TWENTYSIXTEEN | Circus OzPhoto – Rob Blackburn

Without colourful clothes, dyed hair, tattoos and extreme makeup, it’s easy to feel out of place at a circus, but the pre-show shenanigans of the crew as they mingle through the crowd create an air of casual eccentricity that seems to put everyone at their ease.

The constant buzz of Something Happening Somewhere is also an integral part of the Circus Oz atmosphere – once you’re in that Big Top, you’re in the action.

For its new show, TWENTYSIXTEEN, the stage set is simple – two scaffold arches – and very few props are used. Under the guidance of director Anni Davey, this is a back-to-basics show that celebrates the combined capabilities of this talented cast when they’re encouraged to push the physical and creative boundaries and explore the theme “I wonder what happens when I try this …”

The show opens with a rush of tumbling acrobatics, revolving around the incredibly talented musical director Ania Reynolds, who steadfastly sits in the centre of the surrounding craziness, playing a grand piano that has hopefully been reinforced to survive being used as the springboard it becomes.

The smaller acrobats – April Dawson and Sharon Gruenert – are hurled around by their colleagues and even used as human skipping ropes, but don’t for a moment think that the strong men rule the roost: if there’s one major standout in the new Circus Oz show it’s the strong female roles.

Founded on a framework of equity and collective creativity, Circuz Oz has apparently taken these principles to new heights – the program outlines projects to include people with disabilities, Aboriginal artists and women – and the whole troupe seems stronger for it.

Mighty woman Spenser Inwood is everywhere: in a striking trapeze routine alongside Gruenert and Dawson; as half of the cute and clever doll piece (with Gruenert), and holding up half the sky – and flying performers – as the catcher in the closing trapeze act.

Meanwhile, leading the ‘clown’ act is ‘Tarot-ist’ Infinity Love Beads (Flip Kammerer), who calls to the gods of psyllium husks and mung beans to aid her quest for levitation, and manages to take a shot at every on-point hipster trend as she takes off from her teeterboard. Her every aside lines up another target – appreciated more by the adult audience but without offending anyone bar paleo fans – and my only quibble through the whole night was that I couldn’t hear her every word, because this lady is worth listening to. There’s an Auslan performance scheduled for July 2; be interesting to see the translations.

Along with the rest of her multi-talented colleagues, Kammerer slips from musician to leading lady to comic foil and background muse with ease; the teamwork is slick and heartwarming.

There’s an elegant monocycle routine, led by Kyle Raftery; amazingly inventive human pyramids; some awesome seven-way juggling with members of the band casually joining in then going back to pick up an instrument; a spin on the ropes with Sam Aldham, and a super-tight gymnastics routine featuring hacky sacks from new kid on the block Robbie Curtis.

A backbone of the show from go to whoa is the cheeky, inimitable Dale Woodbridge-Brown, who acts as ringleader, dandy, acrobat, juggler, comic and all-round flirt.

But the award for Mr Everywhere should probably go to the multi-talented Matt Wilson, a Circus Oz stalwart of 25 years, who barely seems to leave the stage. When he’s not getting undressed with a woman on his head or barging into jugging routines with a casual ease that belies the team’s timing and skill, he’s playing guitar with the band or flying around the stage on ropes or trapeze. He also leads one of the highlights of the show – a visually stunning dream sequence of balance and daring that opens as a comedy, sees him scale a tower of tottering chairs, then draws gasps from the crowd with its climax.

Throughout it the band are a constant force, carrying the focus during set changes and providing excitement and emotion to support the acts.

Costume designer Laurel Frank’s creations tread a clever line between comfort and creativity, adding zest and style with a comic daggy edge that echoes the ensemble’s anarchic charm.

Maybe it’s the blend of old and new talent in the cast, or the influence of its guest director Davey but, returning to its roots a little, Circus Oz seems to have found new confidence and direction with this new show, and its creative juices appear to be in full flow.

Go see one of our national treasures in full flight.

Circus Oz presents

Director Anni Davey

Venue: Circus Oz Big Top, Birrarung Marr (between Federation Square and Batman Ave, Melbourne)
Dates: 15 June – 10 July 2016
Times: 1.30pm, 3pm and 7.30pm (see website for details)
Tickets: $95 – $25 | family $105 – $225
Bookings: 136 100 |

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