When: 20 - 30 June 2019
Where: Cobblestone Pavilion, Meat Market
Directed by: Chelsea McGuffin and Rob Tannion
Performed by: Phoebe Armstrong, Grant Arthur, Jess McCrindle, Chelsear McGuffin, Tania Cervantes, Lachy Shelley, Dylan Singh, Bonnie Stewart, David Trappes, and Skip Walker-Milne
Set by: Michael Baxter
Costumes by: Harriet Oxley
Lighting by: Paul Lim
Stage managed by: Joshua Sherrin
Wunderage began as a creative workshop between the two companies called Underage where they gathered together a group of young people to explore the boundaries of shared space within a context of the tension of the tight rope. The resultant show now in performance is very much a kind of surreal meditation on balance, interference, interaction, and assistance.
Amplifying the dreaming of the experience is its presentation as a promenade. The audience wander from stage space to stage space to watch feats of incredible balance and control, often having to look up, and regularly having to be aware of the space and people around them as the performers shift from floor to plinth to low and high wires seemingly randomly.
As with all dreams of fancy, there is no narrative in Wunderage. It is more about the exploration of what is possible both alone and with groups in situations where balance is crucial. apart from the tight rope routines which do form the most significant part of the program, there is bicycle acrobatics, chinese pole and shoulder pole routines.
I was particularly blown away by the shoulder pole. Walker-Milne is a fey sprite but even his small body mass is a burden at the top of a tall pole perched on the shoulder of strong man Trappes. In fact, Trappes was phenomenal throughout the evening - from doing a long twirling head spin on an aerial swing travelling across the high wire to being the pivot point for acrobats on top of a tiny plinth. This man is as solid as a rock and as strong as an ox as they say.
Whilst there is excitement and pace, particularly in the chinese pole and a naughty and daring low wire group play scene involving the whole company, most of the evening's entertainment centred around slower, more highly skilled and dangerous tricks which required control and concentration. Stewart brings a lot of the up tempo with dynamic percussion, but it is Arthur's slightly mournful ennui which really sets the tone for the evening. There is one high wire walk by McCrindle in which Arthur sings the recurring refrain "Hold on" which resonates deep in the soul.
Perhaps the most stunning moments in the show are on the 2m wire where McCrindle and McGuffin perform a pas des deux before McGuffin ends crossing the tight rope in ballet shoes en pointe! As if this isn't crazy enough, later in the evening the women walk the wire in stilletoes!!!! Crazy good and just plain crazy!
As fun and exciting as Wunderage is, it is also an interesting study in what can be achieved alone, and what can be achieved when groups of people work together - leaning on each other and trusting each other. There is even a cheeky look at what can happen when there is interference.
I am not a huge fan of promenade performances (except when they actually do occur on a promenade). I think they are incredibly ableist and therefore exclusionary and I am not convinced the 'immersiveness' actually increases audience satisfaction that much. Also, it always seem the tall people end up in the front of the crowd...
Having said that, for people with mobility issues, in this show there are seats on the sideline where you will still see most of the the show. I admit, too, the sense of personal space and teamwork of the performance is echoed in the audience needing to pay attention to their periphery although it still just becomes a bit of a push and shove affair really and you do have to pity the little kids (or perhaps their parents).
You can definitely see the Cirque du Soleil influence in Tannion's direction, particularly how the music is used in concert with the performance - a part of the organic whole rather than just another element. Wunderage lacks a bit of the pace and humour we might typically associate with Circus Oz and it is less about shock and awe. Rather it is a focussed and sustained concerto exploring possibility, risk and wonder - the ultimate experience of childhood.