Circus, the new frontier
With their new cabinet of wonders, the Australian company Circa beggar belief and transcend language
‘Weird thing going’
In 1982, the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe of China came to Victoria and New South Wales, to work with the children’s circus Flying Fruit Fly Circus, Circus Oz and others, with long-lasting effects. “So we do get that highly skilled background,” says West, “and then we’re kind of left a bit to our own devices to kind of ferment and be weird. I’ve seen a lot of the European circuses – and they’re amazing – but they’re all so close. Like, you can drive from one country to the next and have Italian jugglers training with French hand balancers and they borrow from each other. In Australia, we just kind of get that weird thing going. Hopefully it’s fresh to overseas audiences.”
Yaron Lifschitz even considers circus a frontier art form. “Circus is an incredible mélange of things that is only unified by one factor. You and I can’t do them. One of the reasons it’s such a frontier art form is that it’s incontrovertible. If you can hold three people on your shoulders or do a backwards somersault through the air, you don’t need any colonial power, teacher or parent to tell you that you’re any good. You just are. Deep in the complex psychology of the circus performer and the circus idiom, that brings its own legitimacy. As a tribe of very displaced people – sometimes from their society, sometimes from their family – that appeals to a frontier mentality.”
It also makes the narrative hard to confirm in an almost wordless spectacle, which short-circuits the intellect and hits straight at our capacity for delight, worry and wonder. West’s ideas about certain scenes shift from night to night. “It’s different in every show, but you find your journey and tell your own story. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense.” In the gasps and whuuughhhs and the oh my goooods of the performance, it doesn’t have to.
Wunderkammer is at the Gaiety, Wednesday to Sunday; dublintheatrefestival.com