Polarity. Directed by Kon Kudo. Written by Liv Hewson. Warehouse Circus. The Street Theatre. October 6 to 8. Ph 6247 1223.
The executive director of Warehouse Circus, Aleshia Johnson, saysPolarity marks a change in direction for the Canberra training circus.
“It’s the next stage for us,” she says. Rather than the customary circus tradition of immersing the audience in a series of spectacles with little or no connecting thread, Polarity began with a concept, devised by the creative team at Warehouse, which was written into a short story by former Canberra Youth Theatre actor and writer Liv Hewson and then adapted and interpreted by director Kon Kudo and his cast.
“In 2014 our show Refract had a loose narrative – that started an idea we thought we could take further,” Johnson says.
In Polarity, 17-year-old Alexi (Joshua Strachan) is trapped by a surging flood and as he faces a life-threatening situation, remembers his troubled past, when the death of his twin sister (Elena Hood) and family grief and neglect led to his life of escalating petty crime and social isolation. Jacqueline Newnham plays the role of Rosa, an elderly widow who has offered him hope when everything seems futile. But will it be enough for Alexi, and the community, to put aside what’s happened and look towards a more hopeful future?
Polarity is intended to combine the drama of theatre with the physicality of circus to appeal to audiences who enjoy each of the forms, as well as those who already appreciate both.
“The intention is to create something not usually seen in a circus show so the circus audience will say, ‘Wow, this has something to it beyond circus acts’ – though the circus acts are set a high level,” Johnson says.
Similarly, while theatre audiences will be given a story, they will also be exposed to the abstraction of circus performance.
Polarity‘s dramaturg and producer, Karla Conway, formerly artistic director and chief executive of Canberra Youth Theatre, says she helped devise the concept for Polarity with colleagues Daniel Gunthorpe and Nathan Anderson before Hewson fleshed it out into her short story.
“She knew the process of adaptation to circus is different to if it was a script – a script lends itself to dialogue, it’s a written medium.”
Strachan, who trained for four years with Canberra City Gymnastics before joining Warehouse Circus, is a specialist in straps and acrobatics and will have the opportunity to put his skills to good use in various scenarios such as being trapped in rapidly rising water or imagining himself in scenes from his past.
Kon Kudo – who also runs his own company, Poncho Circus, and completed a degree in photomedia from the ANU School of Art – has been associated with Canberra’s Warehouse Circus for about 10 years as a performer and now a director. The 23-year-old, who is directing his first show for the company with Polarity, says performers and their speciality acts will be employed to help tell the story.
“The great thing about circus is there are plenty of other ways to express yourself,” he says.
Not only do the 15 performers – aged from 13 to 18 – play characters, they also portray abstract elements and events, including a fatal car crash and a flood, through acrobatics, aerials and balancing acts using elements of the set designed by Christiane Nowak.
Kudo has been working on Polarity for the past few months with the aim of ensuring the performance is “very fluid” and continuous, and that the narrative momentum is maintained rather than it being an episodic series of acts. But, he says, “the wow factor has to be there – it’s still a circus show”.
As circus is a very physical kind of theatre, the settings, actions and psychological and emotional descriptions in the story were interpreted by the director and production team and translated into performance – with the aid of lighting and music – to convey meaning and feeling to the audience in the absence of dialogue.
For example, acrobatics and aerial work are used to convey the rising flood waters and fast-moving exchanges of juggling pins and balls convey the speed and aggression of a chase when Alexi is stealing and being pursued by a teacher. For the fatal car accident, an ensemble of performers work together and convey the “corpse” across the stage.
Representatives from the National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne will come up to watch Polarity. The day after the final performance, four of the performers – Joshua Strachan, Michael Chong, Benton Adams-Walker and Elena Hood – will be auditioning for NICA with the intention of training to pursue professional careers in circus performance.