For the past 40 years, Circus Oz have been delighting audiences globally with their all-human circuses, focusing not only on skilled performances, but also on entertainment and innovation and, in the case of Wunderage, collaboration.
Wunderage, with its enticing tagline ‘the tightrope between who we are and who we might become’, is the first collaboration between Circus Oz and Company 2. It is an open-floor circus experience, where the audience are encouraged to stand within mere metres of the performers as they present their death-defying acts.
Upon entry, the audience should already be in the mood for something spectacular. The North Melbourne Meat Market has had its interior transformed into a circus tent, with high wires and rigging spread across the area. Even before the show itself begins, the performers mingle with the crowd, entertaining children and adults alike with their unique brand of physical humour.
There are a number of acts throughout Wunderage, ranging from fairly tame to literally death-defying, although each are impressive in their own way. The ensemble all work together in the opening moments before breaking off for their own acts, each one raising the bar above the previous act (four meters above, in one case!).
Chelsea McGuffin (the founder of Company 2) and Jess McCrindle are standout stars as the recurring tightrope walkers. Most performers do partake of all acts, excluding those that require enormous strength – which is reserved for the resident strongman David Trappes – but McGuffin and McCrindle are most frequently found high above the audience, walking with intense precision. The tightrope acts are the most terrifying for most, although the performers are visibly strapped in there’s always a feeling of imminent danger knowing that there’s so little between them and the ground, and the final highwire act is… truly mindblowing. Every person watching was still and silent, hoping McCrindle didn’t misstep and fall to her doom.
Other performers also made their skill obvious. Skip Walker-Milne and Phoebe Armstrong flung themselves between high poles with amazing synchrony, Trappes (as mentioned above) held what felt like every performer above his head at least once, Lachy Shelley rode bicycles with supreme precision (including across the four metre highwire spanning the majority of the Meat Market space), and Dylan Singh showed off his extensive skills with gymnastics and his own brand of tightrope walking.
It must be noted that even when the performers made mistakes or slipped even minutely, every one of them was willing to try again, and the audience cheered them on as they did so. The sense of camaraderie and trust between the performers was palpable – as it must be for them to do such dangerous acts – and flowed through the audience by virtue of the closeness in the performance space. It was a delight to see performers reattempting failed acts to prove to themselves and the world that their skills are there, just hidden behind a little first-night nervousness.
The music throughout the show is a true standout. From the opening notes to the final moments, the score – performed by musicians Grant Arthur and Bonnie Stewart – is always atmospheric. From the thundering and thumping songs, composed to compliment a group performance by every artist, from a beautifully haunting piece performed alongside a slower, almost-terrifying tightrope performance by the three female high wire walkers. Arthur and Stewart know just how to flatter the acts without overwhelming either the performers or the audience, and should be commended.
During the show, if you can tear yourself away from the performers, it’s easy to see why circus has such a presence even today. The look of sheer awe and wonder in the eyes of each and every audience member solidifies Wunderage as an absolutely brilliant display of talent and fun. While it may seem intimidating to be so close to the action, there’s actually a real feeling of intimacy, and the personality of the performers really comes through when you can see both their strain and their joy. Wunderage is best described as being joyful for everyone involved, and is a fantastic collaborative effort.
Images: Rebecca Munro