Circus Oz are no strangers to taking risks and leaping off the edge, after all they have been putting on brave, bold circus shows since their inception in 1978. Their new Sidesault program is all about creating a hub for this innovation and supporting and inspiring a new generation of circus artists.
So far, this amazing program has gone on to support over 120 independent artists and members of small companies in training and development of new work. I had a chat with Circus Oz Senior Artistic Associate, Antonella Casella, and took a deep dive into how this year’s program is going, the drive behind Sidesault, and where the rest of 2017 will take the company.
“Sidesault was born out of our vision for our new building, and our company’s long-term commitment to supporting the broader circus sector. This year there is bigger focus on performances, and collaborations with small companies and the Circus Oz” said Casella.
“When Circus Oz moved to our new home in Collingwood in 2014, for the first time we had the resources to support a much broader range of creative projects. We finally had two large, purpose built studios, one with a strong focus on being modular, and big enough to rehearse a wide range of circus shows, the second being set up as a well-resourced training and teaching space. As well as a more intimate studio space. And of course, our permanently installed Melba Spiegeltent”.
“Our new Artistic Director ,Rob Tannion, is very keen to develop a broader program for the company, a portfolio approach that sees us offering a range of different works of different scale and style each year. All of these Sidesault explorations are a kind of laboratory for starting that process” she said.
“As the major Australian contemporary circus, it was important to us to share these resources, not only as a gesture of support, but to create a real circus hub for innovation, new connections and new ideas. It was also important to us to put extra resources into creating a more inclusive artform, and having already established our BLAKflip program, we introduced our Strong Women program. We want to be part of the movement to drive the artform’s development”.
“For the first two years, Sidesault really focussed on providing space access, but thanks to some project funding from the Australia council, specifically for collaborations, and from Yarra Council for Sidesault-at-the-Melba, a small festival of experimental circus works, we’ve been able to expand the program this year” she said.
The program called for expressions of interests through their extensive circus networks, and then an internal committee selected the ones which reflected an experimental ethos as well as strong commitment to circus skills. The committee also aimed to reflect the range of styles within the artform.
“On a very straightforward level, access to our space is helping a lot of emerging circus artists by offering access to a purpose-built space to train. One with the facilities and equipment needed for circus creation. And I think that having a space where lots of different artists have the chance to work is an important part of the whole process. Everyone gets to see each other’s work, and connect in new ways. New project and new ideas come out of that process too” she said, about how the program is helping circus artists get a leg up in the industry.
“Most of the companies in Sidesault at the Melba are experienced artists creating new companies or new work. It gives them a chance to present their work, and shape it in front of an audience, without having to take the kinds of financial risks they often need to take. I think it is also helping the artform by drawing attention to new, risk-taking work. It encourages innovation, and makes a statement about the creative and expressive potential of circus”.
The program focuses on a mixture of new and established artists and companies. Whether it is opening up circus as a form of expression for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, or bringing an eclectic group of small companies together to make new work, the program endeavours to support and inspire a new generation of circus artists.
Circus Oz are also hosting The Fair Ground Project, a unique and outstanding opportunity to make circus more inclusive. It interrogates how the circus arts can transform perceptions of disability and how disability can transform the practice, equipment, and presentation of circus and physical theatre with the intent to make great new work that focuses on the artists and not on their disability.
“The thing that I find the most exciting (and scary) is that each project has something new about it this year, even those programs that have been held before have new elements, like the performances as part of the Taylor Mac Melbourne Festival performance, or the premiere of our collaboration with Otto and Astrid. In each, there is the opportunity for something new and surprising” she said.
Circus Oz’s current main show, Model Citizens, has just returned from a tour to China, and will also be preparing later this year to tour nationally and internationally in 2018.
“Before those tours kick off, some of the Model Citizens cast members are involved in making their own works for Sidesault-at-the-Melba, so it is supporting them to develop their own projects alongside the main show, which is great for them, but also great for us, because they bring all of the creative experience to the main show”.
Working with Sidesault opens up opportunities for performers and companies to work further with Circus Oz.
“All of the artists involved in the various Sidesault projects have the potential to perform with our main show in the future, and it gives them an opportunity to showcase their work. And with the key collaborations, such as “Wired”, it gives our Artistic Director an opportunity to develop creative relationships with performers, creators and directors from other companies, to create work with and for Circus Oz in many ways” she said.
This program is fostering new creative connections, with circus artists from interstate working with Victorian artists; it’s encouraging and supporting risk taking work, and exploring a whole range of different approaches to what a circus show can be; and it is recognising some of the independent artists and small companies who have been striving to do innovative work within the artform.
“We are also bringing different art forms together. With Strong Women this year we are bringing Choreographer, Stephanie Lake, in to develop the moment language for the artists involved. And with Otto and Astrid we are looking at using narrative story telling as well as cabaret, rock opera and shadow puppetry. The BLAKflip masterclasses will have an interdisciplinary approach too, with independent artist and dancer, Carly Sheppard, working alongside cabaret and circus artist Rockie Stone to continue to support the development of the artists within that program. There is an extraordinary amount of cross-pollination involved, which I think, doesn’t so much ’shape’ circus as foster an environment of exploration and collaboration” said Casella.
“I also think that having our new Artistic Director, Rob Tannion, working with a broad range of independent artists is also really significant. Rob is from Brisbane, but his background in contemporary dance, physical theatre and circus is in the UK, Europe and South America, so this is an opportunity for him to make strong Australian connections. Because of this background, Rob also brings new creative processes and influences to all of this work, and I think that will have a direct effect on how the companies we are collaborating with make work in the future”.
Currently, Tannion has been working with artists of all ages to explore movement in circus, and the differences between adult and child like movement.
Something very unique has evolved out of this collaboration of Rob Tannion and Company 2, which has been exploring communication between generations from within a world of tightwires. Participants in this development process included Adult artists, younger kids (8-13), from Circus Oz youth circus workshops, and from Westside Circus, and toddlers, the artists’ children.
“One of the unique things about circus is inherently about trust and physical relationships. Acrobatic bodies work with each other to build beautiful, athletic movement. How does that work between generations? And how is that different from how kids experience relationships in other environments, like school or home? What are they allowed, and not allowed to do? It’s a delicate and beautiful idea” she reflected.
“On the floor, the adult artists involved have very strong movement backgrounds, with a strong dance influence, and so the work is really developing as something quite beautiful to watch. There is real synergy between these artists, and they are already creating amazing images and sequences. The project has also involved our designer/maker, Michael Baxter, so they have been able to set up a series of experiments with tightwires in different configurations, and created interesting, geometric shapes and levels for the artists to explore. But to the young people they are so much more – barriers, tunnels, walls, telephone lines – Both imaginative and exciting”.
To get involved with Circus Oz, the Melba Spiegltent is currently playing host to a range of Melbourne Fringe Festival shows, or classes four all ages are currently on sale for the September school holidays and Term 4.
More info, tickets and how to support this amazing Australian company can be found at: http://www.circusoz.com/