Photo – David Wyatt
The after-work crowd is enjoying some drink and nibbles at an outside table in Prahran as the grey-haired lady with tatty, worn-out clothes slyly edges her pram full of plastic bags closer to the plates of food - then casually reaches out to grab a taste. The trendily dressed young man with goatee jump and smiles sheepishly, not wishing to cause offence, but he's not quite sure how to take her; after all, she looks rather young and healthy ... and is that makeup she's wearing?
The fact that he's waiting to go in to watch the end-of-year performance by NICA students, who are about to graduate with a Bachelor of Circus Arts from the only Australian college to offer this course does tend to give the Bag Lady's game away.
Sure enough, she later appears on stage, enthralled by a glitzy bag tied high on a trapeze swing, and game enough to risk life and limb to reach it. This clever routine, full of airborne prat-falls and high-flying comedy is a perfect example of why circuses the world over are getting better and better.
Remember the old days of trick ponies and lions scared into submission with whips? Who would watch that when you can marvel at two perfectly synchronised acrobats while they perform a ballet-like sequence of sublime beauty as well as breath-taking ability. Apparently it's called Adagio. Who knew?
Or a skillful 'object manipulator' who has devised a fiendishly clever routine combining juggling, shadow puppetry and mime that has your eyes believing she is dancing with a hat and jacket on a stick. Or the comic acrobat who closes the show with a brilliant clowning routine based around a treadmill and gym junkies.
The 18 graduating students from the class of 2012 have developed a range of skills in all manner of circus crafts, some with bizarre names such as 'risley', 'tissu', and 'teeterboard'. Each student has had the chance to develop an act for the end-of-year show, but even those without solos perform an incredible range of skills that makes this graduating show a slick display, whether it's over-dynamic crowd control, supporting their fellow students or distracting the audience with brilliant, short tricks while the stage is re-set.
The beauty is seeing the end result - so obviously borne of much trial, error, effort, creativity, artistry, imagination and sheer, hard physical work - come to fruition in a Glee-like class finale.
If past students - and this amazing show - are anything to go by, these students will be the names of the future, headlining in Circus Oz, Cirque Du Soleil and other creative outlets. Many of the students are from interstate and overseas, underlining the standard and dedication required.
The show being performed at NICA until December 1 displays what they have learnt so far; it's a far more impressive range of skills than I left university with.
As with any class, some students display more individual talent than others but the group combines to present a fastastic evening of easy entertainment that is a joy to watch.
National Institute of Circus Acts (NICA) presents
Circus Showcase 2012
Director Meredith Kitchen
Venue: NICA National Circus Centre, 41 Green St, Prahran
Dates: until December 1
Times: Weds-Sat 7.30pm; Saturday matinees and Thursday Nov 29 at 1.30pm
Tickets: Adults $27 ($22) Children $18, family $72