Christchurch Arts Festival: Circus Oz

Circus Oz has a five-day season at the CAF and anyone who is interested in just what the human body can do, in having a laugh and a gasp and an all-round good time should see them.

They began 30 years ago in Melbourne’s Carlton, that home of all that is cool, as a collective of people interested in using the traditions of the circus and its universal appeal to bring a political message to audiences who might not go to conventional performances.

Since then the show has evolved as performers came and went and as they performed it all around the world as well as to detainees in refugee camps in Australia. In typically Australian fashion they don’t take themselves too seriously and there’s more than a touch of the larrikin but they are very good at what they do.

It’s diverse, iconoclastic, fast moving and spectacular, with great music and good jokes. It looks effortless but isn’t and it is a million miles away from the sad old moth-eaten animal type of circus that thankfully seems to have disappeared, without being soulessly proficient like some modern circuses.

For those who find their interest piqued by the amazing skills displayed by the Circus Oz performers there are some interesting books on circuses and those who perform in them.

Dreams of the solo trapeze is a look behind-the-scenes at the Cirque du Soleil, although interestingly the author was not allowed to speak to the performers officially.  Circus bodies is a look at 140 years of years of high-wire acrobatics and how the bodies used for it present different cultural identities. Circus life is a book of fascinating photographs of circus performers from all around the world. And for those who want to give it a go themselves with no thought of possible danger, there is Back handsprings, full of the secret techniques necessary to become an expert tumbler.

Christchurch Arts Festival 2007: Strange Resting Places

As a theatre goer there is nothing so terrifying to me as audience participation. As far as I’m concerned I’m paying to see the actors put on a public display, not to be made one of myself. Strange Resting Places manages to make the ordeal of audience participation relatively pleasant by involving food, appropriate considering it concerns the meeting of Maori and Italians during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Three actors take many roles (including the livestock stolen by the young Maori and Italian soldiers thrown together by circumstance) and tell a moving story in Maori, Italian and English, speech and song.

This is a classic festival piece; a work created out of fragments of stories that comes together seamlessly due to the skill of the actors and the craft of the writers.

Christchurch Arts Festival 2007: The Raft

The world premiere of Carl Nixon’s  play The Raft at the Court Theatre during the Arts Festival gives Christchurch audiences the chance to see a powerful, moving and emotionally true piece of New Zealand theatre.

Anyone who has  been a member of a family, who has suffered loss, who has had to practise forgiveness or who has spent any time in a West Coast bach will find much that resonates here.

Nixon’s short stories are hugely evocative of place and his novel, Rocking Horse Road,  absolutely nails the landscape and atmosphere of New Brighton.

The Raft combines sense of place with a fine ear for New Zealand speech  and a clear insight into how many of us deal with grief and loss. There was a lot of laughter in the theatre but I noticed some discreet tissue work as well. This is definitely one to see at the Festival if you can.