Image credit: Pandora Karavan

Image credit: Pandora Karavan

Baylee Collins | Monday 16 May  2016

Derek Ives (20/3/1968 – 27/4/2016)



Our community lost a treasured friend, and significant initiator, inspirer, driver and mentor of the contemporary circus movement, on 27th April when Derek Ives passed away in his sleep. He was at his mothers place in Buderim, Queensland when he died, and now we fervently hope that he is at peace.

A Melbourne memorial service was held on Monday 2nd May at The Facility in Kensington. More than 400 friends and family came to pay respects and offer condolences to Derek’s mother Marni and his brother James. Also to Derek’s wife Jess Guile and his dear friends in whose number I count myself.

The celebration of his life in Melbourne was dark and punk, a large warehouse arrived at via a shabby lane next to the railway line. Photo’s of Derek, a vast spread of “bring a plate” offerings. His mother Marni and his brother James both spoke eloquently, both managed to make us laugh. Jess and Azaria, two of his great loves made us cry. There was a celebrant, Kimba who presided, gently chiding people for talking too long. A slide show of photos and a video of his performance images. Mitch embodying his legacy, Leeroy in silent memoriam. Then Bogus played (as he had requested for his funeral – “when I die I want….”) that Angels classic “Am I Ever Going To See Your Face Again” with the requisite audience response! There was a raffle, a chance to “pull Derek’s rope”, proceeds to the family for funeral expenses. In the roof Derek’s bucket, carefully and painstakingly packed with his endless rope. His last performance, prepared by him when he packed it away into his container. Malia won the raffle, but gave the opportunity to Jess Guile. It worked perfectly, pouring out, a long time, piling coils of rope. And then she threw herself on the pile!

In Buderim on Friday, the funeral proper. A viewing of his body, which offered for me the much needed confirmation that he had left. It wasn’t him! It didn’t look like him anymore. Only the tatt’s were still absolutely, irrefutably Derek. The service felt different to the one in Melbourne. A large bright reception room, no celebrant, only Dennis Peel presiding. People who had known Derek not just as a circus man but as a child, a youth, his mother’s son. Dignitaries of the Queensland Community Arts scene. Derek’s favourite hymn with Jess accompanying on ukulele, and then Leah Cottrell belting out “Am I Ever Going To See Your Face Again” with her signature jazz ferocity. A further opportunity to gather at Marni’s house, the house where he spent his last 6 weeks struggling with himself, yet able to make peace with his father and mother

Derek was 48 years old, outlived by his parents, a tragic reversal of the natural order of things. Maybe this is why his death hits us so hard.

Derek used to say that he wouldn’t ever be an old man. His body was weak, he only had one lung and apparently his organs were misplaced. He was skinny, tattooed and memorable. An angry young man who matured into a knowledge carrier, wise man, helper, mentor, support for a whole generation of emerging and established independent artists and companies who valued his rigging expertise, the purity of his aesthetic, his generous sharing of knowledge and of good food.

While we gathered we felt as family, a large community of people bonded by our circus life, the trust and familiarity with each other that this kind of work necessitates, is reliant on. Yet while I felt all that love around us, I also wonder why such love couldn’t have saved Derek. Why, if someone was as loved and respected as Derek, as evidenced by the outpouring of grief and testimonials, why was he so sad? Why did he despair?

He talked to me of his difficulties with handling the responsibility that a rigger takes on. And how that it was sometimes almost unbearable, to be actually responsible for people’s lives. And especially when those people were children – The Flying Fruit Flies with whom he toured at the end of 2014. How every performance that finished with no incident was increasingly a relief rather than a triumph, and that the remote possibility of a slip up, an oversight, a mishap loomed closer rather than further away.

This business is hard! It requires enormous dedication and determination. Those of us who passionately throw ourselves into it  because we are driven too, must be familiar with the self doubt and insecurity that it can foster inside us. Remember and know that there are people who understand our pain. Remember to reach out to those people who can help you to get through the tough times. Look after yourselves! But also let us remember that there are people feeling the pain who may not feel equipped to reach out. Let’s look after each other.

Vale Derek, my friend!

Image Credit: Pandora Karavan