|From the Ground Up | Circus Oz|
|Written by Rebecca Whitton|
|Friday, 28 September 2012 21:48|
After the immensely charming M.C., Ghenoa Gela warms up the audience, the band strikes up and the stage bursts into life with an electric acrobatic routine using the whole ensemble. The highlight is Stevee Mills being used as a human skipping rope. Right from the start, Australia's lovable, daredevil darlings have the audience in the palm of their hands.
From that point the show rollicks along, teasing and cajoling the audience and dazzling them with the company's physical skills. This new Circus Oz show From the Ground Up, from director Mike Finch, uses the theme of a construction site. The simple, clever set design of scaffolding and steel girders doubles as both set and rigging. The performers have donned hard hats and overalls as their costumes and they are ready to get down to work.
The band is outstanding under Carl Polke's musical direction, and it is the heartbeat of the show. The core of the band is sax, piano and drums, but performers regularly take up other instruments, adding to the depth and range of the soundscape. The company's eclectic sound, which ranges from jazz to rock to latin, is one of the elements that has come to define contemporary circus. At one point, drummer Bec Matthews performs an impressive solo suspended in a cage that swings wildly around the stage. And I particularly loved Carl Polke, channelling Jethro Tull, in the duelling electric guitars routine.
It is largely a new company and so some of the old, much loved routines are missing or are reinterpreted, and new, fresh acts reflect the individual skills of the performers. The Chinese pole routine, for instance, has often been a spectacular ensemble piece, with a half dozen performers sliding to a precision stop, faces inches from the ground. This version is a solo act which is more hard edged and sizzles with a sense of danger. Chad Albinger is mesmerising in his display of sheer strength in this physically punishing act.
Strongman Mason West balances on spinning paint cans and daringly performs handstands at the top of the terrifyingly swaying pole. Hazel Bock juggles an impossible number of rings. More spectacular is her foot juggling (I can't tell you what she juggles as it would spoil your sense of awe when you see it for yourself).
The big ensemble routines: trapeze, acrobatics and club juggling intensify the energy levels and genuinely dazzle. Shane Witt deserves a particular mention for his trapeze work.
All this is interspersed with comedy. Throughout the show M.C. Ghenoa Gela is playing around with her own sense of Australian identity: toying with anthems, considering how she might run the country. Flip Kammerer's Fantaysia Fitness, desperate to sell a few of her homemade fitness DVDs, makes every effort to steal the show and almost gets away with it, but she is well and truly reigned in the by the rest of the company. Clown/magician, Jeremy Davies has a strong performing presence as does his ever so sweet sidekick, Luke Taylor. These distinctive characters provide the framework for the show and strong points of identification. It will be good when the character work of some of the younger performers becomes more developed.
In comparison with Cirque de Soleil, Circus Oz is by no means slick, glamorous or highly produced. It is, however, made up of highly skilled performers who genuinely engage with their audience and who are not afraid to drop a juggling ring or to miss the trapeze bar. The audience really responds to this honesty and it reinforces how difficult the tricks actually are. From the Ground Up is funny, charming and inclusive. More than any other performing arts company I know, Circus Oz consistently continues to celebrate, reflect and challenge elements of the Australian identity. Their hallmark knockabout larrikinism provides a comic device to raise challenging ideas in an accessible and populist form in front of a mixed audience of adults and children.
It all adds up to an exuberant and joyful production that makes you leave the theatre happy.
Circus Oz presents
From the Gound Up
Venue: Riverside Theatre, Parramatta
Dates: 27 - 29 September , 2012
Tour info: www.circusoz.com
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