Fremantle Festival is just around the corner, and promises 10 days of curated events that highlight Fremantle’s vibrant arts and culture. CircusWA is as a vital part of the city’s unique flavour, and their youth troupe Sliders is an integral part of the organisation’s mission of fostering circus skills in the community. Sliders is taking part in this year’s Festival with a show called Cirquepop, directed by the multi-skilled Ross Vegas, who has traveled the world as a circus performer. He takes a moment to give us the low-down on the high-flying world of circus.
How do you go about putting a circus production together? Does it start with choosing a theme and then building from there?
Quite the opposite. Circus must be about the individual artist and what they already do. It’s counter-intuitive to theatre, where fictional characters played by exchangeable actors speak words made up by a writer in situations that never happened. Physical skills come to the director already embedded with simple but powerful meanings. To try to impose a preconceived narrative or idea on circus acts risks working against the essential themes they already embody, and creating a piece that is less than the sum of its parts. Circus is about danger. Circus is about beauty. Circus is about struggle. Circus is about human potential. Circus is about joy. I must work with what is already there. I can add another layer and see what aspects it enhances; in this show that was live pop music and hip-hop dance. I can strip back a layer to expose a narrative already there; for this show I got the cast to do a hula-hoop routine without the hoop, which turned out to be super quirky and fun.
What are the difficulties and joys of directing circus performance?
Circus has a unique ability to transcend language and cultural differences; a back-flip has the same meaning no matter what your language or background. We are all subject to gravity. It’s the only form that doesn’t translate to the electronic media; you need to be in the same room as the artist to feel the effort and fear and risk. It’s not representative, it’s real. In an age where audiences are searching for a sincere experience with the performer (as evidenced by the rise of reality TV) circus does that better than any other form.
My cast are 14 – 24 years old, a time when we fiercely define ourselves by the music we listen to. I let the cast choose the songs, and the result was peppered by physical metaphors like ‘hanging on,’ ‘letting go,’ ‘don’t let me down,’ which expand on the meaning of their acts. Our young contortionist chose Sia’s “Elastic Heart,” which made her act beautiful, grotesque, and a sad metaphor for romantic resilience.
How do you think circus performance helps young people with their development?
Circus is great for kids that want to be physical, but shy away from competitive sport. Physical education in this country is almost entirely sport-based, which encourages a small bandwidth of kids to use their bodies, and shames and discourages the rest. Circus requires different body types to do the different skills, and to do this and see this and have an audience appreciate this is very empowering for them. It requires trust and cooperation. It requires sustained effort and patience.
What does the inclusion of Sliders and Cirquepop in the Fremantle Festival mean for the young artists involved?
This years Fremantle Festival is curated for the first time. It’s a prestigious gig. The cast will be performing for their peers in the public in a well supported context. It will be the most high-profile thing that most of them have done.
I’m the outside eye for this one. I don’t think directors of live performance should be in those performances. No no no no no.
Do young people still want to run away and join the circus? What advice do you give them?
Circus doesn’t have the exotic, otherworldly connotation that it once had, so I think the “running away” cliché doesn’t hold anymore, but more young people than ever are considering circus as a legitimate career. That means that it’s more competitive than ever, but opportunities are also expanding. Being an artist/entrepreneur will always be a difficult way to make a living, but it also can be super rewarding. Now it’s possible to study circus at university level, which is a great opportunity, but sometimes the most interesting artists come along the path less-traveled.
Cirquepop is on at Fremantle Festival on 29 at 7pm & 30 October at 2pm & 6pm. For more information and tickets, visit the event page here. For more information on Sliders, visit the CircusWA website here. For more information on other Fremantle Festival events running from 28 October – 6 November, visit here.