[SCOTT GRAYLAND] National Youth Circus Day Special – The Flying Fruit Fly Circus: A personal memory

 

National Youth Circus Day Special

In celebration of National Youth Circus Day, ACAPTA asked Scott Grayland if we could reproduce the following story about our oldest contemporary youth circus, The Flying Fruit Fly Circus. The story will also feature in our upcoming “Awesome As” book, a collection of hero stories from the Australian youth circus community.

The Flying Fruit Fly Circus: A personal memory

Casting one’s mind back over decades, and journeying backwards through your life as an adult, you run the risk of romanticising or glorifying the past.  Maintaining perspective, and understanding events as they are unfolding is an impossibility. The effect of these events lay ahead and is unpredictable. How will they echo forward through time and impact the future?

With this in mind and taking these possibilities into account I plunge bravely back in time to a series of events that were enormously important at the Fruit Fly Circus and life changing to me as an adolescent in rural Australia.

What connected any young child to the outside world in 1970s rural Australia, a time without mobile phones and computers, or even fax machines? There was no instant connectivity. The sense of isolation was real, it was immediate and yet it was quite normal and expected.

A fleeting sense of a world outside Albury came to me in the things that passed through our small town. The sound of trains in the night and the jetstream left across the sky by aeroplanes spoke of unknown places. Significantly, it was the annual visit of the travelling traditional circus that sent that tingle of anticipation through my young mind and heightened that sense of the outside world.

This small temporary circus village arrived and stayed for one short week every year. I remember it as a tangle of rigging and canvas and wagons and trucks that contained adventure and a different kind of grown up. It held within its heart all life’s possibilities I couldn’t yet understand but somehow knew to be there.

Like almost every kid, I identified with some aspect of the circus and wanted somehow to be part of it.

But just what if you did not have to run away from home and join the circus? Fate was about to bring the circus to me. A circus of our own here in Albury.

Albury bakes and swelters under blistering heat over long summers. Anyone who grows up along the Murray River knows this. The North wind is dry and parched and often dusty. Winters, cold and wet, seep into your bones and hold on. The gentlest times of the year are autumn and spring, but with spring in particular bringing the rains and storms.

If memory lets me down after 35years it seems logical that it was a spring evening when Ashton’s Circus came visiting again.

It was 1980, I was 15yrs old and I had recently started training with the newly formed Flying Fruit Fly Circus at our old “YMCA” building and I totally loved it.

Jim and Pixi Robertson were my two main circus teachers at Fruit Fly and they had organized for us all to go see Ashton’s at the Albury Show Grounds.

That day, the full force of spring was about. I remember the day because it was that unusual colour we sometime see. A grey/green twilight.  The clouds pushed low and dark from above and winds ripped and tore underneath.

Years later I would recognise that these are the worst conditions for a big top, especially when raising the canvas. I can only presume that the tent team struggled throughout the day and I know it would have been quite terrifying.

Eventually the weather won out and the canvas was shredded and ripped from the king-poles. The story of my memory tells me that the tent canvas was blown completely away and never seen again

What I do remember was disappointment that the show would not go ahead due to the day’s events.

The hindsight of time and experience tells me now that the family and crew were undoubtedly exhausted and upset about loosing the canvas. What courage they showed in deciding that the show would go on that night.

The weather cleared and softened into what became a perfect, cool, still Albury evening. As I arrived at the site I saw the giant king–poles against a deep inky evening twilight encircled by the seating banks and glowing with the bunting and lights that signal a show will be performed, outside under the stars.

It was magic.

As it happened, travelling with the show was the great Mickey Ashton. Mickey had been part of the world acclaimed “Seven Ashtons” a hugely famous Rizley and acrobatic troupe that was the toast of the European vaudeville and circus scene during the ‘50s and ‘60s. One of the greatest international success stories of Australian Circus history.

A friend to Jim and Pixi, Mickey was quickly introduced to the Fruit Flies and there seemed to be a rapport almost instantly between us all. Mickey was from an earlier and harder Australia and I suspect he identified with our brashness.  Over the week that the Ashtons remained in town Mickey got to understand what was happening in Albury with this amazing bunch of country kids.  In the end his decision was an easy one. He would stay with us and bring his wealth of knowledge and experience to mentor the Fruities.

We loved Mickey. He was a larrikin. He had a twinkle in the eye, a sharp wit and a beautiful musical lilt to the way he spoke. A showman, with a song and a soft shoe shuffle always at the ready to bring mirth to any moment. He was also a troubled soul, who fell into bouts of self-doubt and sadness. He struggled with his own demons and felt perhaps that history had neglected his contribution and he had been put out to pasture without granting him the dignity he deserved.

If this was so, then he was wrong. His influence on us was immense.

Circus in Australia at this moment seemed perched at the edge of a major renaissance. The extent of this rejuvenation was unknowable in this moment. Of course we still had numerous traditional circuses in the country continuing on this rich tradition, but there was a youthful, modern twist on this grand old art form that was about to bloom.

Circus OZ was ushering in a new style and audience for circus. And now the Fruit Flies were about to take wing creating a place for a new generation to train and be inspired by the art.

Mickey was a slender tenuous link between the old world and the new of this circus tradition. He was robust but also fragile. It seems to me now that he was a doorway through which the past could slip and enter the hearts and souls of this new younger generation of circus artists. How easily this link might have been closed to us all. Time and circumstance seemed to be on our side in this moment.

Mickey stayed with us for five short years before his untimely death. In this time he instilled in us all a cheeky, brash, truly Australian style of circus that is still evident today across all of Australia and indeed the world.

The FFFC celebrated 35yrs in 2014 and has been helped and influenced by artists from China, Russia, France, Holland, USA, UK, Morocco, Canada, and Ukraine. But I for one will never forget that spring day the circus came to town in 1980. A day that changed my destiny, Albury’s destiny and the future of circus in Australia.

Mickey Ashton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mickey Ashton, Image supplied, photographer: Rob Connell

[Vincent van Berkel] Creating From The Outside In

 

Creating From The Outside In – Some notes.

Vincent van Berkel and Rockie Stone were recently awarded Best Original New Circus at the Melbourne Fringe Festival for their performance, ‘Perhaps There Is Hope Yet’. The show was a physical exploration of the feelings and frustrations of the climate change debate, and included thoughtful integration of circus and design. Vincent has written frequently on his blog [www.onemetricvincent.wordpress.com] about his experiences of the process of circus making, and because Perhaps There Is Hope Yet’ was such a conceptually rich work with a unique aesthetic, ACAPTA asked Vincent to revisit his article ‘Creating From The Outside In’ to tell us how he arrived at making this kind of work.

Introduction

In March 2010 Acrobat’s show, ‘Propaganda’, left me in unexplainably, joyously teary. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and it spoke to me in ways that I didn’t understand at the time. I’d been on stage as a musician, and also on a stage (of sorts) as an athlete when I was younger. I wasn’t even a circus performer at that stage of my life, but this incredible show stole my heart. Blending the gritty abstract and the playfully symbolic, it said some things that I agreed with, and many things that I didn’t understand. I didn’t even know who Acrobat were!

So nine months later, after another life-changing experience (the Tasmanian Circus Festival), my path was set. in 2011 I replaced Casey Douglas in Controlled Falling Project, and then hopped from show to show until arriving at Casus in 2014.

That was 13 months ago.

Arriving at making conceptually-driven work like ‘Perhaps There Is Hope Yet’ with Rockie Stone was five years in the making, and the following year-old blog entry is a slice of what was going through my head a month after joining Casus, at the tail end of creating ‘Finding The Silence’ in Brisbane.

What’s never changed through the last five years is this: shows like ‘Propaganda’ still keep me up at night and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Creating From The Outside In - Toward… Art?

It seemed the next logical step.

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Emma Serjeant and myself. Photo by Luke Jefferey.

I mean, It’s not as if I’ve mastered every area I’ve made a foray into, but I feel I performed a lot of them well enough to get a feel for what they are. Some I loved, some I didn’t. But I seem to be increasingly driven toward intellectualising shows, picking them apart and putting back together simply out of curiosity. I know I understand act construction in the traditional sense, for the traditional acts that could be loosely categorised as entertainment. But the mysteries and methods of the more artistic creations I loved to watch onstage were still purely philosophical in nature, and quite frightening.

Brief backstory: I’ve been in Brisbane with Casus these past 4 weeks, making a show called Finding The Silence. Simple premise for a show. It’s in the title. Thankfully there’s more to it than that, as I’d hoped there would be.

Here’s the promo the amazing Hamish McCormick put together from the season.

Talking to Idris Stanton (Circus Firemen, Pants Down Circus etc.) one night, he told me that when he fills out an immigration card he writes “Entertainer” in the occupation section. He does that on purpose, and for him that’s entirely accurate. He’s a brilliant entertainer. For me, I sit somewhere in between the two currently. I went through customs a few hours ago and I wrote “Artist”, but that’s this moment, on this tour, with this company.

Casus has shown me some creative mechanisms that until now have remained a mystery. I now attempt to summarise this new working method purely for my own sanity, and it seems to be something like this: Casus’s method is largely about accessing emotion through physicality, rather than physicality through emotion. In short, it’s the exact opposite of what I’ve learned to do. This fascinating process was made even more interesting for me due to having never done much physical improv before, and also having no prior instructions as to how to approach such things.

These two polar opposite approaches will take time to reconcile. They still occupy a somewhat uneasy relationship in my mind, and will probably continue to do so for some time. Here they are in more detail:

APPROACH 1.

The obvious approach to making theatrical work (for me anyway) was to identify the narrative in a scene, allocate some sort of rational progression of emotions to it, work on the physicality of those emotions and weave that into the story. Then, blend it all together and make it airtight. Circus in a traditional sense can make things difficult in that respect because of the necessity to perform physical feats, but it’s still a workable method. It’s the straightforward approach, especially when speaking of physical comedy routines or something with an obvious narrative. Character base, starting point, intended outcome, predicaments, overcome obstacles, resolution… or something like that. It was a good basis for me, grounded in logic and readable action-reaction stimuli which meant that if something didn’t make sense, it was easy to identify. A summary: justification of actions through narrative and character. Not always, but often, I employed this method of act construction. It’s rewarding and detailed, and allows for areas of spontaneity when the material is understood.

APPROACH 2.

The other approach, the approach of companies like Casus, seems to be more grounded in finding physicality first. This is done through a variety of methods, with group and solo improvisation being vital to the feel and connection of performers’ bodies and minds. It’s a common approach in the dance and theatre world, I’m assuming. It feels like yoga, the way the the performance expands each time it is run. Details and nuances are discovered, energy ebbs and flows, internal narratives are written. This seems on the surface like a recipe for messy, uncontrolled creation and performance, but of course there are rules and boundaries put in place to give everyone a roughly similar trajectory. It’s not all improvisation. Especially in circus, you have to eventually do some tricks and they have to be planned.

Seeing these two different approaches begs the question, is the emotion the catalyst for physical expression, or is physical expression the catalyst for emotional portrayal? Are the two concepts so intertwined that any attempt to try break them apart simply becomes semantics? From what I understand, they are just separate tools that can be used where one sees fit. One is essentially method acting, and the other is… well, it’s something I’m now attempting to define. The role that acting plays in both is something that I’m also attempting to work through, and still needs to be addressed. How much acting can you inject into the second approach before it becomes overpowering? Isn’t the entire thing just acting anyway?

The emotional impact of each creative process on the performers themselves is quite different, too. I’m still getting my head around what the difference is and what it might mean.

Improvisation is something I’m now intensely curious about. I’m currently not physically educated enough to be as free as I want, and that frustrates me. There are moments of freedom, little flickers of that transcendent awareness I can imagine getting lost in, and that excites me. The connection with an organic, flowing performance is something beautiful. The parallel awareness of audience perspective and internal perspective also grows in this environment, if you foster it. By extracting individual moments and placing them in a choreographed piece or simply using the overall mood and body language of the improvisation, there is a rich sea of material which can be harvested in any way a director or choreographer sees fit.

It seems, actually, you can foster and stimulate anything you want in an improv session. It’s incredibly liberating. It becomes creativity purely for the sake of it, purely for the moment. There are much more eloquent and in-depth articles about improvisation on the web, I’m just trying to break apart my preliminary experiences of it in the past 4 weeks.

Here’s a wonderful article by Sebastian Kann about how and why circus performers are being drawn to the contemporary dance.

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Discussions… Photo by Luke Jefferey.

So as week one turned into week 2, the methods of creation for Finding The Silence became curiouser and curiouser. I was told by Jesse to be myself. Yeah, great advice, I thought. That little nugget almost sent me crazy. Up until this point, every one of my characters of performances has been myself, in one form or another, but with guidance from dramaturgical narrative at least. Now I felt I was left with no ground beneath my feet to stand on. What does that even mean, be yourself? The reason I had trouble getting my head around it was because the show we were creating seemingly had no narrative or characters! It wasn’t a matter of knowing myself, it was a matter of being myself. Wait, what?

Hmm. From the outset, it looked like an arcane concept I would struggle with, being myself onstage with no guidance.

But the more I looked, the more I picked at it, the more the hidden methodology came to light. You don’t have to plot the actions and reactions before you perform and then hope to embody them with feeling, you simply… you simply do them and are present while you do them. I realised that the polarity of these two creation and performance styles actually made the product of them similar in many ways. The outcome, although often stylistically different, still hoped to embody movement and emotion, narrative and performance, awareness of actions and reactions and an internal and external perspective on the performance.

The vagaries of the rehearsal room became more familiar and welcoming. I found connection in Emma’s beautiful vision of our handstand act and Lachie and Jesse’s love for each other. Everyone was under the pump; a roughly written but so-far unmade show, injuries within the company (hence my presence), Jesse fulfilling roles of both director and performer… and here’s me, badgering them all about the minutia of being yourself.

The differences, I see now, between the two styles of approaching the creation of work, are something like this:

With the first approach, you have a very direct idea and intention for the audience to receive. If that doesn’t happen, the success of the piece can be called into question. With the second approach, the intention of the piece is discovered by performer and audience alike, often in the same moment. Early on in the process, maybe in the first 50 shows or so, the intention of both styles are equally different: the first seeks to refine it’s intention, and the second seeks to discover and rediscover it’s meaning.

Something that has constantly driven me from job to job, style to style in terms of performance and circus, is curiosity. I don’t know how I’ve been lucky enough to actually get work in areas I’ve been curious about, but it’s happened consistently. This Side Up, street shows, corporate entertainment, cabaret shows, Circus Oz, fringe shows and now… the ‘artistic’ side of things. And there’s no condescension intended by the inverted commas, I assure you. For reasons that are currently unclear to me, I am emotionally effected by strange and wonderfully nebulous things onstage. And I very much want to learn how to have that effect on other people.

After the dress rehearsal 2 weeks ago, I was lost. Utterly lost. My preconceptions of everything went out the window in the first few days of rehearsal, and I was comfortable with that. But then on the night of the dress run, whatever ideas I had built up in my head of what the show was meant to be came crashing down. It was a dress run, and it was clunky, I know that. But where I would normally be able to confidently apply my knowledge of how to put a show together, suddenly I felt helpless. My tools and experience didn’t apply here. Oh dear, how unnerving.

As I made my coffee the following morning, I made a resolution: trust the show, because right now that’s my best chance at succeeding at anything. By the 5th and 6th nights, the audience were on their feet at the end. To trust a process while being relatively ignorant of it’s mechanisms was the dangerous commitment I had to make for my own sanity. And it worked.

What I do know is this: what I’m doing at this very moment is exactly what I want to be doing. That’s a nice one to go to bed at night with.

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Jesse Scott on the trapeze. Photo by me and the new wide angle lens.

The section, ‘Creating From The Outside In - Toward… Art?’ was first published by Vincent van Berkel on his blog, www.onemetricvincent.wordpress.com on the 28th of August 2014. A direct link to the original article is available HERE.

[Kristy Seymour] Writing my PhD – A Circademic adventure

 

Writing my PhD – A Circademic adventure
[Or: I wanna be like Reg Bolton and Peta Tait when I
grow up]

“After being a circus artist for eighteen years I wondered what my next step should be. After all, what could be as seemingly impossible and masochistic as circus? It would have to be something that required arduous, painful work for a few infrequent yet intense moments of delirious pleasure.
A PhD clearly.”

I read this quote in the introduction of a PhD written by a circus academic or as we like to call ourselves, “Circademics” a few weeks ago while I was in Montreal on a research residency at Ecole Nationale de Cirque. I immediately identified with it. Many times in my circus career I have pondered whilst applying arnica to a Lyra bruise or whilst admiring my latest trapeze rope burn…..this is kind of masochistic, I obviously have some sort of tendency towards painful and complex career choices.

For me it was 15 years into my circus career that a PhD was what I decided should be my next masochistic and “impossible” challenge. I had already completed a Master’s thesis on my work in circus and autism and had gotten the bug for thinking and writing about circus from an academic standpoint.  I also wanted to document the history or trajectory of Australian Contemporary Circus somehow so that all of the wondrous work we do day in day out was written down somewhere. By no means am I a historian or aiming to be. I am more focused on creating a document that brings an intellectual perspective to Australian contemporary circus and that also brings some eccentricity to academia. One that can provide some kind of framework for thinking about why we do what we do, what the social and cultural affects or implications of that are, and how much contemporary circus in Australia  has impacted on the artform worldwide.  As I mentioned before, I just got back from a residency in Montreal- which is often considered “Circus Mecca” and am proud to say that we are held in pretty damn high regard for the diverse and innovative work we create. So we should really start shouting about it I reckon. Through my PhD I hope to shed a spot light onto what Contemporary Circus is, can be where it’s been and where it may go.

So what is my PhD? How on earth do you frame almost 40 years of work and how on earth do you interview everyone who has been a part of that? Well you can’t, at least not in the scope of a PhD. I only have 100,000 words to do it.

And being a circus person the words “that’s impossible” or “you can’t do that” still tweak my “WATCH ME DO IT” reaction, because Reg Bolton taught me that “I can’t” and “that’s impossible” are circus swear words. However, there are rules, and boundaries (which I do stretch to their absolute limits!) that I must work within. Academia likes to frame things and for things to sit nicely into certain requirements. Over the course of my first 12 months the focus of my PhD has consequently shifted in emphasis. At first I set out to write a history of the artform, whereas now I am exploring particular aspects and elements of that history in order to understand the artform itself. Even though a chronological history of the artform is very important as a curatorial process for the maturing industry, that type of linear study would be better suited to a post-doctoral situation, perhaps undertaken as a funded project with the industry as a partner (something I may explore down the track!)

Time and history nevertheless remain important to uncovering the trajectory of the artform: how it has emerged from grassroots street theatre-based circus with a relatively rudimentary skill level to highly skilled and polished work with a diverse production aesthetic; how the practice and aesthetic characteristics of the form developed; what it is about those characteristics that keeps people coming to see the work; and how those “home grown” characteristics are significant in relation to the international profile of Australian circus and circus artists. Therefore, as my research has developed my project has increasingly become a conceptual and theoretical study with a historical thread as part of my methodology. While the relatively short history of the artform must inform understandings about its practice trajectory and cultural impact, it is my use of concept and theory that will constitute the contribution of my doctoral work to analysis of the practice and its national and international success. The training of the “circus body”, the uses of bodies in the creative process and the spatiality of circus practice underpin the success of Australian contemporary circus and its reputation on both the national and world stage.

My process for exploring the industry and its history has a few facets:
Literature: Obviously reading everything that has been written in an academic context about Australian Contemporary Circus was my starting point, which of course then extends to what has been written by international academics about contemporary circus as an artform overall. The field of circus research is relatively new, and although it is growing rapidly, compared to dance and theatre, there isn’t a lot out there. I did however, have the privilege of spending a month at the Ecole Nationale De Cirque library as a researcher in residence. That experience was circus nerd heaven and has contributed immensely to my work so far. I am also extensively reading critical theory in relation to performing arts and philosophy. This kind of reading feeds into my theoretical frameworks and critical thinking in terms of cultural practice and how circus can speak as an artform in various ways. Some my favourite philosophers and critical thinkers that I am reading and using to support my work are: Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Elizabeth Grosz, Giorgio Agamben, Merleau- Ponty,  Judith Butler, Elspeth Probyn and Doreen Massey. My bibliography grows each day as does the pile of books I need to read! 

Archives: At the very start of my PhD process I spent a lot of time digging up show reviews, newspaper articles, press releases and television stories about the industry dating back to the late 70’s. This was of course an immensely time consuming process, however it did provide me with an excellent insight into the perception of our artform from both the media and audience point of view. Recurring ideas, themes and views are clear in what I have accessed so far. My findings are showing that Australian contemporary circus is regarded highly in international settings with consistent 4-5 star reviews as well as successive programming and tours to the same venues and festivals. A few examples of a combination of outstanding national and international accomplishments are shows such as “Tom Tom Crew” (Strut n Fret Production House) touring for six years, “Briefs: the Second Coming” (Briefs Factory, Brisbane) touring for three years, and “Cantina” (Company2, Brisbane) touring for four years and of course Circa with successive tours and multiple shows touring at once both nationally and internationally. There is no question that such ongoing success demonstrates industry status equivalent to high profile international companies Cirque Du Soleil and 7 Doigts de la main.

Interviews: For me, the most important element is my interviews with industry practitioners. In an ideal world I would get to interview everyone! However as I mentioned earlier I have to fit into a framework and so I ended up narrowing my interview list down from 100 key people to around 30. So far I have conducted interviews with artists across various types of companies. Some of my interview subjects so far include: Davy Sampford, Natano Fa’anana, Ira Seidenstein, Sue Broadway, Chelsea McGuffin, Frodo Santini, Rudi Mineur and Marisol de Santis (La Tohu Montreal). There are many more to go from all over the country and from all kinds of companies. The anecdotes and information I access from these interviews is invaluable to my research. I aim to have all of my interview data collected by February. It is definitely the most joyful and rewarding part of my research process. Being able to sit down with colleagues (many whom I revere and admire greatly) and  to hear about their careers and how they see the circus industry is exceptionally inspiring and helps to keep a spring in my step under the heavy workload!

My working PhD title at the moment is:  Bodies, Temporality and Spatiality in Australian Contemporary Circus (that might change a million times before I submit it.)  Using the methods I have just mentioned, the dissertation will investigate the performance of the contemporary circus body in space and time. Through a focus on certain key companies and performances in their cultural and historical contexts I aim to explore the extent to which the performance aesthetic that developed in Australian contemporary circus has influenced international practice. I will be exploring the growth of the artform, its artistic processes, its national profile, and its major contribution to Australia’s international performing arts output in terms of touring activity and export earnings. I will be discussing gender, spatiality, training processes and extreme uses of the body, creative spaces, spectacle, chaos and order in the creative process and performance, questions of embodiment, as well as community and identity. There is A LOT to cover! And I am really only showing you a snippet of the extent of the work in this ACAPTA Circus Spruik, however it is awesome to give you a quick insight into what I have been up to so far.  I look forward to interviewing many of you very soon!

[Aaron Walker] Reflections from the Montreal Circus Arts Festival

 

Reflections from the Montreal Circus Arts Festival

Hosted in a city that prides itself as being the centre of the international circus world, the Montreal Circus Arts Festival carries the expectation to push circus into all kinds of shapes and sizes. Being lucky enough to be there for the 2015 season just this last month, I was looking forward to seeing work that didn’t fit the regular mould of circus clichés and predictable show direction.

However, as the festival events rolled out I couldn’t shake the feeling that Montreal was being upstaged on their home turf. While I know the festival is not a competition, but rather the celebration of many different kinds of circus with a broad variety of applications, it was interesting to note that the companies who were producing the most contemporary, innovative and memorable work were from far flung regions of the world. Regions that are barely on the circus map… and that certainly have a lot less funding, which was inspiring when thinking about the potential ongoing success of our own contemporary circus industry.

Australian contemporary circus is in high demand overseas. But back home, internationally successful companies, such as Circa are only slowly gaining more recognition. Circa is one of the four companies around the country accorded national touring status, whilst still maintaining independent status and receiving a fraction of the funding that heritage companies such as state-based theatres enjoy. I wonder how different it would be if our Australian circus industry received as much as our wealthier circus cousins in Montreal? I also wonder if the raw innovation and the determination particular to Australian circus comes form a place of privilege or does it all spring from the sweat of artists who strive against all odds to be seen and heard on the global stage?

At the Montreal circus arts festival, Australian circus companies are certainly well represented. This year Circa opened the festival to standing ovations at every one of their full house shows at La TOHU. I think what international audiences see in Australian work like Acrobat, Circa, Gravity, and Casus amongst others, is the clear element of risk taking. The acrobatics are stripped back, raw and at times brutal; the aerial acts are modified with unusual combinations of floor and ground skills; the artists are invited to push themselves beyond their limits. The shows are more concerned with taking you on a journey that is not necessarily a narrative or “whimsical” one – it doesn’t need to be magic. Audience come away having had a visceral experience, not a nice fuzzy warm feeling but more of a gut churning, mind buzzing experience to be remembered.

In Circa’s work, for example, Yaron (Circa’s Artistic Director) did not pull his punches. With the artists imitating the characteristics of particular animals it could have easily failed, but the artists found that balance where the audience willingly go along for the bizarre fun-filled and highly dynamic ride. His style can be cerebral at times but it’s also sublime. I can say the same for a whole collection of Australian companies, they all have a different angle, but they all focus on the “raw and edgy” side of circus athletism. They do not lean on old (sad) out-dated circus clichés or stick rigidly to a morally and ethically conservative outlook. Instead of the tired old ‘boy meets girl’ scenario, they have ‘girl balances one boy on shoulders then balances two boys on shoulders’ – because she can. They are not presenting situations on stage that we are overly comfortable with, often audiences are forced to engage with ideas rather than the skills that are used to present those ideas. We have no idea about what is going on in any of Circas shows, but we know there is a form of narrative at play here, and like a David Lynch movie we try our best to work it out as the show unfolds. This essentially keeps us hooked in and engaged.

As with all festivals there are highs and lows, Cirque Alfonse was clearly my highlight of all the local companies with ‘Barbu Foire Electro Trad’ as it delivered what it set out to deliver: traditional circus skills completely chewed up with and spat back on stage for the audience to digest to an electro percussive soundtrack. Innovation for the sake of it with, a stack of radical ideas – some worked some failed, but they were committed, and that was compelling enough to stay engaged. Cirque Alfonse is clearly shaking the ground that is getting stale in Montreal. Interestingly enough, this show is a complete departure from the much loved previous work, ‘Timber!’ and it’s exciting to see how adaptive the company can be in order to stay fresh. Given the rest of the local work though, I wonder about Montreal and it’s place in the contemporary circus landscape; perhaps it is the centre of circus excellence, but it might not be the stronghold of innovation anymore.

A company of rapidly growing renown, Machine de Cirque, had an exciting blaze of highly finessed circus skills in ‘Cirque Machine’ and a smashing live soundtrack. However, for all the testosterone involved, I was left wanting more – I wanted to be moved and I wanted to connect with the show. They presenting a collection of amazing skills but the audience wasn’t moved in any way apart from being “impressed” by the physical skill. These young guns recently graduated from the Montreal Circus School so we expect the skills to be stellar. As an educated, experienced audience at an international circus festival we also expect the direction and conception to be on par with the physicality of the show, and international audiences don’t want to only see amazing circus skills they also want to experience amazing ideas successfully incorporated on stage.

Outside the Montreal and Australian work, a real highlight of the festival was Warm. Hailing from Normandy with ‘Completement Torride!’ Completely Hot! (and Yes we were!) A Male adagio act moved inside a wall of very hot and bright stage lights either side of a small square stage. The temperature reached 45 degrees Celsius and for the entire hour they performed a marathon of skills. They were dripping with sweat, sliding around each other, drinking from pouring water bottles in their mouths, chalk everywhere, sliding and slipping off skin, tricks failing the more exhausted they became in the heat and the light all to an ongoing monologue of a women’s deepest sexual fantasies. This had such a strong effect on the audience, it was direct and to the point. Everyone was talking about this show, this was the push and pull that I had come to witness. The artists were invited by the director to actually miss their tricks, they were deliberately placed into an environment on stage where the accuracy of the skills were compromised. It was terrifying because of the added risk involved but fascinating to watch the danger’s being negotiated. You should catch the work if you can. A company with great circus skills driven by a director that wants to take risks that sees the value in compromising the “tricks” in some way.

It’s always good to get a sense of where the industry is through international community and engagement, and from what I experienced, Australian circus has a sharp upper cut that cannot be ignored. It would be so encouraging to see our Australian circus companies gain the recognition and acknowledgement they all deserve in their own country as much as the rest of the world is clearly willing to give them.

*Aaron Walker has recently returned from the NICA sponsored study tour for second year students sponsored by the Pratt Foundation. 

[Skye Gellmann] The Act of Storytelling Podcast

The Act of Storytelling

Podcast 16 with circus maker & performer Skye Gellmann

A podcast about Australian storytelling in all its forms, hosted by and featuring Australians in the arts industry.

Podcast 16: Skye Gellman

Bravery and Introspection prove to be hot topics this month, as Nick and Lauren deliver insight into their lives for Podcast 16.

They are also lucky enough to sit down with multi-faceted circus maker, Skye Gellmann, to talk about his unique vision of art; delving deep into Skye’s mind to explore audience cognition, the future of circus and an artist’s life on the streets. It’s a completely new perspective on storytelling for the podcast as we’re taken through the reimagined role of circus in modern society and Skye’s pioneering thoughts around “making circus like music”.

For all podcast links and previous podcasts go to theactofstorytelling.com.au

Original source: https://about.me/theactofstorytelling

[Skye Gellmann] Process: Body Preparation

 

Process: Body Preparation

I recently did a four-day master class with an amazing physical theatre company, Stalker. In short, throughout the workshop we did dance, yoga, theatre, improvisation, acrobatics, adagio, as well as working with apparatus. They draw on all types of physical prowess to produce their art and while Stalker’s process seems quite eclectic – they have found a way to pull it all together in a very natural and cohesive manner. Artistic director, David Clarkson, talked about the idea of body preparation, and for me, I think this was the most interesting part of the workshop. The following are my thoughts and riffs on that.

Being a “hat with many feathers” I’ve found myself quite confused in the past with how to frame what I was doing: Am I a squatter, an installation artist, a photographer, a writer, a circus performer, a comic book reader?… The list of describing a person and their interests can go on forever and there is never a right or wrong way to go about things. You can take or leave my following thoughts, but I’ve found they’ve helped me focus when I’ve had a project, and given me ways to think about why I do things.

What is body preparation?
At essence, body preparation is everything you do, and also everything you don’t do in the lead up before ‘making.’ Specifically, body preparation acknowledges that what you do every day before the making stage of art has an effect on it, and allows you to make work, which only you could possibly make. By identifying key preparations we might be making consciously and unconsciously, we are able to read some of all the overwhelming ‘everything’s.’ In doing so, we gain better knowledge of our day-to-day processes, and attract more stimuli that aligns with our interests and values.

What process do I use?
Firstly body preparation can work in two ways. You can prepare with an open outlook, one where there may be an uncertain outcome. Or, you can work towards a specific outcome. There are also shades in-between, and its good to know how wide your focus is. Along the way, your focus range may change and it’s good to take mental note of this as your ambitions progress. So if you have an idea, great. If not, that’s cool too.

Next, it’s useful to make a general list of everything you do everyday that contributes to your ability to make. My list comprises of activities, interests, hobbies and habits. For me these are the main categories I use, but feel free to find your own. Also, what you do doesn’t have to be positive. Maybe your destructive tendencies are what make your work great. My general list looks like this:

prep

Doodling around. Write in Notebook. Read the newspaper. Read about Art. Photography. Drawing. Hanging out with friends. Game Design research. Vocal Warm-ups. Stretching. Release Exercises. Contact Impro. Bowling Ball. Calisthenics. Pole. Balancing on things. Handstands. Acrobatics. Playing with the cat. Debriefs with Marlena at the café. Biting my fingers. Eating good food. Exploring abandoned lots. Self Sabotage. Watching movies. Etc.. etc..

If you have a project in mind, you can then make another list of activities that are more specific for that project. Then, write in vague terms how often you think you might do each activity.

For Example:
For my latest circus project ‘Bodies over Bitumen’, I need to create a total of 20 minutes of material set on a suburban street. This is my preparation list:

- Take photographs of interesting things I see on the streets – Daily.
- Contact improvisation – Regular.
- Chinese Pole training – Regular.
- Bowling Ball balance practice – Regular.
- Seeing dusk and take notes – Weekly.
- Pencil drawings of garbage bags – Sometimes.
- Follow cats around at dusk and take notes – Sometimes.
- Write down my personal stories about the streets – When it takes me.
- Surf google maps – Once or Twice.

Throughout the process of doing these activities, amend your list. There are so many other things which might filter into your life by chance, and that’s fine too. Think of the list is more of a fall back when you’re stuck or a reminder to keep you working, rather then homework.

I hope that when it comes to the creative development week of Bodies over Bitumen, I will be prepared. I’d like to make performance that is not only reflective of my thoughts, interests and values, but is perpetrated by my being.

I’ve found, this process has helped me stay motivated with my circus training and sparked my interest in new activities I think might benefit my work.

What do you do to prepare for making a new thing? It could be ballet lessons, or drinking beer at the local every Tuesday. Everything is relevant. Be it simple, strange, methodical, boring, educational, motherly, destructive, or rigorous – your experiences, the way that you act, and the choices you make day-to-day, are part of shaping your art.

I’ve attached a photo of a house I once made on a rooftop. For me, this was preparation for a work I made about living in unconventional spaces.

Skye

2009-1010-Slides-(3)

[Sarah Ward] I’m having an artlife crisis!

 

We all have our own idea of what defines art, it’s very subjective. I won’t be precocious and dictate it’s parameters but I do like a good rigorous discussion between friends because I’m passionate about it. At the moment it’s a very tender subject. What defines art? What defines ‘excellence’? Who deserves funding? Where is the line between fringe and mainstream? Where is the line between art and entertainment?

I am having an artlife crisis! I have had bad dreams for days. I want to turn away from the media so I don’t feel overwhelmed, but I don’t want to be ignorant. I want to be more active, but I don’t have the energy.  One thing I know is that I don’t want to be passive. Not about the cover up’s and the corruption, the bias and the direction that this country is heading in under the leadership of this most un-liberal of Liberal parties. People might say ‘You’re too sensitive’ or ‘You’re overreacting or ‘Look at the positives’ but I feel as though our government is dancing with dictatorship and the only place we’re heard is on our Facebook updates.

This is a part of my artlife crisis because my art is a reflection of my experience of the world I live in and at the moment I am furious and scared. Not just at the Government but at the direction art is moving toward in this country. In general, those who create provocative and radical art are relegated to the fringes and those who create easily digestible work are in the flagship venues and festivals, supported with marketing campaigns and with production support to realize and actualize their work without compromise. What’s even more tragic is that most fringe festivals are now dominated by big budget entertainment leaving no audience for the independent artists because their marketing campaigns cannot compete. Some producers, artistic directors and programmers might argue that there isn’t a place for provocative art in the mainstream because not enough people would be interested. How would they know? They’ve never supported this work with the same financial backing as the others in their program.

Yes, there are a handful of artists like Ash Flanders who have made that transition from fringe to mainstream which is encouraging and the evidence is that audiences love it! So, why not book more contemporary, cutting edge, provocative work? I know so many talented artists who are itching for the opportunity to present their work on the main stages of this country and if you don’t break through at some point you become as Nicci Wilks so beautifully puts ‘a submerging artist’. When does an artist stop emerging if they were never given the space to crack through? We all deserve the opportunity to define our culture, to speak for the majority and the minorities we represent.

There is currently a trend in the mainstream, on tele and on stage of men defying and playing with gender, I applaud this celebration of queerness. You look at any program these days and you will see at least one man in a frock smashing gender stereotypes. However, where are the queer women? We would like the chance to smash our gender too on the main stages of Australia and the world, we would like to redefine what it is to be female, to be gay, to be queer, to be trans. We would like to win Eurovision wearing beard and pants, we would like to strap on a dick and perform a song cycle, where is our voice?

Today I saw the ad for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, curated by Barry Humphries. He is kissed by a young, blond, cabaret performer who is dressed in a traditional burlesque outfit, his tag line ‘Cabaret Is Sexy’. I found this ad so depressing and disheartening. The program itself is full of great cabaret, but it is oh so white and hetero normative. Who decides what is sexy? We’ve got George Brandis on one hand telling us what ‘Excellence’ is then we have Barry Humphries telling us what ‘Sexy’ is and really I don’t want to be either excellent or sexy, I don’t want to be defined by either of those categories and I don’t want to be funded or programmed based on these entirely subjective ideas put forward by older, heterosexual, white men.

If you were to ask me what art is I would tell you what inspires me. Art that inspires me is human not droid, political not apathetic, subversive not divisive, odd not ordinary. I like to be surprised, challenged, moved, shaken, transported, overcome. I’ve witnessed performances with three juggling balls or a dance with repetitive simple movement that were utterly captivating. In particular I love performances that present the personal as universal, the performer puts something of them-selves into the work, there is an honesty and intimacy, they share an aspect of themselves, a part of their humanity. I like it when art imitates life and life imitates art. I like authenticity. If the performance tells a story, no matter how linear or abstract and there is a vulnerability, I will be engaged. If at the core of the work there is a desire to communicate something or transport people, not just to show off or make money, that is my version of art! That’s why I’m loving Theatre Works, Dark MoFo, FOLA and other venues and festivals that are not afraid to commission, produce and present radical works.

I was asked to write about Circus and Physical Theatre but found I couldn’t do so without talking about my artlife crisis, it is relevant because circus and physical theatre stretch from community and social performance, to art and entertainment. I have seen all three and the works that inspire and engage me are those driven by the concept, a story, a theme. I find shows that rely solely on the skill or the trick bore me. I like it when the tricks become incidental, almost a surprise, they are second to the meaning. The most exciting circus and physical theatre I’ve seen is when I don’t know where to clap or if it’s even appropriate to clap, because there are no deliberate indicators in the routine or show.

To be honest this wasn’t always my experience with circus and physical theatre. When I was 21 I saw contemporary circus for the first time when I watched Cirque Du Soliel. I was absolutely captivated by their skills, but now it bores me. Why? Because I’ve seen these skills and tricks now. Most of us have because circus, like cabaret and burlesque have become commodified. Where once these art-forms housed the freaks, queers and outsiders who created work that challenged the society which condemned them and celebrated difference and diversity, it has all become so mainstream and safe. Isn’t that what happens when people with money carbon-copy and homogenise an art-form because there’s big bucks in presenting an apparently risqué show where the only risk is the profit line?

The general public can now see Burlesque, Circus or Cabaret on TV in shows like X-factor or Australia’s Got Talent or at their local nightclub, pub, theatre or tent near you. Yes even Speigeltents are now mainstream. These days anybody can get up on stage and remove their clothes to raunchy music and call it burlesque, sing songs from their favourite musicals and call it cabaret or learn some tricks and put a show together with a French title and call it circus. I bet some of the most polished cabaret, burlesque and circus routines are performed on stage in a g-string, with microphone in hand on a Chinese pole at the Rhino Club in Melbourne. So for me it’s not enough anymore to see a skills based act the likes of which you can see in Cirque Du Soliel. The face paint and the wacky costumes represent that homogenising where the artist is just another faceless face in a multi million dollar company told to move and present with the style expected of the product. Nor do I want to see the safe and tired programming in most flagship venues and festivals in this country.

It is true that I have enjoyed my fair share of entertainment, there certainly is a place for that in the world, sometimes I actually need to escape, watch something safe, something fun. But the fact is, that work will always be presented, it will always find funding because it appeals to the masses and will almost certainly be a risk free venture for the producers. That is why what George Brandis is doing is a crime. His decision directly effects so many wonderful visual artists, theatre makers, dancers, musicians, film makers, directors, writers, puppeteers, physical theatre practitioners, circus artists and cabaret artists. It effects our cultural identity because it is very dangerous to only create work that the people want, popular work. It is the artist’s job to be brave and sometimes create work the people don’t want, or don’t know they want. To say things the audience don’t want to hear or expect to hear. To say the things the media aren’t saying, that our schools aren’t saying, that our government is not saying. To represent minorities, to tell stories that aren’t told on Channel 9, to challenge popular opinion, to challenge the status quo, to celebrate difference and diversity.

So yes I am having an artlife crisis because my work fits into the later, as does the work of so many of my colleagues and friends. But we won’t stop, we can’t, we love art, we live art. We must more than ever see ourselves as part of a community and support each-other the way other communities and industries are doing, the communities and industries being shut-down, silenced, moved-on and condemned. There is a strength in standing together. I personally want someone to send Brandis a giant clear jar filled with the combined flatulence of all the artists who spent all their money and time on the OZCO grants that just got cancelled and call it ‘F-art’.