Richard Watts  |  Artshub  |  Tuesday 22 July, 2014

A celebration of performance and place marks 35 years of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus.

A rare collaboration between Australia’s national youth circus, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, and a group of master Chinese acrobats in the 1980s was to have remarkable impact on the Australian circus sector. Indeed, the ramifications of the ‘Nanjing Project’ as it became known (an initiative of Carrillo Gantner AO, then Cultural Attaché to the Australian Embassy in China) are still being felt today.

‘It’s quite easily forgotten how important those original Nanjing Projects were for Australia. I mean, Bob Hawke, who was Prime Minister at the time, wrote the program notes, so this was an event of national significance back in the ’80s,’ said Richard Hull, Executive Director of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus.

The Flying Fruit Flies will soon be revisiting the Nanjing Project with a two-week residency by five Chinese acrobats at the company’s Albury headquarters. The residency, co-presented by the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) and the Melbourne Festival, will culminate in a performance staged as part of ‘Borderville’, a three-day celebration of the Fruit Flies’ 35th anniversary over the weekend of 3-5 October.

‘I think what will make this weekend particularly significant is the presence of the Chinese acrobats in Albury, because that was such a milestone, such a ground-breaking project – not only for the Fruit Flies but for everyone else who was involved in it, and for Australian contemporary circus. To be able to revisit that, have five acrobats here for two weeks working with our students and creating that same cultural exchange for a whole new generation, I think that in particular makes the weekend significant and probably does tie together, in that particular sense, the whole Fruit Fly story,’ Hull said.

Over three nights, Borderville will highlight the history of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus with a range of events, including performances by former company members, documentary screenings, vaudeville-style acts, exhibitions and more.

Highlights include a performance by Belgian cabaret artist Micheline Van Hautem, performing the songs of Jacques Brel at Wodonga’s Hothouse Theatre; A Little Bit of Shhh at the Albury LibraryMuseum, featuring local and international artists who have performed with companies including Cirque Du Soleil, Circus Oz, Tom Tom Crew and more; former Fruit Fly Tom Flanagan’s Kaput; 35 Live!, an exclusive one-off performance by current members of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus; and Flipism, the premiere of a brand new show created by five graduate artists from the Fruit Fly class of 2013, developed through the Australia Council’s JUMP program.

Artistic Director Jodie Farrugia said: ‘I think a program like this, and a weekend like this, is really going to allow all the young artists here to expand creatively and understand that they’re part of something that has been a lot of people’s work over a long period of time; it’s not just about the now. For me, that’s artistically the strongest part of this project.

‘I’ve also been looking at ways that returning graduates from the Fruit Flies over the last 35 years [who are] still working as artists and performers and creators, can come back and have that connection with our young artists enrolled in the program now. Trying to deepen the experience of our current Fruit Flies students for them to understand the lineage of what they are part of now as they move into the future … From an artistic point of view I guess we were looking for the opportunities of how can we honour the past but also throw ourselves into the future. It’s about our whole organisation and company coming back to its roots, I guess, and building that appreciation of the past and our elders.’

Borderville will not just be significant for the company, however; it’s a celebration for the entire community of Albury-Wodonga, with whom the Fruit Flies are intimately integrated, Farrugia said.

‘The beautiful thing about Albury and being at the Fruit Flies is it’s something very different to being in Melbourne, in a lot of ways. The community here have really invested. At some stage of their life they were the parent of a Fruit Fly; they were a volunteer in some way; they were an audience member. Everybody that you talk to on the street has some connection. It’s not even six degrees of separation, it’s one degree of separation from having an experience with the Fruit Flies that has been a significant part of their life. Being a small town it seems only honourable to include them in this celebration here and now,’ she said.

The Flying Fruit Fly Circus presents Borderville

3-5 October


PHOTOGRAPHER: Members of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus performing ‘Chinese Pole’ in New York 1999. Image supplied.