In its 41st year, Circus Oz delivers another fun new show, in which words are few and amazing physical feats abound. Under a not-so-big top, on a classic circus-in-the-round stage, 70 minutes of high-energy, non-stop entertainment unfolds, from various aerial wonders to a mesmerising hula-hoop act.
Josie Wardrope and Sam Aldham. Photograph © Mark Turner
Before the opening night performance of Aurora began, most of the seven-strong ensemble appeared in costumes that suggested penguins: black-and-white lycra and bright orange socks. It was their funny waddling and stiff flipper-like arm movements that sold the conceit, however, as they clowned around lobbing transparent plastic bouncy balls at the audience. Having set the mood, they started the show in earnest, revealing they are not only clowns but also strong, finely tuned flying trapeze artists.
As this act’s substantial equipment was cleared away in the shadows, Tara Silcock appeared in the spotlight. Wearing a pared down polar-bear costume, she sang the first of her handful of simple, melodic songs in a show that was otherwise wordless. Her character, along with the penguins, occasional props such as mops, and some rudimentary animated projections on the stage, including shattering ice and an oil spill, suggested a polar region under threat. This loose theme is fairly incidental to Aurora’s parade of circus acts, however.
Silcock soon revealed her foot-juggling skills, spinning and flipping a large cylinder decorated like a penguin. She later ‘vomited’ an extraordinarily long ribbon, and also worked her way to the top of three long ‘ice blocks’, stacked several metres high. Between numerous ensemble acts, including funny, fast-paced sliding across a table, as if the penguins were playing on ice, and acro-balancing in pastel coloured Euro ski gear, most of the artists also showed off their particular solo talents. Extraordinary strength and agility were revealed by Matthew Brown on a pair of suspended straps, Shani Stephens doing a hand-balancing act, and Sam Aldham climbing and twisting up and down a suspended rope. By removing various items of plastic pollution attached to the rope, he gave this familiar circus act a little more drama.
Adam Malone. Photograph © Mark Turner
Adam Malone was Aurora’s unofficial star, his sassy showmanship suggesting this is what Freddie Mercury might have been like if he had joined the circus instead of Queen. Malone’s solo acts included the Washington trapeze, which involved various aerial manoeuvres while balancing his head on the trapeze bar. It was remarkable to see how completely still his head and neck were as Malone showed off the rest of his body’s flexibility. Even better was his hula-hoop act, which somehow made this plastic plaything slightly sexy. In dim lighting, he balanced, spun and rolled numerous green glowing hoops in ways that are much better seen than described. A couple of times a particularly challenging trick didn’t quite come off at the first attempt, but such was his showmanship and overall skill that it hardly mattered. This was the most entertaining hula-hoop act I’ve ever seen.
Towards the end of the show, Aurora’s director, Kate Fryer, made an unexpected cameo, sans costume, to complete a three-person tower. Her brief on-stage contribution was the only indication that all was not quite right on opening night. It was later revealed that Spenser Inwood had learnt the show just that morning, filling most of a key role. Apparently Josie Wardrope will be back in action within a few performances, bringing back her solo trapeze act that had to be cut from this performance.
Selene Messinis and Jillibalu Riley. Photograph © Mark Turner
That this 11th hour cast crisis almost passed unnoticed says much about the ensemble’s talent, and seemingly boundless energy and good humour – both of which are as crucial to the show as their impressive physical circus skills. Adding immensely to Aurora’s energy is the live music provided by Jeremy Hopkins and Selene Messinis. Wearing silly shark hats and pale grey suits with a Bohemian smart-casual flair, the duo’s upbeat soundtrack suggested everything from klezmer to dance floor.
The animal characters’ oddball physical comedy works for kids and adults, and the show’s physical rather than verbal focus means little ones are unlikely to get bored. ‘Fun for all ages’ is a hackneyed expression, but it’s true of Aurora.
Aurora plays at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, until October 6