Circus Oz: Aurora review by Jessica Taurins

***stars

Circus Oz, outside of being presenters of fantastic entertainment for over forty years, are well-known for their cultural inclusivity and diversity, as well as their work in the social justice space. For example, to open their new show Aurora, they introduced two Aboriginal elders – Aunty Carol and Uncle Ron – who spoke at length about their heritage and the importance of respecting the long history of their country. Then, to close the performance, Red Buckets were circulated to collect funding for refugees and asylum seekers, allowing them to attend Circus Oz performances for free and participate in themed workshops in detention centres.

It was extremely touching to see Circus Oz’s passion for change come through so readily, and that tied in wonderfully to Aurora – a show which, while it has a fantastic message, perhaps fell slightly apart in trying to mix its tones.

Walking in the footsteps of the international Climate Strike, which drew at least 150,000 people in Melbourne earlier that day, and countless thousands more interstate and globally, Aurora is a visually thrilling commentary on cute little penguins, as well as the humans encroaching on their habitats. Flipping quickly from wacky fish juggling (Tara Silcock, in a polar bear outfit) to a rope performance by a gas-masked hazmat-suited monster of a man (Adam Malone), the show can be difficult at times to enjoy when you’re not sure if you’re going to get something fun or something discordant and near-terrifying.

Every performer is a master of their craft, regardless of the nature of their act. Malone is a standout, and has a vibrant energy in his every movement, as well as fantastic head standing skill. Jillibalu Riley and Shani Stephens are delightful as creatures hunting a fish across the stage, fighting slapstick-style over the stuffed toy. Silcock is fantastic as the polar bear, the only speaking performer during the show, and her songs are fun even through the music vs. lyrics mood whiplash (fun song! about the destruction of her icy home!). Another impressive moment is, well, everything Spenser Inwood does throughout Aurora, as she learned the show rapidly to replace someone unable to perform on opening night.

The music is a wonderful accompaniment to each performance, be it intimidating screeching instruments when the Evil Humans are onstage, or the slow, ethereal piece playing during Stephens’ hand balance act, an impressive display of control and strength. Musicians Jeremy Hopkins and Selene Messinis are extremely talented – even in secret ways, as discovered partway through the show – and shouldn’t be forgotten when they stand behind the acrobats onstage.

Overall, Aurora does what it’s supposed to do, it makes you think while you stare up into the big top with awe. Kids will enjoy the performers-as-penguins in their little orange socks, skimming across a table like an actual flock of penguins across the ice. Silcock’s polar bear is endearing and the ‘vomit’ act – where she coughs up ribbons for at least a few minutes – is always fun for kids who love gross things. In comparison, adults may be more likely to appreciate the message of the show; the environment must be protected and we have to change our lifestyle to ensure that our planet is safe long into the future for both humans and animals.

Unfortunately, simply due to the swings from fun to depressing, the show loses some of its lustre. A school crowd is unlikely to notice, but personally I was unable to enjoy the more clownish performances because I had just been reminded that animals are dying and icebergs are receding due to the impact of humans on the land. Aurora‘s strong message may, sadly, be lost among the trip-and-fall comedy, which is disappointing given the importance of the content.

Images: Mark Turner

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