circus, the ultimate contemporary art?
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Circus is an art form that has continued over the past decade to captivate audiences and grow in popularity. Having reached critical mass, a fixed feature in festivals around the world built upon a long and colorful history, those childhood memories under the big top most of us share, and more simply the way it responds to the here and now. In Melbourne we only need to look at the continued success, both here and abroad of our very own Circus Oz, perhaps Australia’s first “modern” circus trope to encapture this notion.

The company are now also opening their door to support the work of others, as part of this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival, they are responsible for presenting 7 works over the three weeks of the festival at one the most historic, loved and beautiful venues bestowed to Melbourne, The Melba Spiegeltent. TAGG spoke with Circus Oz Senior Artistic Associate Antonella Casella about the upcoming festival season.

Antonella, why circus?

I feel this year is a real watershed year for circus in the Melbourne fringe, I feel like fringe  festivals all around the world the circus has been growing and bubbling up into a major part of the programming in places like Edinburgh and Adelaide in particular, and I feel like this year Melbourne fringe has really come up to that level, of having that mix of incredible international touring work as well as completely brand new work emerging artists taking their first steps into being creatives. We wanted our hub to reflect that whole range I guess

What do you think is behind the continued success and growing popularity of circus?

I think it’s the art form for the era, I think it an art form that can tell any story to anybody and it can draw on any other art form, there is no reason why a circus show not have text cannot have comedy story line or narrative or a completely post-modern non narrative arc, multimedia juggling movement, dance, sculpture, one of the show nominated in Edinburgh was a Melbourne show that d a bit of kinetic sculpture and explored climate change. I feel as an art form it is full of opportunity and it’s the ultimate contemporary art.

What do you think could be attributed to the ongoing popularity of circus?

There are no rules and that’s not just for the performers but for the audience too, they still hold it in their heads that idea of the traditional circus, a lot of what they remember is the greatest show on earth, the old 1940’s back and white movies, with Tony Curtis. People still hold that traditional circus model in their head, but then they come and see a contemporary circus show that still has the level of incredible skill,  but it’s basically exploring conceptual ideas, it’s like getting your whole imagination opened up when you walk into a circus.

So what are some the highlights that people should look out for as part of the work presented at The Melba Spiegeltent?

Each piece has something really special about it, there’s one coming from Brisbane by Cacus called ReStrung I haven’t seen this version and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a reworked version of a show they already made and have been toured internationally to festivasl which highlight independent contemporary work of circus and physical theatre. It was a real break out work for them, it immediately spoke to people, because it had such a personal connection with the audience, it was these five individuals basically bearing their truths of who they were on stage, through circus. It was really touching. Now they have reworked it with a musician to create a whole new layer of soundtrack to it, I think it’s going to be a really beautiful piece, really moving.

The No Frills Cabaret is something I’m really excited about, because it’s called the No Frills Cabaret but the truth is its actually full of some the most amazing international touring circus acts, so  there’s going to be some quite spectacular skill on show.

Then there is Undertone which is interestingly another circus show looking at the cross over between music and circus. Whereas Restrung is with live music, Undertone is with electronic music and the electronic music is folded in to their circus equipment, it’s completely integrated.

The Loneliest Number which is by Hannah Cryle who is an emerging solo female circus artist, who’s incredible strong, she’s one of the strongest women I know, she could be the next Australian strong woman. But she’s also very creative, she’s actually worked with six different directors on six different vignettes to explore the performance possibilities for her work.

The Cactus County Wild West Cabaret, it has absolutely no circus a tall, I think it hails originally from a comic radio show and the basically have a great time parodying the wild west, singing and being very silly.

Do you feel Circus Oz along with other major companies should play a greater role in supporting the work of independent artists?

I think it’s critical for us to do that at the moment, we all know that the funding environment has changed significantly and there is a lot less funding support for independent artists, but also for all independent artists it’s always a struggle to pull together enough work. And it’s always a struggle to pull together enough time to focus on your creative work, that’s the hardest part but also the most important part of the process.

Circus Oz is really committed to opening up this incredible space that we have, to foster that process both the creation of it, as well as the presentation. Which is why we are not only supporting artist to be in the fringe, but we are also supporting artists to develop their work here in the rehearsal spaces, not just for our venue but for all venues putting on circus in the fringe. So I feel we are working hard to support the whole ecosystem, because at the moment that part of the ecosystem needs more support than ever before.

How do you see Circus Oz within the broader context of circus and performance arts in Australia?

You know it’s interesting because in many ways Circus Oz was Melbourne’s, even Australia’s first circus of a new era the reinvented circus if you like. I think even from the beginning what Circus Oz has brought to circus, is the notion that its about reinventing something, about making it current making it contemporary, taking risks to do that. I think that has always been a part of our  core artistic values, so I think as a company we really bring that notion of takings risk, even though we are a major I don’t think we are perceived as a place where you have to follow rules or do things how they have always been done. That’s a really special quality that Circus Oz has.

Looking forward what are your hopes for circus, the upcoming festival season and for the company?

I think this is a really important year for circus in the fringe, because we have our hub presenting this incredible range of work but there is almost like a virtual circus hub across Melbourne this year. My dream for our circus hub is for it to provide a space where artists can really celebrate the whole range of what circus is in a way that no other venue can, because it’s the Melba Spiegeltent.  We can present late night cabaret through to experimental theatrical based circus work in this incredible space; I guess it’s also my dream that artists can keep exploring these ideas. My other hope is a lot of other audience members will come along on this journey with us.

There are so many great shows happening at The Melba Spiegeltent, with the season opening on the 16th of September. Whether you book tickets to see one of your favorite artists or companies, or take a risk and perhaps explore something new and magical, you’ll be doing your bit to support the work artists for more info click here