Imagine these two circus scenes: In the first, a glamorously costumed being floats ethereally on a trapeze to an operatic, otherworldly soprano. In the second, a guy in work boots flounders through the air with a giant paintbrush, attempting to paint a skyscraper with every swing and failing hysterically.
Guess which ones Circus Oz? Yep, youre right. The touring circus from Australia thats playing the Pantages this weekend might do the same kind of human-based stunt circus as Cirque du Soleil and its spin-offs, but it does it with a whole lot more irreverent humor. And to really enjoy the show, say the performers, you need to start thinking like an Aussie and stick your own tongue firmly in your cheek.
Its hard to put into words, but irreverence is a big part of it, says Jeremy Davies, a Circus Oz member who does trapeze and clowning. We ask the audience not to take us too seriously. If you can think like that, youll have more fun. Thats the Australian spirit.
And if New York is an indication, Americans are having no problem catching the Aussie brand of humor. Circus Oz comes to Tacoma fresh from opening its latest show, From the Ground Up, at the New Victory Theater in New York, where reviews ranged from a little naughty, a little nice, a little death defying, in the New York Times to raucously cheeky in The Post. Based on the 1932 photo by Charles C. Ebbets of workers calmly eating lunch atop a sky-high crossbeam in New York, the show also celebrates Circus Ozs newly built home base in Melbourne with a construction theme: think pole acrobats with enormous hammers, painters on trapezes, jugglers tossing tables and teeterboards on high stacks of piping. The music comes from a live rock band, with a drummer soaring through the air herself on a swinging platform. Theres a guitar versus air guitar battle and comedic rollerblading.
But through it all runs that Australian blend of self-deprecation, cynicism and hooliganism that refuses to take itself too seriously.
My act is doing really bad magic, says Davies. In Australia, I can do really, really bad magic and get a lot of laughs. Here (in America) I have to do a bit of actual magic, you know? Australian cynicism is like, Hey, youre an idiot! Americans are like, I think youre failing, and I feel really awkward about it. But they warm up, and after 10 minutes, the laughter gets going.
At the after-show meet-and-greets, Davies said he often hears comments that audience members didnt have any idea what to expect but loved it anyway.
Circus Oz has been Australias national circus for 34 years, beginning its animal-free show seven years before Cirque du Soleil, at a time when the concept was groundbreaking. Theyve evolved into a full-time outfit that has toured 26 countries, broken box office records at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and committed to diversity in its cast, offering training to indigenous communities.
Its also partly inspired the huge growth in Australian circus in the last decade, from at least five currently touring companies to others at home (like Davies own Kronik), to the Flying Fruit Fly circus high school in Albury, to a host of studios and gyms offering circus workouts to ordinary folks. And with just 14 members, the circus also differs from big international companies in that every performer is vital and celebrated.
In Cirque du Soleil, they wear lots of makeup and hats so they can replace anyone if they get injured, explains Davies. Our show really relies on the individuals talent. You get to know the characters quite well. No one could step into anyone elses shoes.
The biggest reason I booked them is that they are unlike so many other circus shows ... really lively, humorous and authentically Australian, says Broadway Center director David Fischer. Circus Oz is more earthy, more human, not weighted down with unearthly metaphors. (It) is artistry that is grounded in real humans doing extraordinary things.
But maybe what makes Circus Oz so different is Australia itself: a country thats dealt with its geographic remoteness by developing a spirit of self-reliance, creativity and down-to-earth attitude.
Davies sums it up: Its definitely not a Cirque show. Circus Oz has remained in the spirit that it began with. Were just totally doing our own thing.
Rosemary Ponnekanti:253-597-8568; firstname.lastname@example.org; blog.thenewstribune.com/arts