by | Jan 19, 2024

By Karyn Hodgkinson

 It’s been over 30 years since I have seen the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. It began in 1979 as a local project for school kids. Now, 45 years later, it is a member of the Arts8 group of elite performing arts training organisations, which include the Australian Ballet School, NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts) and NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art). It is Australia’s national youth circus and it proudly claims an ‘ever-increasing roll call of alumni working in leading companies around the world’. Its stated mission is ‘to train young people in the art form of circus and create extraordinary new circus works’. From what I have just seen, it does just that. I encourage readers to look on YouTube and see the calibre of its graduating shows – outstanding.

Tempo shows us what happens when a distinguished musician arrives to conduct the latest symphony. There’s only one problem: the orchestra cannot be found. So the Flying Fruit Fly Circus kids come to the rescue! This show involves 12 young people from ages 12 – 18 years. All have extraordinary circus talents as well as considerable musical, acting and comedic talent.

Congratulations must go to the entire creative team, particularly Jake Silvestro, the director. I reviewed Jake and his colleague Romain Hassanin’s memorable performance of Alienation at NICA for the Fringe Festival last year in October. I was impressed with their unique style of circus, the show’s structure and their use of music, comedy and narrative. I am no less impressed here. Music, mood, contrast, physical comedy and choreography combine to create a delightful show. Credit should go to Lauren Shepherd, creative circus associate, who also had a lot to do with the final product. April Dawson’s costume designs made the team look very smart in their appropriately black and white ensembles. The set comprising of a single white grand piano was a simple but effective object around which the whole show revolved. I am particularly in awe of the musical director, Ania Reynolds, who Silvestro acknowledges as having taught all involved, about what live music and circus can do when brought together.

As mentioned, not only do we see the extraordinary circus skills of these young people, skills which include acrobatics, juggling, diabolo, aerial work, hoops, unicycle and balancing feats but many play instruments, providing the entire accompaniment to the action. One of the cast plays at least 3 instruments – saxophone, keyboard and guitar. Memorable moments include the very clever juggling of shakers to produce a range of percussive rhythms. Another was the wondrous acrobatic elevation achieved by one or two of the young males. They seemed to defy gravity over and above their peers. Pervading the whole performance is a tremendous sense of fun and play, which belies the precision required.

Comedy and fun apart, the only thing I found wanting, coming from a dance and acting background, was a sense of ‘polish’ that often comes with such training. Also I felt the music, especially in lyrical pieces, could affect the performers more, where we as audience are carried with the performer emotionally. As circus becomes ever more eclectic, bringing together a range of art forms, more attention could be given to these aspects. Circus can and does move us emotionally. Some of the opportunities for this were missed in this performance.

Overall, this was an excellent afternoon of entertainment by these young performers. Their skills and teamwork were inspiring – particularly, I should imagine, young people witnessing their work. Congratulations to all involved.

Image: Ian Sutherland

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