Circus Oz – Cranking
by Stuart Beekmeyer
If you told me two months ago that I would be a little bit gaga about Circus Oz I wouldn’t have believed you. Firstly there’s no way in hell you would catch me at a Circus, especially a circus that represents Oz. This is not a cultural cringe thing. There are so many things that we are good at, but Circus? Isn’t that for waif eastern blockers and pretentious French guys with mustache’s and silly suits? Ethically I don’t go to anything where people end a trick with spirit fingers, so why in the hell would I like Circus Oz!
When people think of Circus they think of Cirque du Soleil. Without a doubt this cashed up juggernaut of stadium circus rock has gathered the best tricksters in the world. To be in Cirque du Soleil you must be at the top of your game, but I, for one, would not go to a Cirque du Soliel show because of everything outside the tricks. I can’t relate to it. I hate the music, I don’t get the storylines, or the weird MC character who appears here and there talking in some made up language with that ridiculous grin on his face. Quite simply, everything outside the tricks gives me the shits. So what if the tricks are amazing? I’m just not going to sit through the rest of it.
Nevertheless I thought myself lucky when sent by Trouble to the media call out for Circus Oz, to check out the site for their new home in Collingwood. I think it was then that I started to get it. What I saw was a bunch of familiar faces with the swagger and unity of a pirate crew ready to pillage the seven seas. They were familiar because they seemed like people I had met before at some crazy, eclectic party off Brunswick Street years ago, before the yuppies and Kiwis moved in. I saw a reflection of what I love about alternative Australian culture presented as a circus troupe the likes of which I did not believe existed. Not only did they have swagger but they had power. Ted Ballieu gave fifteen million bucks to these guys so that circus could have a state-of-the-art facility. It was obvious this was bigger than a group of people doing tricks. There was a cultural value here that even a rather conservative politician saw fit to reward. There was something else going on here.
Two months later I arrived at the bigtop at Birrarung Marr with pensive anticipation of what was in store. Sure these guys seemed cool, but seriously … Circus? Oz? Apparently there were free drinks. What’s the worst that can happen?
As my friend and I took our seats the first thing I noticed was that the performers were already out, chatting to friends, knitting, warming up, tastefully regurgitating stuff and generally clowning about. From this moment on I was caught in the blur between the personality of the individual and the personality of the performer. They were the same person and remained this way through the entire show. At this moment I knew there was something very different to something like Circus de Soliel.
When you watch ‘the Cirque’ you see lots of anonymous tricksters relying on the personality of the lead characters to bind the tricks together. With Circus Oz you see an array of multi skilled performers with individual, strong personalities on stage, ready to entertain far beyond the expectations you have as you take your seat. >>
As the show starts you start to notice a dynamic between the performers which you do not get in stadium rock circus shows. These guys perform for each other as much as the crowd. When they land a trick you can see the enthusiasm in the eyes of the entire crew as much as the audience. You know when you see a band – I’m talking a proper band who react to each other and vibe off each other’s energy as opposed to a choreographed show where a lead performer is surrounded by a bunch of dancers who are paid to look like they are having fun – well the real band is how Circus Oz comes across . At the media call I asked creative director, Mike Finch, that if Cirque du Soleil is Iron Maiden, who would Circus Oz be. He replied that Soliel would be more like Celine Dion than Maiden (thanks Mike, it was a loaded question and you passed), and Oz would be more like Midnight Oil but back around the time of Diesel and Dust when they were Ozzie, gritty and had something real to say.
Apart from the power of the personalities which inhabit the stage is the depth of performance that each character possesses. Circus Oz is not just about tricks, but about tricks combined with comedy, music, physical theatre and a genuine warmth that is suited to the intimate environment of the big top and the medium of Circus. In many ways it is everything about Australian culture that is good. It doesn’t take itself too seriously on the outside, but is underhandedly professional and proficient at the same time. It is about being rather good without being snobby or a dick about it. Just when you think they are only clowning around, the most amazing trick is performed on a continually changing stage, which creates a fluid dynamic to the show.
Cranked up is all about construction, and the use of construction materials and equipment to create the sets blends seamlessly with the tricks, the comedy, and the acts. The music is awesome. It is apparent that the band listens to lots of good music and know how to incorporate it into the realm of circus. Everything from classical piano to trippy Pink Floyd-ish jams, to jazzy swing tunes, can be found in the show. Not only is the band switched on but the tricksters are often part of the band, and not in a token way. They can actually play before heading off into another flip trick.
I guess I could describe the show for you in detail. Or I could drop names, qualifications and credentials of the performers. Maybe I could write about all of the classy venues they have played in New York, where they have delighted full crowds. Instead I choose to give you an overall description of the feeling that this troupe delivers, in the hope you just go and see it for yourself. I’d rather talk about my scepticism of this artform, because it may be the same as yours, and because then I could go on to say that you should get over all of that NOW and go see this show. The tickets are reasonably priced (even the cheap seats are good), and it is more than a good day out for you, your special friend, and/or your family. More than anything, this is a living, breathing, progressive circus and part of the Australian arts community, both legitimate and underground. Circus Oz holds its own at an international level, without ever denying its roots and foundations. It has been going for thirty-five years and it seems that, with their bright new home on the horizon, Circus Oz is about to be reborn into a bright new era of significance to Australian culture, and earn international acclaim.
Circus Oz 2013: Cranked Up
Season: Birrarung Marr, between Federation Square and Batman Avenue, Melbourne (VIC), 19 June – 14 July 2013 – circusoz.com
Tickets $24 – $92 Bookings 136 100 and ticketmaster.com.au