Aerialize, photograph via Seymour Centre.
Elixir, the award-winning show from the Melbourne-based circus contemporary circus company Head First Acrobats, and Aeon, the new show from the award-winning Sydney-based contemporary circus company Aerialize, are both part of this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival. Both these shows are presented at The Reginald Theatre in the Seymour Centre. This is a low venue for circus and the lack of height takes some of the potential power and spectacle out of the aerial acts. However, the small, bare-bones venue does mean that the circus is up close and personal, and the most inspiring thing about both shows is the gutsy energy levels and commitment of the performers.
Elixir takes the comedy-meets-zombies ethos of Shaun of the Dead the 2004 Simon Pegg film, and combines this aesthetic with burlesque and circus. Elixir is devised, directed and performed by Thomas Gorham and Cal Harris, two graduates from NICA, the National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne and for this Sydney season Rowan Thomas the third member of the company, who was injured, was replaced by a guest artist from Melbourne. Although there were numerous circus skills on display in the show including clowning, balance ladder, hand to hand partnering, a brief trapeze act, and a Korean plank section, some of the highlights of the show were the comedy interchanges with a genuinely funny duo conducted between performers in the form of nipple twitching and eyebrow lifting. The groundwork was also a surprising highlight with a great B-boy break complete with a head spinning section from Thomas Gorham. The other highlight was a broom manipulation piece that was quite simply stunning, performed with finesse, expertise and a lyricism that made it irresistible.
Elixir, the award-winning show from the Melbourne-based circus contemporary circus company Head First Acrobats.
Elixir takes a raunchy approach with its humour and its burlesque approach to the bodies of the male performers who present themselves as uber-hunky to loud wolf whistles from the crowd. This has to be a first – seeing Korean plank performed by 2 men in black stockings and suspender belts!
Aeon, directed by Rick Everett, is the new show from Sydney circus group Aerialize. Aerialize runs a highly successful circus school in Sydney and the home crowd at the performance was full of young children all deeply involved and all loving it.
Aeon has a thematic of racing against time and the speed of city life. The show starts with a street scene of people walking, hurrying and then beginning to bump into each other, and this gradually builds into contact work followed by a partnering section. The street person, played by Julie Hanssens, wrapped in oversize clothing, hunkered down next to a sign that said ‘free hugs’, gradually emerged as an endearing clown who performed between the aerial sections. The aerial acts themselves ranged from corde lisse (rope), to aerial silks, to lyra, and they climaxed with a double trapeze act performed by Bailey Cutts and Andrew Cohen which was confident and engaging. All the aerial performance were of a high standard and in particular Angus Johnson on corde lisse, and Scott Mackenzie on straps, performed high level tricks with a strength and fluidity that made them look deceptively easy. The level of skill, hard work and dedication was clear in all the aerial sections throughout the show.
Contemporary circus is not yet recognized as an artform by most states in Australia in spite of its popularity and high degree of visibility; and nationally the sector remains chronically underfunded. It is surely time for both these small circus companies to receive ongoing funding and support to allow time to research, develop and produce their next new works.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5
Sydney Fringe Festival
19-24 September 2016
The Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Sydney
Elixir by Head First Acrobats
Devised and Directed by Thomas Gorham and Cal Harris
Performers: Thomas Gorham, Cal Harris and Rowan Harris (injured) plus Guest.
Aeon by Aerialize
Director: Rick Everett
Performers: Louise Clark, Andrew Cohen, Bailey Cutts, Angus Johnson, Julie Hanssens, Helen Lette, Scott Mackenzie, Melanie Siroklyn
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level