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Features/Circus

Tumbling into a new circus festival

6 July 2021

After being rescheduled thanks to the latest lockdown, Perth’s first contemporary circus festival will take place in August. But what IS contemporary circus? Nina Levy found out more.

I meet up with Aline Chapet-Batlle, the woman behind Perth’s first contemporary circus festival, at CirQuest Circus in North Perth, where she teaches and trains. In the background a private lesson on silks is taking place and the student repeatedly tumbles down the fabric swathe, stopping thrillingly short of the ground.

It’s a perfect backdrop to my conversation with Chapet-Batlle about taking new chances.

Born and trained in France, the Perth-based circus performer, whose stage name is A Line in the Air, says that she didn’t initially realise that the contemporary circus festival she was planning would be a Perth-first.

Instead, her motivation was to provide performance opportunities at a time when – thanks to COVID-19 related border closures – West Australian circus artists have limited options to perform interstate and no opportunities to perform internationally. “I was thinking, if we want the circus community to keep existing in the next year, something needs to happen,” she explains. “And so I thought, okay, we’re in Perth, we’re relatively sheltered. Let’s give it a shot.”

A circus artist performs a handstand on a pyramid shaped apparatus. Her legs are in a straddle position. She wears black underwear and black leg warmers.
The woman behind the Perth Contemporary Circus Festival, Aline Chapet-Batlle. Photo: Antonia Mai

So Chapet-Batlle emailed the State Theatre Centre of WA (STCWA) to see if they would be interested in the project.

Her timing was perfect. STCWA Manager Alice Jorgensen and her team had just wrapped up the venue’s first Fringe World season, State of Play. Debuting in 2021, the program included a number of circus acts.

Though STCWA has traditionally hosted contemporary theatre and dance, Jorgensen says that audiences loved the physicality of State of Play’s circus shows. “It’s great to have [circus] back on our stage this August,” she remarks.

Billed as “contemporary circus for everyone”, the Perth Circus Festival program ranges from family-friendly comedy to adults-only late-night cabaret, and if this sounds like a break from traditional circus, that’s because it is.

Superficially, the difference between traditional circus and contemporary circus is that there are no animals involved (aside from the human performers), but there’s more to it than that says Chapet-Batlle.

“Contemporary circus is about taking inspiration from other art forms, such as theatre and dance, and making a work that’s as much about story-telling as it is about cool tricks.”

Comprising shows from five local companies, the program is small but diverse. Opening the program is Down.Rebound, a work exploring relationships between men, by self-described aerial/juggler/acrobat/funny men Ben Kotovski-Steele and Simon Wood of Acrobatch Circus. “Exhibit – Unhinged!”, by Chapet-Batlle’s CAJ Entertainment, follows; a late-night cabaret show that brings together aerials, acrobatics, juggling and more.

A man dressed as a medieval knight balances on a unicycle, with three skittles in one hand and a balloon sword in the other.
Aidan Bayliss as Sir Jokesalot. Photo supplied

At the kid-friendly end of the spectrum is Aidan Bayliss as Sir Jokesalot, a knight on a quest of strength, bravery… and circus. The team from CirQuest Circus will be presenting Three Is A Crowd, a work designed specifically for children that explores themes of social inclusion, feeling left out and social problem solving. Winding up the festival will be Canning Vale College with Six Impossible Things, described as “a dream circus that gets ‘curiouser and curiouser!,”

This isn’t the first time that Chapet-Batlle has brought together local artists to perform under one banner. Her own show at the Perth Circus Festival, “Exhibit – Unhinged!” is the culmination of a series of bi-monthly mixed bill performances, in which Perth-based circus artists have the opportunity to take new and experimental ideas to an audience.

“It’s really about sharing cool circus, in a chill atmosphere,” explains Chapet-Batlle. It’s only for adults, no kids. Nothing against kids, it’s just that the way you [as an adult] will watch a show if you’re with a child is very different. And circus for kids has a big presence already.”

There have been seven “Exhibit” programs presented to date. Performed at CirQuest Circus’s premises, the atmosphere, as Chapet-Batlle promises, is relaxed and relatively informal. Because this is a chance for artists to try out new ideas, the performances aren’t necessarily as polished as a “normal” circus show but that adds to the novelty; there’s a sense of seeing behind the scenes.

Though the “Exhibit” program that will be presented at the Circus Festival will be more rehearsed, it will have a similar atmosphere as it predecessors, says Chapet-Batlle.

“It will be a cabaret show that has the same vibe, a very chill night. The MC makes everyone laugh, and we’ll be enjoying our time watching cool circus… but it’s circus that’s going to challenge you a little bit, or push the boundaries of the genre.”

The Perth Circus Festival will take place at the State Theatre Centre of WA, 13-15 August 2021.

Pictured top are Sarah Healy, Gaea Anastas, Josh Norwell, from Cirquest Circus. Photo: Isobell Lyall

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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