Circus Oz performer and aerialist Anni Davey is Guest Director for The Blue Show, a highlight of this year’s Midsumma Festival. Australian Stage’s Paul Andrew finds Anni making herself cool and comfy in the new 100 year old Melba Spiegeltent; they chat about the essence of Oz. 

The Blue ShowTell me about the meaning of the word blue in The Blue Show?
We asked the audience to consider blue in as many different ways as they could. 'Playing the blues', 'feeling blue', 'having a blue', and of course, blue as in blue movies. This show is our opportunity to talk primarily to an adult or grown up audience so we have come up with something that is as eccentric and kooky as Circus Oz is always, but also conceptual and thematic and dogmatic and agitational and, yes, sexy!

Tell me about the original Blue Show (2004) and why you feel it became something of a tour de force?
The intimacy was the key to the success of the 2004 version I think. Circus artists specialize in making the seemingly impossible look easy, and up close, that's pretty spectacular. The audience sees the effort, the split second timing, the artifice and also the very real. The performers also get to communicate subtleties, usually difficult across a house of two thousand people.

What did you absolutely love about that production?
My favourite piece was the last, a group balancing sequence accompanied by Sue Simpson singing a very soft, slow, a cappella song, a Cowboy Junkies cover. This captured for me the power of softness combined with strength, grace and beauty that I believe is inherently Circus Oz!

What elements inspired you then as a Circus Oz performer?
We tried to examine and shake up all of our habits as performance makers. If we would normally do a big, ballsy number there, how would it play to do something small? How intimate can we get? How far can we go? Joel performed a rap in that show, accompanied by him juggling musical shakers, which was about his father's cancer diagnosis. I thought that was really brave!

What elements challenged you then?
All of it. Performing is always challenging, it has to be, and otherwise it's just demonstrating. But without the huge production of our big show, it's suddenly all about you, the performer, and your ability to take the audience somewhere.

Tell me something about the impression it made?
The Spiegeltent. I've just always wanted to perform in a Spiegeltent again. It comes with so much, atmosphere, history, intimacy and splendor. And now we have one of our own. The Melba Spiegeltent, one of the original Belgian Spiegeltents Circus Oz purchased last year. I might move in!

True, the original Blue Show was sexy, tricky, up-close and personal - I remember the hilarious consumptive character spitting blood and saliva.

Tell me something of the mood, setting and physicality of this new production under your direction?
Okay here are four examples.

Two performers came to me and said, "We want to whistle a Bach aria, it's called Air on a G string, and we want to wear G strings". I said, "If you can whistle it's in". Well it's in and one of my personal highlights of the show.

Late one afternoon we decided to wrap Paul, the beautiful tumbler - and I'm not talking about a small glass of water - in bubble wrap and see what happened. That's evolved into an extraordinarily beautiful, almost fetishistic piece which has the audience totally silent, waiting for those bubbles to pop.

We've had long interesting discussions about lies. Those everyday lies we accept, the nature of truth, marketing and manipulation. We've come up with a beautiful act and a beautiful song.

The show begins with a subversion of the notions of heaven and hell. Heaven is full of bad people and the fighters, the outcasts, the misfits are in hell. Where would you rather end up?

Is there a narrative arc?
There are a couple of character narratives running through the show, and some thematic threads too, but not a narrative or storyline in a traditional sense. Circus is like life, it doesn't always make sense, it never does what you expect.

What is the setting?
Anywhere, anytime! We are in our Spiegeltent which is a place and time of its own.

What essence do you feel you foreground as Guest Director?
I feel that I have been able to tease out possibilities for the performers that they might not have expected. I have trained myself to never think that something is impossible.

The Blue ShowTell me about the sound of The Blue Show?
Great - the music is great. Carl, Ania and Bec have created this strange sort of Bossa Nova feel with jungle overtones and a few covers thrown in. And then we have the great songwriting and spectacular vocals of Sarah Ward. The other thing I discovered during rehearsals is that Rowan, an aerialist, speaks Auslan. So all the songs are translated - a deaf community friendly show.

Tell me about the rumour that Yana Alana and The Paranas will be performing.
I'm so sorry, Yana won't be appearing!

I've encouraged Sarah Ward (aka Yana) to stretch away from confrontational lesbian performance poetry towards classical nude whistling - yes, you heard that right - it's Sarah Ward!


Tell me something about how you have directed the key female ‘characters’?
I always try and place women front and centre in my work.

I've asked them to try things outside their comfort zone. Intimacy (the space) equals vulnerability, and that's what an audience wants, a sense that they are really hearing a performer’s real voice. It's all real, it's all true, except for the bits that aren't.

What's the funniest or most astonishing thing that happened during rehearsals?
Oh dear, so many. I think it's astonishing that each and every performer kept saying - Yes, alright, we'll try that.

The Blue Show by Circus Oz is now playing in the Melba Spiegeltent until February 6, 2011. Further details»

Photos - Robert Blackburn

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