Written by Richard Watts | Artshub | 14th January 2014

The dynamic nature of the Australian circus sector is celebrated at this dynamic festival in the Margaret River region.

First held in 2007, the Western Australian Circus Festival unites Australia’s diverse circus sector, bringing together professional performers, community circus participants, and the general public – as well as a range of international guests – for three eventful days at Karridale, 350km south of Perth.

Hosted by the Lunar Circus, the festival – which this year runs from 25-27 January – features an array of circus shows staged in venues around the festival site. This year’s headliners are Vague de Cirque, a troupe of eight Canadian acrobats making their Australian debut, and Brisbane’s boylesque cabaret stars, Briefs.

‘It’s a celebration of the Australian and international circus culture, and it’s absolutely fantastic. There’s performers and tutors from around the country and from distant parts of the globe,’ said Festival Director Matt Yates.

Other companies and performers participating at this year’s festival include Melbourne trio At the Last Gasp (Angelique Ross, Dylan Rodriguez and Luke Hubbard), winners of the Best Original New Circus award at the 2013 Melbourne Fringe Festival; German trick cyclist Ina Bikerina; contemporary sideshow performer The Great Gordo Gamsby; solo West Australian performer Ty Fitzsimons; award-winning Melbourne quartet Pants Down Circus; and juggler extraordinaire Olivia Porter.

But the Western Australian Circus Festival is much more than just a series of shows; it’s also an important opportunity for the circus sector to meet and share their skills.

‘Before the festival we have three weeks of training, and by week three there’s about 130 participants and 85 tutors, plus all of the crew, on site, so there’s about 250 of us living here in that time. And then all the general public come in for the three days of the festival itself,’ Yates said.

Participation at the festival is a sure-fire way for visiting performers to add new tricks to their repertoire, helping to ensure a healthy future for the Australian circus sector nationally, said Melbourne-based performer Malia Walsh.

‘There is something truly magnificent about the WA Circus Festival, and I’m not just talking about the sublime location. A week with your colleagues and peers sharing information and circus tricks not only strengthens our industry, it supports new collaborations, concepts and ideas. There is something about camping, eating and sleeping together (pun intended) that creates an space where students and circus superstars live on the same plane for a just little while – which, I think, is both humbling and inspiring,’ Walsh told artsHub.

Gail Kelly, Director of the Australian Circus and Physical Theatre Association (ACAPTA) compared the opportunity for the sector to gather and network at the festival to a professional development project.

‘Matt, who’s been the Artistic Director of the Western Australian Circus Festival since it started, has built up really strong connections with international companies. There’s always quite a lot of international performers and companies at the festival, so it’s an opportunity for … potential collaborations to come out of those discussions and exchanges; and we get to see work that we wouldn’t normally see, and that’s always good for creativity. Because we are really isolated here in that sense; we don’t have access to that international work all that often,’ she said.

With the demise of the Tasmanian Circus Festival, the Western Australian Circus Festival was now even more important, Kelly added.

‘The more opportunities the national sector can have to come together, then the greater the output is of new work and the establishment of new companies … People who live in Western Australia get access to national trainers and national artists, so really [the festival is] fostering a whole new potential way of working.’

In the seven years since the festival was founded, Matt Yates has seen rapid growth in the circus sector nationally.

‘It’s ever-increasing. NICA are graduating people, and people are also graduating from the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. The number of community circuses in Australia has increased dramatically as well, and so there’s all of these kids participating and they’re all getting really great,’ he said.

And though he suspects that such growth must plateau eventually (‘I guess with any industry it must eventually reach a sustainable point.’) Yates predicts a bright future for Australian circus graduates.

‘There are so many avenues that circus artists can go into – and people are always in need of entertainment.’


Western Australian Circus Festival
25-27 Januar

ORIGINAL SOURCE: www.performing.artshub.com.au

Image: Brief’s Fez Faanana