Left – Katy Burrows. Cover – Lynne Regan. Photos – Marie Watt
Founded in 1991, Melbourne's much lauded Women's Circus has created over 30 original works. Their latest, The Drill, draws inspiration from their home – the Footscray Drill Hall, built in 1914.
This site specific work looks to the untold stories of War (WW1). According to Creative Director Penelope Barclay, "for our 2019 production we decided to look at the history of our home... What happened to those who were left behind?... This line of thought and investigation has been the catalyst for creating The Drill."
As a space that facilitated the military training of young men from the Footscray community who were then sent to faraway battlefields, The Drill now fills this space with contemporary circus, theatre and music. There is historical reimagining of the impact of their leaving, a reimagining through a feminine lens.
The audience is gathered into a brightly lit marquee, the mood is upbeat as women dance together cheering on the troops as they leave for the front. From here we are divided up into several groups. For the next hour or so we are lead through a labyrinth of walkways taking you into different spaces.
Beautiful imagery is created in the first small and quite humble domestic space. Women knit, knit to provide objects of comfort, knit to show support for the cause, knit to feel involved and of use. A ball of wool and a couple of knitting needles can provide practically and in their use, provide a sense of achievement and an over arching place of purpose amongst many. Red wool, knitting needles become a reoccurring motif.
The smallness of the next space creates an intimacy – you witness a quiet moment of solitude for a lone soldier brought to a stillness and a moment of peace. He opens a tin and savours the comforting taste of home delivered in a few tiny bits of an ANZAC biscuit. Baked with love, tugging at the heart strings, see how carefully the soldier handles some red wool. Tender is the sharing gesture made to a fallen comrade. No words are spoken, no words are needed.
Up until this point there has been little in the way of physical circus, in the final however there is thrilling, graceful and very moving acts with suspended silks and ropes. Many make a frenzied climb only to fall. While many fall, those who are left continue to do what they can. To knit, bake, and write a comforting letter.
Mesmerzing is the spectacle of the human body twisting, twirling, straining to control itself. When those bodies hang limp, suspended and still slashed by the red silks you can only see the blood soaked bodies hung on barbed wire.
The Drill is ambitious in its remit and at times is a little unclear in its delivery. A section devoted to the etiquette of dance, while interesting, is stand alone from the rest of the narrative.
That being said immersing an audience into a visual and audio soundscape that is site specific is particularly resonant. Mixing circus skills of all levels works to beautifully represent human endeavour and aspiration, which was surely the underpinning of so much of the experience and legacy of war.
Women's Circus presents
Creative Director Penelope Bartlau
Venue: The Drill Hall - 395 Barkly Street, West Footscray VIC
Dates: 21 November – 1 December 2019