Corked Up!

Tara Watson

As the first Australian Indigenous circus troupe, Corked Up! is a promising variety show of cultural dance, comedy and skill.
Corked Up!

Image supplied

Reared from Circus Oz’s Indigenous pathway program BLAKflip, the circus ensembles first production Corked Up! makes the Melba Spiegeltent its home, taking the audience on a cultural journey from Melbourne to the deepest corners of the Australian outback.

The night was led by comedian Shiralee Hood, with her Raggedy-Anne-haired sidekick Mark Sheppard, backed by cultural dancer Baykali Ganambarr, acrobat Ally Humphries, aerialist Letina Hutchinson, emerging acrobat Jilibalu Riley, rapper and presenter Mia Sheppard, dancer and aerialist Elsie Smith, and dancer Tibian Wyles.

Hood's comedy for the most part was on point, truthfully poignant and teasingly hilarious. Her strengths lay in finding fun and humour from historical Indigenous loss, from land rights and segregation to the Stolen Generations. The quality control section to 'purge' what level of Aboriginality the audience and the cast stood at was particularly effective and cheeky.

Corked Up! excelled when it got back to basics. The monologue and dialogue scenes featuring a more seriously-toned Sheppard, delving into Indigenous loss and grieving was touching, understated and a refreshing departure from the overall frivolous tone of the proceedings.

Beautifully raw and moving, Ganambarr’s dance celebration was the eclipsing highlight of the night. Adorned by only a green cloaked swag, the accomplished dancer, acrobat and physical story teller entranced the audience.

The skills shown were significant, albeit a bit shaky, an understandable consequence of first-night nerves. Both Humphries on the trapeze and Hutchinson on aerial silks showed great skill, balance and strength but their routines fell victim to mistakes at times.

Overall the night felt more like a variety show then a circus, without a common thread running from act to act, with the shifts between performance genres and atmospheres feeling occasionally clumsy.

While enthusiastic and a joy to watch due to its radiating positivity, at times the acting was overly animated and disingenuous. Several of the dance sequences felt under-rehearsed and undeveloped to the extent where some performers struggled to keep up, while those ones that could were for the most part messy and unsynchronised.

An all-Indigenous travelling circus is however in itself an idea of great possibility, and the night offered frequent glimmers of what Corked Up! supported by BLAKflip could become with practice and development.

With the atmosphere buzzing around the Spiegeltent, audience members left feeling as if they were a part of something special and Corked Up! with a bit more polish, has all the potential to conquer not only the Australian circus circuit, but the world.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Corked Up!

Cast: Baykali Ganambarr, Shiralee Hood, Ally Humphris, Letina Hutchinson, Mia Robinson, Mark Sheppard, Elsie Smith,Tibian Wyles
Directors: Joshua Bond & Derek Ives
Composer & musician: James Henry
Key creatives & trainers: Ben Lewis & Felicia O’Brien
Technical stage manager & lighting: Alison Neville

For more information & to book tickets visit Circus Oz.

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

About the author

Tara Watson is a Melbourne journalist & artsHub writer. Follow her on Twitter @TarasWatson