NICA’s end of year Graduates Showcase is an annual must see in Melbourne. Packed audiences each night, with many famous artists and school alumni smiling along, show their enthusiasm for the group of skilled practitioners as they leap and bound to our delight for 65 minutes of athletic dynamism. It’s also creative wonder with students allowed to embrace this next step in their professional evolution- onto the stage and out into the world! In the cast you will observe some future superstars.
2017's Please Hold, directed by International contemporary dance exponent Kate Champion, with devised help from circus expert Meredith Kitchen, with the students, throws its gaze on this question openly from the start. The cast speak direct to the audience about perceptions of circus training as a career. It’s merits and flaws, and where the cast see themselves moving to from 2018. It humorously plays with misconceptions outsiders hold about performance, the arts, and questions about how employable the discipline is. This deconstructive lens is applied throughout the show with varying success. What is always on show are the finely honed physical and performance skills of each of these exquisite circus-citizens, as well as their boundless strength and optimism, who can, literally, now hold the entertainment world in the palm of their hand.
An intriguing overhead rope design captivates visually and the NICA students dramatically climb these and hover above throughout. Their comfort with risk is thrilling to observe. Their partner work and team sequences are compelling and a lesson in how a group of individuals function collectively. Play, roleplay, cabaret, signing, comedy, and group dynamics are on show. You will see some of fittest people in the country on stage and your eyes will boggle at what they find so easy. These shows are a testament to all the years of superior training they receive from the NICA’s teachers, originating from all over the word and across a range of specialisations, just like the students. Walking into the teaching venue itself is eye-opening and I recommend you arrive early so you can peer in to see the stadium-sized, heavily-cushioned working space hundreds of people have passed through over the decade since the Centre's inception. It’s the workshop that produces these babies!
This show has a contemporary dance lens applied on top of circus practice. The costumes and approach is stripped back- neutral clothes, understated tone, and the show had a muted feel. The tricks and apparatus work on show- ropework, Roue Cyr, Hula Hoops, and Unicycle- had the intention to integrate the device as performer itself, common to dance inquiry. The show content concerns practice- training, effort, culture, and indentity. Champion’s work resembled early Chunky Move and dance work of the 2000s with it’s survey-like Q&A ironies and playful deconstruction of ‘performance'. The cast moved as one ensemble, a body of persons, in unison although there are small moments where pairs or individuals have small featured sections or work in threesomes with narrative content. A highlight was the cabaret singing mid-show where two cast demonstrate these special other skills and showed the cheeky charm familiar to circus. This work had a different feel and it was a unique experience to see the contemporary dance model applied to the circus tradition, giving it a different finish. Stylistically it was streamlined and executed to perfection, a skill circus performers own.
One of the graduates told me he enjoyed being directed by someone who has worked with many famous international dance companies, with a strong overarching vision. Another guest told me she liked the pared-back, unpretentious invite into the world of the movement-maker. This year’s performance is to be commended for the significant questions it asks about perceptions held on the performing arts as career choice, and for the experience of working in unison, as a virtual company.
NICA shows are professional class performances and a priceless treat to see career ready experts fresh. Often a better up close look than the touring companies, here you see the refinement and finesse trainees acquire in this stable of those who dare to defy physics! Be amazed at what's in our backyard, support Aussie circus exports.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
Please Hold shows 29 November – 9 December, 7:30pm Tuesday – Saturday (150 mins, 20 minute interval) at The NICA National Circus Centre. Buy tickets here. The venue is accessible.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of Miranda Brown Publicity.
Image credit: Aaron Walker.