Saturday 20 October 2018

Circus Oz's Sidesault review

With Circus Oz's Sidesault, circus companies are provided with an opportunity to present experimental works that challenge what contemporary circus can be. Ranging in ideas and approaches, there is literally something that will appeal to all types of circus fans. In its final weekend of shows, we are presented with ground breaking juggling, a deeply personal look at love and heartache and a deep-dive into the absurd and the unusual.

First up are Byron Hutton and Richard Sullivan with Jugg Life, demonstrating that while juggling requires a lot of skill, it can be more than throwing items in the air. It's a playful, exciting and original exploration on how juggling can be adapted and what can build from that. Their Mortal Kombat street combat is a perfect example of what can happen when you change how you look at something, resulting in some pretty intense moments, and the cause of the widespread terror in the audience (and perhaps Hutton and Sullivan) when a lap top gets in the way of a juggling club.

The fun nature of the show is highlighted with a set design consisting of a number of bright coloured boxes positioned around the stage filled with juggling items. Their use of the Polyphonic! app allows them to create and play live music and sounds, adding another level of excitement to the show, as does their combined use of a drum kit and juggling clubs.

Hutton and Sullivan ensure the pacing of Jugg Life is crisp with numerous short acts that prevent our attention from waning. Clubs, rings and balls are used in daring and adventurous routines that require strong concentration and focus, but the way in which these two can do this and still interact and engage with the audience is what stands out in this performance.

Hell Is Other People presented by Love Is The Drug and performed by Jess Love, is an autobiographical account of Love's loves over the years told through storytelling and circus. Love shares with us the various relationships from her past that have - for better or worse - defined who she is. Each period begins with the sounds of gunfire and explosions with Love hurling herself naked onto stage, as if being reborn for the first time and exposing her vulnerability and naivety for what awaits.

It's the period during 2009 - 2015, when Love is in a relationship with "The Alpha Lesbian" that is most affecting, in both her storytelling and a captivating rope routine that expresses so much about that experience than words could ever convey. The 'intermission' in the show however breaks its intimacy and the momentum and would probably work better without it.

Nevertheless, seeing Love on stage again after her brilliant 2016 show Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl, is a firm reminder of the talent she possesses in her ability to connect with audiences through the honest and raw sharing of her life and then seamlessly tying that in with circus.

The final performance of the night, Feed the Horse presented by Radish by Night, starts off dark and ritualistic with Easa Min-Swe, Fara Mir, Jessie Carson, Will Anton and Hannah Richards dressed in suits and wearing unsettling masks handing out radishes to whoever is brave enough to accept.

The joy of watching a show such as this is that you never quite know where it is going to end up, as the ensemble build on exploring the dark, the weird and the absurd. A tight rope act highlights how outside forces can sometimes be overwhelming is shortly followed by a brilliantly executed unhinged skipping rope act that is equally hilarious as it is desperate and ugly. Each act raises interesting questions about the masks we wear and what each one reveals about ourselves.

However, the ensemble needs to ensure that care is taken in their audience participation, particularly when the entire audience is required to stand in the centre of the space. The performers run between us and interact with us, at times a little aggressively, and it was clear by looking around that some people were not comfortable about being placed in this position.

While very different in their practices, Jugg Life, Hell Is Other People and Feed the Horse are a great showcase of talent and performances in Circus Oz's Sidesault. It's exciting to see such inspired and bold directions being taken with circus and even more exciting to wonder how these productions and these artists will develop, grow and ultimately change the circus scene. 

Venue: Melba Spiegeltent, 35 Johnson Street, Collingwood
until 21 October:
6.30pm Jugg Life – Jugg Life Productions
8:00pm Hell is Other People – Love is the Drug
9.30pm Feed the Horse – Radish by Night
Tickets: $27 per show or $60 for three
Bookings: Melba Spiegeltent

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