If you’re looking for a slick spectacular, complete with flawless performances, a neatly groomed ringmaster and clichéd clowns, then avoid heading down to Birrarung Marr to catch the final week of Circus Oz. However, if it’s raw entertainment you seek, peppered with tongue in cheek humour and powered by rock and roll, then you’ll feel right at home under this big top.
Australia’s prime export of the acrobatic arts has performed in 24 countries across five continents of the world. They carry with them a proud history, a socially aware conscience, and a collective approach where each member of the team brings more than one talent to the pool. They present an exciting show proudly free from gloss or glamour, a pure hit of down to earth, dirty and somewhat daggy entertainment.
The performance starts as the audience is being seated. Roving characters simultaneously usher in and amuse us with sophisticated stunts such as pinning clothes pegs to the facial area, and skipping with stretched chewing gum. Awesome circus stunts soon follow involving poles, whips, hoola hoops, acrobatics, the group bike and the German wheel, and even some cabaret-style singing and star-spangled costumes thrown into the mix.
Highlights include a stunning juggling act by juggler/contortionist Sosina Wogayehu, done 1920s flapper-style complete with sequins, prop chair and assistance from dapper male counterparts in white coat tails. Sosina also impresses in the second act, contorted and submersed elegantly in a tank of pink lemonade.
Equally engaging is Circus Oz’s strongwoman (and former admin assistant – I told you they were multi-talented) Mel Fyfe. With a stomach tough enough to withstand shattering concrete slabs, Fyfe struts the stage with immense stage presence. She plays a pivotal role in ringmistress Christa Hughes’ celebration of ‘real women’ by circling the stage in the German wheel wearing a flashing bikini while Hughes sings the satirical ‘Bikini Parade’.
Death-defying aerial acts are a must at any circus, and Circus Oz delivers with an amazing group pole act and a somewhat sensuous encounter with the corde lisse (a “smooth cord” from which a performer dangles and swings). There was however a disappointing lack of circus’ most reknowned act: the trapeze. Perhaps an effective gauge of how thrilling a circus show is can be measured by how long the performers’ feet remain off the ground.
Music is integral to the Circus Oz ethos, and the house band adds an energetic aural back drop to the visual element, occasionally taking centre stage. Musical director John O’Hagan steals the show at one point, taking flight with his double bass and swinging from the rafters, never missing a beat.
The performers’ appeal lies not only in their immense physical talent, but in their ability to present themselves as human beings – these are not super heroes we’re watching from our ringside seats, they are flawed and imperfect. They embrace their mistakes and use them to increase the thrill of success. When the incredible juggler tries once, then twice unsuccessfully to juggle seven balls, the audience holds its collective breath as she attempts the trick for the third time, erupting appreciatively when, this time, she nails it.
With only a week to go until Circus Oz leaves Australian shores again, this time headed for New Zealand, anyone wanting to experience that magic anticipation as the house lights dim in the big top should roll up, roll up quick smart.
Birrarung Marr, under the heated Big Top | Between Federation Square and Batman Avenue
20 June to 15 July, 2007
7.30PM; Matinees 11, 14 & 15 July @ 1.30pm
$59 - $29; Family $154 - $127 (4 tickets, no more than 2 adults). Conditions apply
Ticketmaster 136 100 or ticketmaster.com.au | Big Top Box Office 1 hour prior to show time