Close Encounters

Brief’s fabulous retro-futuristic mashup of sci-fi, circus and boylesque.
Close Encounters

Close Encounters is fabulous. This show from Briefs, a company that tours nationally and internationally to huge success, presents an inclusive and progressive circus/boylesque mix with a political agenda of promoting diversity and inclusivity. 

Drawing on ‘B movie’ sci-fi tropes, Close Encounters celebrates the ‘alien’ with the performers playing aliens returning to Earth from the future to comment on contemporary human civilisation.

Gender fluidity and the right, not to be the same as everyone else, but the radical right to difference, are the themes which underpin this new show. Mark ‘Captain Kidd’ Winmill performs a neon hula hoop act, an act almost exclusively performed by women, wearing a blonde beehive wig and sporting a luxuriant beard. The result is a sensual, sexy, gender-fluid performance that had the crowd screaming.

Another wonder was Winmill’s juggler’s assistant strutting, high camp and seductive, deliciously and shamelessly upstaging the juggling act. The juggler, Louis Biggs, was also fantastic, performing a sexy boylesque striptease at the same time as juggling.

The lyra act performed by Thomas Worrell, another act performed usually by women, not only challenged the normal gender-specific aura around the act but also created an aerial act of the highest possible calibre. Worrell is as flexible as a contortionist, and also possesses strength, speed, and precision, which combined with his lyricism and musicality, make this a stunning, absorbing performance. Worrell’s aerial work in a bespoke piece of aerial apparatus in the shape of a suspended birdcage was innovative and inventive. His act played with the sci-fi trope of a beautiful human kept in a cage for the amusement of an alien species, but also transcended the trope to become, as a result of Worrell’s lyricism, surprising and moving.

Fez Fa’anana’s Ringmistress Shivannah strode through the show, wonderful in Cher-inspired costumes and providing witty, sometimes acerbic, pieces of political and high camp commentary.

Wonderful, fabulous, Shivannah! The plea for ‘manners’ from Shivannah that ran through the show, a plea for decency, consideration and respect in interactions with others becomes an important voice in the context of increasing right wing intolerance and racial vilification in the contemporary political landscape.

This emphasis on tolerance and inclusivity make this show a vital voice; a  progressive circus which opens a door to optimism and faith in the future.

Briefs also promotes racial diversity. Fez Fa’anana is himself an Australian of Samoan descent and Close Encounters now also includes Dale Woodbridge-Brown, an Aboriginal man who went through ‘Blakflip,’ the Circus Oz mentoring program designed to develop young Aboriginal performers and transition them in professional circus. Woodbridge-Brown then went on to become Ringmaster for the Circus Oz show TwentySixteen before joining Briefs. This kind of flow on from mentoring programs such as Blakflip into companies outside Circus Oz is important for creating career pathways for young Aboriginal performers. Woodbridge-Brown takes on the role of clown in this production, playing a role referencing the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, a rabbit fixated with time-keeping, watches, and alarm clocks. In this character he is funny and disarming in his arch and playful interactions with the audience

Close Encounters is testimony to the artistry, tenacity and political commitment of Briefs, a company which has now been touring for over 10 years worldwide to rapturous responses from critics and audiences alike.

The big question that this show poses is why this company does not receive major funding from the Australia Council. It is time that this level of performance and commitment is recognised by the major funding bodies.

Political, edgy, and high camp, Close Encounters is circus boylesque at its most radical, at its most political, and yet also at its most entertaining. Not to be missed!

5 stars out of 5

Close Encounters
Director: Fez Fa’anana
Creative Associate: Mark Winmill

Producer: Linda Catalano
Performers: Fez Fa’anana, Mark Winmill as Captain Kidd, Louis Biggs, Harry Clayton-Wright,Thomas Gundry Greenfield, Dale Woodbridge-Brown,Thomas Worrell
Musical Direction: Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers
Lighting Design: Paul Lim
Costume Design/Art Director: Dallas Dellaforce
Costume Design: Lisa Fa’alafi
Choreography: Fez Fa’anana
Photo: Kate Pardey

Magic Mirror Spiegeltent, Sydney Festival
6-28 January 2018

Katie Lavers

Monday 15 January, 2018

About the author

Dr. Katie Lavers is a writer, director, producer and researcher based in Sydney.