Circus review: Duck Pond, Sydney Coliseum Theatre

Circa presented a modern take on Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ and Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Ugly Duckling’ in a collision of ballet and circus.
A group of people all dressed in black leotards are looking up, about to catch a single performer who is dressed in gold and is seen in mid-air. They are standing in front of gold drapery.

Since its world premiere in Brisbane last year, Circa’s Duck Pond has been performed overseas in Abu Dhabi and Macau before returning to Australia last week for three shows at the gorgeous Sydney Coliseum Theatre in the city’s western suburbs.

It’s largely the same production theatregoers witnessed in Brisbane, although there have been some minor show adjustments and several cast changes. A racy section featuring dancers cavorting inside booths, dropped for Abu Dhabi and Macau, has been reinstated. 

Since it was established in 2004, Circa has made a name for itself as one of the world’s premier contemporary circus companies. Duck Pond underscores the reasons why. This was a tight, compelling show featuring spectacular acrobatics. 

Director Yaron Lifschitz and team created a visual feast that left viewers enthralled throughout. There was never a dull moment, with the cast of 10 constantly on the move in a show that combined ballet with circus. 

There were handstands, headstands, backflips, adagio displays, Cyr wheel performances, hula hoop twirling, three-highs, relevé and sauté movements and much more. The sheer talent on stage was impressive.

Libby McDonnell’s elegant costuming, Jethro Woodward’s sublime compositions and sound design and Alexander Berlage’s brilliant lighting perfectly complemented the action on stage.

There is some kinship to be found in this show with the Strut & Fret company’s Limbo – The Return, currently playing at the Grand Electric in Redfern. The acrobatics were similar, as was the celebration of human form and movement. Duck Pond, however, felt like a PG-rated production in comparison to Strut & Fret’s offering, which is more of an M-rated affair. Despite some mildly risqué moments towards the end of the show, Duck Pond could easily pass as family entertainment.

Duck Pond also had more of a narrative than Limbo – The Return, which feels much more “free form” in nature. This was both a good and bad thing. If there’s a criticism to be made of Duck Pond, it relates to that narrative, which could be a little clunky in its melding of Swan Lake and The Ugly Duckling. (Despite both including ducks and swans, the two stories are very different.)

At some points, Duck Pond also felt slightly at odds with itself, especially during a section involving mops and brooms, and when the dancers “quacked” in imitation of ducks. While the intent was clearly humorous, these sections felt a little daggy and didn’t sit particularly well within the production, which was otherwise slick and sophisticated. 

In keeping with Circa’s reputation for subverting norms, the narrative climax in Duck Pond was not the end of the show. Instead, it was the beginning of the final act – one of deconstruction, in which the curtains collapsed and disappeared, the set walls were pushed out and the dancers ripped the foam-backed floor apart and carried the pieces away, to reveal the bare stage beneath before embarking on their final performances. 

Read: Performance review: Mysterion: Descent Into Hades, Hellenic Museum

It was a stunning end to a stunning show, which is set to do Australia’s arts scene proud at this month’s Montréal Complètement Cirque festival in Canada, before touring North America and Europe. 

Duck Pond 
By Circa
Director, Stage Designer: Yaron Lifschitz
Composer and Sound Designer: Jethro Woodward
Costume Designer: Libby McDonnell 

Lighting Designer: Alexander Berlage

Associate Director: Marty Evans
Dramaturg and Associate Choreographer: Rani Luther
Voice Over Artist: Elise Greig
Video footage: Carl Bovis
Performers: Asha Colless, Maya Davies, Malte Gerhardt, Jordan Hart, Oscar Morris, Kimberley Rossi, Sophie Seccombe, Tristan St John, Zachery Stephens, Violetta Van Geyzel

Duck Pond was performed at the Sydney Coliseum Theatre, Rooty Hill from 4 July to 6 July 2024. 

Peter Hackney is an Australian-Montenegrin writer and editor who lives on Dharug and Gundungurra land in Western Sydney - home to one of Australia’s most diverse and dynamic arts scenes. He has a penchant for Australian theatre but is a lover of the arts in all its forms. A keen ‘Indonesianist’, Peter is a frequent traveller to our northern neighbour and an advanced student of Bahasa Indonesia. Muck Rack: