Saturday 21 September 2019

Aurora - Circus Review

What: Aurora
When: 18 September - 6 October 2019
Where: Royal Botanic Gardens
Directed by: Kate Fryer
Performed by: Sam Aldham, Matthew Brown, Jeremy Hopkins, Spenser Inwood, Adam Malone, Selene Messinis, Jillibalu Riley, Tara Silcock, and Shani Stephens
Costumes by: Harriet Oxley
Lighting by: Jenny Hector
Projection by: Rhian Hinkley
Stage Managed by: Sienna Dillon
Sam Aldham, Jillibalu Riley, Josie Wardrope, Matthew Brown, Shani Stephens, and Jeremy Hopkins - photo by Mark Turner
The Circus Oz big top is back and with it comes all the fun and frolicking which is synonymous with this company. Reinforcing it's natural world themes, the Royal Botanic Gardens is host to this season of their latest new work, Aurora.

Reveling in the joy of being in their own natural habitat (the big top), the circus troupe engage with the story of extinction which is on everybody's mind at the moment.  Over one hundred thousand people marched in the streets of Melbourne this week about this issue, Finucane and Smith are roaring the message out at fortyfivedownstairs with The Rapture Chapter II, and at The Butterfly Club Picked Last For Sport have been telling the tale of Creatures Lost.

In Aurora, Circus Oz are taking a slightly more light hearted stance and the acrobats celebrate what is gorgeous and adorable about our ice cap populations with just enough of a hint of the coming doom to remind us of what we are in danger of losing if we don't act now. Penguins frolick (with more than a little touch of Happy Feet influence), a polar bear (Silcock) cavorts, and albatrosses glide their way through life barely noticing - and definitely not understanding - what this approaching mob of humans are doing to their world.

The show starts with a fun loving colony of Adelie penguins clowning around before performing a  traditional and yet ever so exciting trapeze routine. I feel pretty sure these penguinos are blood relatives of the Amigos who befriended Mumble... The penguinos come back and play several times across the evening. My favourite was the portly one (Riley), and after an amazing whip routine I kind of became enamoured with the kinky one (Malone) too.

Next we get to meet the polar bear. Silcock - as well as being a wonderful foot juggler and excellent balancer - is a fantastic singer and as she moves in to her new Antartic digs, suitcase in hand, the story really starts to get going. She plays with the penguins - juggling one all topsy turvy with her feet (my favourite puppet act ever!) before she joins in and plays with the colony of penguins. Sadly, she is a bit bigger and heavier than the penguinos and the ice is getting thin so when she jumps in on the fun, the ice cracks and everyone falls in. Luckily the penguinos are a happy go lucky bunch so all is forgiven and it is time to play again.

At this point I need to mention the wonderful use of projection (Hinkley) throughout the show. The visuals are projected directly onto the stage floor and tell the meta story about polar melts, black ice, and ever changing environments. Fryer (Director) and Hinkley have created magic in the way images and performers work together to create a living ecosystem for the story they are telling.

The night is full of excellent circus skills, seamless and energetic transitions, and things I have never seen before all swirling in a lively vortex over some deep and serious undercurrents. All the while the poor janitor (Aldham) is trying to clean up the mess but the goal posts keep moving. His rope routine, trying to cleanup plastic bags and netting, is exciting with a terrifying twist at the end!

I won't tell you everything that happens because you need to go and enjoy this show for yourself. I will say I am always in awe of the Washington trapeze and Malone does things which should not be humanly possible in it. If I hadn't seen it for myself I would never have believed anyone could have this much of a sense of balance.

Malone again, the hula hoop routine was stunning. I am not sure I have ever seen a man do the hula hoops and it was absolutely intriguing to see how the different point of balance and removal of the need to be sexy makes this apparatus so powerful. With little hints of Cyr Wheel choreography it was thoroughly gripping (pun intended).  Of course, then the projections starting playing hide and seek with the poor janitor so that the entire troupe had to come out and help him clean up the hula mess...

Brown's straps routine is fantastic and Stephens' hand balancing is elegant beyond words. Oh, and I have never seen the Chinese Pole done the way Inwood and Stephens did it. I was blown away! I should mention Inwood is filling in whilst troupe regular, Josie Wardrope, recovers from a performance injury sustained the day before opening. All of this is held together and propelled forward by the musical stylings of two amazing musicians - Hopkins and Messinis.

I think what I love most about Aurora is it's return to playful, family circus. The last couple of shows I have been to - Rock Bang and Wunderage - have been incredible, but very much stepping into art house territory. Aurora is a show the entire family can enjoy and laugh at and then take home to talk about in a bit more detail.

Don't miss this chance to celebrate the big top with Circus Oz again. Everyone will leave Aurora with a huge smile on their face and plenty to chat about afterwards. Sometimes it is nice to have a serious message told a bit tongue in cheek and this is a great show to start the extinction talk with the young ones in a way which isn't scary or threatening. Oh, and the show is heaps of fun for the adults too!

5 Stars!

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