Melbourne Festival: A night of circus

Within this year’s Melbourne Festival is a program of circus curated by Andrew Bleby from Melbourne’s NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts). Festival audiences can enjoy world-leading companies and new works created by Australia’s best, and circus artists have a seminar to discuss and inspire contemporary circus practice. Two family shows – from Belgium and Canada – are at Arts Centre Melbourne until Sunday.

Carrousel Des Moutons
D’irque & Fen
Fairfax Studio

Carrousel Des Moutons. Photo by Fabien Debrabander
Carrousel Des Moutons. Photo by Fabien Debrabander

Belgium duo Dirk Can Boxelaere and Fien Van Herwegen – who met in 2005 when circus performer Dirk broke his leg and used his down time to have piano lessons from Fien – won hearts and fans on their first trip to Melbourne in 2013 with Oh Suivant!Carrousel Des Moutons is even more gorgeous.

Dirk’s in his stripy pjs and is ready to sleep, but Fien’s playing her piano, her flying piano! With extraordinary balance, tumbling, juggling and love-filled clowing, Dirk’s struggle for bed-time overcomes gravity, Fien’s original music, and a gasping and squealing audience (and that’s just the grown ups) to finally settle and be able to count des moutons (sheep) – and the carousel of sheep is so lovely and surprising that I’m sure it’ll make me smile and relax the next time insomnia strikes.

Here’s circus-theatre made for children that never condescends to it’s younger audience, while never forgetting the oldies.  It’s a pure enchantment and, while the Festival is only two days old, it’s the highlight of my three shows so far.

Cirque Éloize
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne


Cirque Éloize are from Montreal – a city with an international circus school and that’s home to companies including Cirque du Soliel and 7 Doigts De La Main – and have performed in 440 cities in over 40 countries. They’re met with joy, cheers and awards where ever they go and Cirkopolis lives up to the spectacle and how-can-they-do-that expected of this company.

Visually based on Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metrolpolis, it’s set in a grey world where grey-coated people are as human as the machines around them. Its striking animated back wall (Robert Massicotte and Alexis Laurence) of factories and cog-driven machines is enhanced by a lighting design (Nicholas Descoteux) that lets performers and the animation become one.

And with choreographed perfection, physically astonishing performers, and a heart-warming premise that people will always find ways to be themselves and find colour in the grey, there’s little to say that it’s not wonderful. But this may be it’s downfall.

I have a soft spot for this company because their Rain was the first review I wrote for AussieTheatre in 2006 (sorry Creative Director’s program notes, it’s not the first time they’ve been to Melbourne). Rain questioned the role of contemporary circus in theatres and answered its own questions by being emotionally compelling and technically wow.

Cirkopolis is outstanding circus that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it feels like a show that’s made to tour and never ruffle a feather. It’s traditional trick-based circus where the men are strong, the clown’s a wuss and the women giggle in pretty dresses and are thrown about by the men in suits. It’s not questioning or pushing circus art beyond the expected.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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