Review: Circonoclasm – NICA

An enthralling exploration of art

By Leeor Adar

Always in for a treat, NICA delivers an enjoyable romp with a message from its second-year student ensemble.

Directed by David Woods (Ridiculusmus Theatre Company, London), Circonoclasm is a sharp and fun take down of the sacredness of the arts space. In the National Australia Gallery, the artwork’s shelf life is brief as elastic thieves swing, bounce and flounce between the bored security guards. As the nation collectively yawns, bored by the art perhaps, or bored by the way in which it is displayed, the capable hands of thieves go to work.

“Not our fault” is repeated by a gussied-up Maya Davies, who in a transatlantic accent delivers a history of all the failed attempts to preserve past works. In Woods’ own words, the “deadpan physical theatre schtick” is the mode for which iconoclasm is explored by the students in this 70-minute performance. The messaging is clear: the arts has given way to excuses and corporate sponsorships, where art for art’s sake is preferred to quality. One could say we experience Circonoclasm as shtick for schtick’s sake, but I like that Woods has injected something deeper into the showcase of NICA’s talent.

The talent is indeed on display, which is a hard feat to pull off when you have a 23 strong ensemble with their own unique skill to showcase. We cycle through Seurat (with a magical nod to the circus), Michelangelo and Munch to name a few, as works of art come to life through the physical expression of the performers.

Dominating the performance is a series of heists that toy with physical boundaries, but the plot thickens (as does the humour) with enquiring characters, a dog-pigeon, and some fantastically mind-bending backtracking. In an attempt to uncover the architects of the heist, we are treated to a series of hysterical vignettes where the guards interrogate one another. Notable mentions to Dean Moran’s compelling relationship with an orange, and Harrison Sweeney’s great seduction.

Overall, I was enthralled with NICA’s talent and Woods’ vision.

Circonoclasm was performed at the National Institute of Circus Art. For more about NICA visit https://www.nica.com.au/

Melbourne Fringe 2017: PRECIPICE

Edge-of-seat spectacle

By Joana Simmons

Diving into a world of chaos, National Institute of Circus Arts’ second-year ensemble show Precipice defies danger in an effort to celebrate life. The cast of 19 young athletes, under the direction of Zebastian Hunter and guidance of their world-class teachers, perform exhilarating tumbles, turns, shifts and falls using a range of apparatus in solo and ensemble pieces. This is the most professional student work I have seen at NICA, and is an absolutely astounding production in regards to skill, concept and music.


The high performance space at NICA in Prahran is clad in stark scaffolding and plastic in a set designed by Stephanie Howe. Two performers are suspended from the ceiling, as if they are falling from the sky reaching for each other. The first act is filled with struggle, with performers leaning and reaching, about to jump off the edge, only to be pushed or struck down by another performer flying or flipping into them. The music- played live in violin, cello and piano and directed by David Wiskin provides fantastic tension and adds to the frantic nature of the movement. Standout individual performances included Adam Malone’s hula hoop and head-balancing trapeze act: I was on the edge of my seat as he effortlessly balanced on his head whilst swinging and spinning through the air, above his cast mates lying in a puddle of laughter below. The adagio waltz featuring Poppy Fairbairn and Zion Martyn was also wonderfully refreshing, as they played a couple having a fight at a party and standing on each other’s heads to spite their face. Their characterization and flow through their stunts was strong, and it was supported well by the cast.

Act two found the performers displaying bland urban costume, torn and dusty, with contemporary dance-inspired rolling and twisting, and moving up out of the ground. My jaw once again remained dropped for Ciara Thorburn and Liam Dummer’s chair balancing. The themes began to evolve more through some spoken word, reminding us we are creatures of love and after chaos we emerge, but we need to feel the fear and leap into the void that is change. The mood lightened with the chin-up contest: it is incredible that after suspending themselves in all sorts of directions the performers can bang out 20 chin ups, with the female cast members winning in the end. Overall congratulations go to Lyndon Johnson for his strong performance on the Roue Cyr (big ring) and commitment in the acrobatics and ensemble numbers, while my favourite of the whole show was Emily Chilvers, an absolute gun on the rope, handstands, and acrobatics.

The creative team have done a stellar job of showcasing these young professionals in the best way possible. Directed by Hunter and devised with Meredith Kitchen, not only is this show an athletic spectacle, it also interrogates the impermanence of time, physical and psychological senses. The monochromatic lighting by Matt Cox works well with the industrial set. Some of the ensemble choreography was somewhat predictable, and repetitive, though as it was executed with full commitment it was still highly effective.

Australia’s circus scene is becoming of a higher and higher caliber and it is incredibly exciting to see students be pushed to deliver such a strong and slick production. There’s is a handful of circus shows on this year’s Fringe program: Precipice is a thrilling, eye-opening, edge-of-seat spectacle.

PRECIPICE was performed from Wed 20 – Sat 23 September 2017 at the NICA National Circus Centre. For information about upcoming productions, visit www.nica.com.au


New-generation circus artists dazzle

By Leeor Adar

Circosis is the coming together of the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) final-year students. It is a solo performance showcase for the students to perform their skills after three intense years of studying their art.


Director Kate Fryer assisted students in crafting their solo works and created a hospital/warehouse theme as a backdrop, where students donned doctors’ uniforms and shuttled pieces and props offstage. Interspersed amongst solo performances, the group would create vignettes that were telling of their own skills and stories, some humorous and others downright disturbing.

Due to the large number of graduating students now coming through NICA, Circosis was split into two separate groups labelled the Left Brain/Right Brain. I attended the opening night of the Left Brain, and had an absolutely fantastic night.

The solos opened with Nelson Smyles – a last name befitting the Port Macquarie native whose clowning with hoops suspended in air was charming and breathtaking. Watching Smyles effortlessly leap through the hoops before him as they playfully bounced and wiggled out of his way was a delightful start to the night. Following Smyles were two very differing acts; Phillip Island’s Harley Timmermans performed a powerful and fluid piece with aerial straps and Maya Tregonning hailing from Perth treated us to a rambunctious day in the life of a wild-animal circus trainer in some clowning that sent the audience into fits of laughter.

A more nostalgic work followed with New Zealand’s Emily Gore who took us on a sentimental ride in using the rotating ring apparatus. Isaac Lawry’s energy was palpable, but almost at odds with the haunting blue lantern that swung from the ceiling, sending him diving perilously away from it. One thing was clear from some of these works, there were definite energies and experiences they were calling upon – loneliness, desperation to grasp joy, or escaping from some force. The final piece before interval was therefore the shock factor brought by Brisbane’s Ela Bartilomo, whose anti-fur campaign began as a fashion-model photo shoot suspended in air before a contortionist act with a grotesque twist.

Post-interval revealed acts that only continued to raise the bar. Canberra’s Elizabeth Jackson balanced herself with breathtaking strength upon the Chinese pole, recalling an almost proletkult theatre-style. Jack Wilde also hailing from Canberra delivered a glitzy number whilst flirting with the crowd balanced on a ladder. Ulladulla’s Luke Thomas followed in what was one of the standout performances of the night: an ethereal piece that saw him suspended in the air in circus tissue. Thomas’ work captured the concept of rising above circumstances beyond our control as he fluidly ascended the tissue and plastic bags fell from above him. Sutton’s Sandra Lee took us to an even darker space as she hand-balanced and contorted her body to a recording of performance artist Marina Abramović discussing her experience of the piece Rhythm O, where she allowed the audience to inflict pleasure and pain upon her body. Listening to Abramović’s recording was harrowing and distracted a little from Lee’s movements – but overall Lee’s performance was a marvelous show of elegance and physical strength.

The last two performances of the night were very much about showmanship. Ulladulla’s Riley McDonald’s performance on the swinging trapeze as he embodied a deranged seducer/madman was very tongue-in-cheek and risqué, while Melbourne’s Jessie McKibbin’s performance on the roue Cyr (Cyr wheel) was a beautiful finish for the evening, and one of the most memorable performances of the night. McKibbin managed a multitude of costume changes in the few minutes whilst controlling her Cyr with effortless grace.

To wind up the night the performers came together in their doctors’ uniforms for an exciting finale – capping off an incredible evening from the up-and-coming circus talent in Australia.

You can catch either Left Brain or Right Brain (why not both!) until the 24 June. Please follow the link for performance dates/times and bookings: https://www.nica.com.au/event-tickets.php?cPath=422

Image by Aaron Walker Photography

REVIEW: Gasworks Presents UNCOVERED

Sleek and sensual circus for Midsumma

By Myron My

After Dark Theatre’s Uncovered would have to be one of the sexiest circus shows I have ever seen, and with its overt intent to explore homosexuality, love and sex, this isn’t surprising. Director and performer Dave Coombs has brought together recent graduates or current students of the National Institute of Circus Arts, and through a number of circus acts, explores the idea of “the first”, including the first encounter with a man and the first kiss.


The performers – Emily Gare, Alex Jeans, Mark Graham, Nelson Smyles and Coombs – are all committed and enthusiastic and for where they currently stand in their experience, deliver some impressive feats. Jeans’ silks routine and his subsequent double aerial hoop act with Graham are strong highlights of the evening. The latter in particular successfully displayed their talents with their seamlessly moving bodies, and paired with the music, permitted the audience to recall their own sensual experiences while appreciating what was occurring on stage. Smyles’ short but sweet clown act, with his attempts to be the object of someone’s desire, is also a firm favourite. It is very simple routine but it relies heavily on Smyles’ ability to convey vulnerability and hopefulness through nothing but facial expressions and body language.

The music selection is well chosen, with a variety of songs from different genres often reimagined into new forms, giving a fresh feel to many of the acts performed. The direction of the performers is also an accomplished effort, ensuring that the whole space is used effectively and, just like the theme of the show itself, exploring every dark corner and space.

While Uncovered works on exploring these “first times” as individual stories, in order to elicit a deeper and emotional response from the audience, I felt stronger focus on character and an overall story is required. In the beginning, Smyles enters the bar and upon being questioned about his sexuality, states he is straight. One lap dance later, he has now realised he is gay and although this revelation could have been a wealth of inspiration, it is never really visited again.

Uncovered has a lot it wants to share with the audience about being a gay male. While this is a good start, I still felt it needs to build a stronger connection with the characters and what it is being explored. It’s got the talent and it’s got the vision: with a little bit more work, it can find its heart.

Uncovered was performed 27 – 30 January at Gasworks Arts Park as part of the 2016 Midsumma Festival.

REVIEW: …we should quit for MELBOURNE FRINGE

Office slog needs a lift

By Myron My

In …we should quit two workers stuck in their monotonous daily grind find their routine broken and suddenly find themselves in a sea of chaos.

We Should Quit

The opening moments are promising with the environment being well set up and clearly placing Thomas McDonald as the straight man to Morgan Wilson’s wackiness but I feel like this show never took off.

Describing itself as physical comedy, it was disappointing to find the show lacking in both. It took close to twenty minutes for the first circus trick to happen and this was followed by long gaps between. There are moments when the comedy and clowning works really well, such as the yawning competition but most of it unfortunately misses the mark.

A circus show doesn’t require a strong focus on story but …we should quit really needs to find some sort of structure or end-point as I ended up feeling like I was watching a sketch comedy show on loop. I understand they are showing the repetition that these workers endure but seeing the same act three times, like the button-pushing, can be trying on the audience.

Having seen these artists perform with aplomb earlier this year in NICA’s circus showcase, I was expecting more with this show. McDonald and Wilson are both skillful circus performers yet I don’t feel that they allowed their strengths to shine through. There didn’t seem to be any build-up to any of the acts and the times when things looked promising but ultimately fizzled or didn’t lead anywhere, such as the blackboard scene.

Morgan and Tom have the potential for good comic timing and they play extremely well off each other. They are endearing to the audience and have strong charm and charisma but a one-hour show not much seems to happen apart from seeing two mates goofing about and is a bit much to sit through.

Venue: Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham St, Albert Park

Season: Until 05 October | 9:15pm and Saturday 3:30pm

Tickets: $20 /$16 Conc

Bookings: www.gasworks.org.au, 9699 3253 or http://www.melbournefringe.com.au, 9660 9666