Circus review: Girls with Altitude

Cartoonist Judy Horacek's feminist cartoons inspire a young team of circus performers.

In a world where society’s subliminal messaging tells my daughter constantly and consistently that she’s weaker, less intelligent and less likely to succeed, a circus show called Girls with Altitude, presented by the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, immediately piqued my interest.

The Flying Fruit Fly Circus is an Australian icon; its origins trace back to 1979, when the local Murray River Performing Group ran a school holiday program and then performed a show. It was from there that the name was chosen for the troupe, which now runs a select-entry circus training program and puts on performances around the country.

Girls with Altitude, is unsurprisingly an all-female cast, aged between 10 and 18. They demonstrate some pretty spectacular acrobatic and circus skills across multiple scenes and a range of set-ups.

The show is pinned together with performer narration, centred on a range of cartoons by well-known artist and children’s author Judy Horacek (yes, there are nods to the green sheep). Many have a theme of empowerment and gender equality.

The performers take a little while to find their confidence and flow, but that’s part of the charm of watching kids perform on a stage, especially one as grand as the Art Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse theatre.

Some scenes are stronger than others, with my highlight being a magically lit-up underwater scene, with seahorses and jellyfish. The second half of the show, which features some fantastic trampolining, had a faster and more upbeat pace.

While the show clearly had an empowerment theme – a narrative or story would have woven together some of the scenes in a more cohesive way. Without it, there was a slight feeling of disjointedness throughout the production.

Equally, some of the messaging could have been more varied in accessibility in order to draw in some of the younger members of the audience. Despite the age guidance being for eight years old and beyond, there were noticeably many audience members who were far younger.

Including some simply-worded content to help them walk away with the primary messaging – girls are powerful, girls are strong, that playing like a girl is a good thing – would not have been challenging but would have been greatly beneficial.

Equipment featured in the production included aerial hoops and silks, the Cyr or German wheels, hula hoops, trampolines, trapeze, unicycles and a see saw.

Read: Could a purpose-built theatre strengthen Australia’s circus sector?

This was a lovely show. I sat with two kids, one aged three and the other six, who were engaged and mesmerised for an entire 70 minutes and left under no illusion that girls can reach whatever altitude they desire.

Girls with Altitude
Flying Fruit Fly Circus
Arts Centre Melbourne

Director: Anni Davey
Cartoonist: Judy Horacek
Video Designer: Bernadette Trench-Thiedeman
Lighting Designer: Richard Vabre
Composer & Sound Designer: Ania Reynolds
Set Designer: Bosco Shaw
Costume Designer: April Dawson
Rigging Design: Simon Yates

Girls with Altitude was performed from 16-17 September.

A veteran journalist, Isabelle Oderberg is a comedy fanatic and has been reviewing comedy for six years. She also reviews restaurants, opera and theatre.