NICA’s (National Institute of Circus Arts)  current graduating class spent most of their three-year degree in lockdown. Chances to hone performing skills in front of live audiences were few and far between. Luckily, they now have Eclipse, a full-length ensemble production showcasing all 12 of the budding artists.

Eclipse starts as a dystopian feel with an overflowing, patchwork-coloured nylon parachute cluttering the space (set by Eloise Kent). Performers carry bundles of broken furniture, piles of rags, mis-mashed baskets in over-sized bundles on their backs and wander around, sizing each other up.

An aggressive energy propels little groups to pounce across stage with both hostility and curiosity. Bursts of tight rope, foot juggling and acrobatic displays appear and just as quickly recede as performers blend back into the moving throngs.

Rather than feature performers, Eclipse presents circus skills in mini-ensembles. A pack of rope climbers excite in a well-paced choreography of scaled tricks. Later, a breathtaking cyr wheel quartet has individuals each manipulating their apparati with synchronistic ripples and pulses.

The foreboding energy changes when Judith Dodsworth appears as a singing matriarchal figure, forcing the group out of their selfish and aggressive ways. When she enters, the students are standing around, in their own worlds, staring at mobile phones. Dodsworth marches in, rolling a rubbish bin, yanks away the phones and turfs them into the bin.

It’s a heavy-handed maneuver, but does create a tonal shift towards community, rebuilding and optimism – the focus of Eclipses’s second half. The parachute morphs into an uplifting back drop rather than a rocky wasteland. Projections suggest the sun, planets and a sense of rebirth. (Program notes credit The Pandemic is a Portal by Arundhati Roy as an inspiration for Eclipse.)

Dodsworth’s operatic vocals become a constant presence, although sometimes overbearing. She's a foil to the youthful sentiments and her interactions with the circus activity alternate between smoothly-integrated and awkward. More consistent is the soundtrack by Louis Frere-Harvey – live electronic and percussion echoing both the foreboding and the hopeful, and supporting Dodsworth’s singing.

A lot of cooks were in the kitchen for this show, with Sally Richardson credited as co-devising it with the students. Meredith Kitchen and Ben Sheen direct. Film, television and make up students from Swinburne University have done projections and make up.

As is the case with graduate showcases, the students give their all and prove their soon-to-be professional chops. The ensemble nature of the show makes it difficult to single out individuals.

What shines through is that the up-and-comers are well-versed and highly-competent in the ways of the egalitarian circus crew, something found in the best Australian and overseas companies.

Event details

National Institute of Circus Arts presents

Directors Meredith Kitchen and Ben Sheen

Venue: National Institute of Circus Arts | 39 – 59 Green Street, Prahran VIC
Dates: 10 – 18 June 2022
Tickets: $35 – $28

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