Borderville, the annual festival staged by Australia’s national youth circus, The Flying Fruit Fly Circus, once again featured a mix of new and old works this year, including a showcase by the school’s youngest members and the soft launch of the company’s brand new Borderville Theatre.
While the theatre’s official opening will not take place until the new year, this writer had the pleasure of seeing the 110-seat space (which includes retractable seating, two dressing rooms, and state-of-the-art rigging, lighting, sound and video systems) in action during a dress run of the Fruities’ 2023 Grad Show during my overnight visit to Albury last Friday.
Performed by the school’s seven graduating students, the highly entertaining production – which runs until 22 December – features a charismatic human Christmas Tree among other acts, but also resulted in my unfortunate ascendance into Whamhalla – curse you, Fruities!
You & I – Casus Creations
A palpably intimate duet between real-life partners Jesse Scott and Lachlan McAulay, two of the co-founders of Brisbane’s Casus Creations, You & I was a potent exploration of trust and tenderness expressed through dance, play and circus arts.
Scott has previously described the work as an opportunity ‘to tell a story of two men in love, without the usual baggage’.
‘Lachlan and I both saw gay characters in most mainstream movies or television representations being full of trauma and heartache. This show is full of our truth and love,’ he said.
Judged by that criterion alone, You & I was a compelling and moving success.
When a sudden downpour sees the pair’s plans for the evening cancelled, McAulay and Scott create their own entertainment via a skilfully executed series of circus routines blended with the transformational contents of a dress-up box and the inherent eroticism of the tango.
While not a flawless work – transitions between certain routines (such as a hula hoop sequence) felt occasionally abrupt and artificial, pulling us out of the show’s premise of a couple passing time at home – You & I was otherwise a rich, assured and sophisticated circus production, skilfully performed and supported by an evocative sound design.
In an age where the queer community is once again under attack, the production’s potent celebration of love between men – not to mention the constant flipping of base and flyer throughout the performance, subverting traditional circus expectations – remained a quietly radical and beautiful act.
You & I
Devisers/Creators: Jesse Scott, Lachlan McAulay
Set Design: Lachlan McAulay
Lighting Design: Rob Scott
Producer: Casus Creations & Cluster Arts
Butter Factory Theatre, Gateway Island, Wodonga
15-16 December 2023 as part of Borderville Festival
Airborne – A Good Catch Circus
An ambitious outdoor production performed almost entirely above the ground on a purpose-built, arched metal rig, Airborne blends experimental circus with ecological concerns in a work that fascinated but never fully enthralled.
Aesthetically, there was much to admire in this world premiere from the cross-generational A Good Catch Circus: imaginative costumes evoking the features and frills of endangered species, bold and brave aerial work (including acrobatics performed without safety harnesses at considerable height) and an evocative sound design veering from glitchy electronica to the sounds of thunder and the natural world, and enriched by actual bird calls in the outdoor setting as dusk descends during the performance.
At times the limited staging seemed to restrict the dramatic possibilities of the performance; elsewhere there was a sense of fragmentation and repetition – as if the lead artists’ directorial focus had been dissipated in some way due to the complexity of the work being staged. That said, this was the world premiere of Airborne and with further seasons it’s sure to find a tighter focus – like so many new works it is richly imaginative, but needs more time to cohere its focus and condense its running time in order to find its final, thrilling shape.
At times the performers recalled monkeys brachiating through a tropical rainforest, a murmuration of starlings or the almost ritual movements of a flock of flamingos, their feet lifting and their heads turning simultaneously.
The use of chalk – traditionally used by acrobats and aerialists to ensure a secure grip – brought moments of comic relief, and there was an echo too of Circus Oz-style humour in a sequence involving repeated falling, which spoke to the lineage of the circus arts in Australia without ever feeling dated or contrived. Elsewhere, slackwire-walking, tumbling, vocal ululation and group trapeze work were employed to powerful effect.
From starkly playful moments of fan envy to the grotesquely carnivalesque, Airborne was undoubtedly engaging – ironically, for a work performed at such height, it just needs more time to find its feet.
Concept and Creative Direction: A Good Catch Circus (Spenser Inwood, Sharon Gruenert, Debra Batton)
With performers: Aleshanee Kelso, Claire Bindolf, Jo Lancaster, Josie Wardrope, Sam Aldham, Simon Yates
Dramaturge/Outside Eye: Alexandra Harrison
Lighting Design: Gina Gascoigne
Sound Design: Kirri Buchler
Costume Design: Clara Mee Yee Chan
Head Rigger: Beau Dudding
Documentation and Design: Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore
Stage Management and Rehearsal Documentation: Cosmo Polke
Producers: Cluster Arts
Gateway Village Amphitheatre, Gateway Island, Wodonga
14-16 December 2023 as part of Borderville Festival
The author stayed in Albury as a guest of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus.