Around the world in Freo

22 July 2020

Circus WA’s “Home Brew Cabaret” served up an impressive array of local and international artists, reports Nina Levy.

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Home Brew Cabaret, Circus WA ·
The Freo Big Top, 18 July 2020 ·

Flanked by fairy-lit stalls selling mulled wine, soup and popcorn, at Saturday night’s “Home Brew Cabaret” had a carnivalesque feel from the get-go. Presented by Fremantle-based circus training and performance development centre Circus WA, this program was their first since lockdown. As Artistic Director Jo Smith noted at the start of the show, Perth might be the only place in the world, right now, where it is possible to attend a show in a performance venue. It’s not surprising then, that there was a festivity to the occasion, but also an underlying sobriety. We all know that our good fortune is tenuous.

As the name suggests, “Home Brew Cabaret” was a mixed bill by a collection of mainly West Australian artists. The twist? As MC Ella Norton (of YUCK Circus) explained, most of these performers would normally be based and/or working overseas. It’s due to the pandemic that we find these international-calibre artists en masse in Fremantle.

Teetering on vertiginous purple platforms, the pink-clad Norton was a witty host, her casual patter deftly drawing together the eclectic mix of acts.

Dawn Pascoe, of Perth-based aerial dance and circus company Natural Wings, opened the program on trapeze. Set to a soulful cover of “Time After Time”, the solo saw Pascoe spiral through the song with smooth elegance. Ben Kotovski-Steele (co-founder of Perth’s Yip Yip Circus) and UK-based Simon Wood followed, with an acrobatic duet of sculptural lifts. Coupled with subtle but entertaining facial expressions, the piece had a pleasing touch of slapstick.

Ruth Battle sings. In one hand she holds a red glittered hoop and a string of pearls, in the other a mic. Her curly halr is teased and held off her face on one side. She wears a black pinafore dress, black gloves and a second string of pearls.
Dialling up the silliness: Ruth Battle. Photo: Jordan Pursey

Juggler Jeromy Zwick was next. One half of Belgium-based duo Hand some Feet (with partner Liisa Näykki), he performed solo initially, delighting the audience with his emu-inspired act. Juggling his “eggs” blind at times, he kept the audience enthralled with his ever-unfolding, cartoon-like antics.

That sense of silliness was dialled up a notch by the final performer for the first act, Ruth Battle (Natural Wings), whose wine-fuelled rendition of Girl From Ipanema: Bum Through a Hoop was both glorious and hilarious in its simplicity.

Act II took us skyward again, with a lyra (aerial hoop) routine by UK-based aerialist/acrobat Brenna Day, counterbalanced by Ben Kotovski-Steele. As he pointed out, the risks were all Day’s. They soared upwards on their lyra, hands-free as they arched gracefully, or hung precariously by their feet, while he was secure on the other end of the rope in a harness. Nonetheless, the magic of this number, for me, was in the careful eye contact between the two performers as they negotiated the shared pulley system.

Two more duets followed, the first by husband and wife team Tarrabelle and Rusty of WA’s ZAP Circus. Though their acrobatic routine was at once muscular and sentimental, it was somewhat overshadowed by the joyful energy of the next duet, a high-octane skipping routine by Hand some Feet. Slick and sharp as their ropes whirled and whipped, Näykki and Zwick powered through the hip-hop style routine with flair.

Like many in the audience, I imagine, I was intrigued to discover what a “foot juggler” does and Jess Smart (co-founder of Yip Yip Circus) didn’t disappoint. Performing to ACDC’s “Big Balls” – pun absolutely intended – Smart’s act marries comic gold and astonishing skill as her feet become a second pair of hands to create juggling paths with a difference.

Ella Uhd spiralling inside her hoop. Photo: Rachel Collier Photography.

Rounding off the night was Elke Uhd, an Australian circus artist based in Berlin. Performing to a melancholic pop number, Uhd’s cyr wheel (giant hoop) routine sees her spiral and dive through space in kaleidoscopic patterns. Though we had been warned by Norton that we should move out of the way if Uhd lost control of the hoop, it was clear from the outset that this remark was tongue-in-cheek. There was no such risk from this world-class performer, and her act spun us gently back to the ground.

All in all, this program was a joy to witness. The exhilaration of watching a show in a public venue – with other people! – was heightened by the presence of so many overseas-based artists in one big-top. That exhilaration, however, was tempered by the knowledge that the opportunities for performing artists to work are few and far between right now. As Norton suggested, I encourage you to support performances by these circus artists – you won’t be disappointed.

Pictured top: Lisa Näykki and Jeromy Zwick performing their high-octane skipping routine. Photo: Jordan Pursey

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked for over a decade as an arts writer and critic. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. Since July 2016 Nina has also been co-editor of Dance Australia magazine. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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