Circus Oz: From the Ground Up
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
December 1, 2012
14 Australians, of all shapes and sizes, are hanging out on a construction site. These fun-loving Aussies tumble and roller-skate, juggle and cross high wires, play instruments and fly through the air. Circus Oz: From the Ground Up is not the most polished circus you will ever see in New York City, but the show’s strong message of inclusivity is not only admirable but also hugely important for little ones.
The ensemble nature of the show is very fun – we feel that these performers genuinely enjoy being onstage with one another, they dance and encourage each other and everyone is given equal time in the spotlight. The show is structured so that everyone does a bit of everything – as the director’s note from the program says: “Musicians fly through the air, riggers perform acrobatics, acrobats play music and jugglers dance.” This is a great idea and definitely highlights Circus Oz’s emphasis on diversity and fostering multi-talented performers. But, here in New York City, we’ve become spoiled. Cirque du Soleil and its countless mimics have shown us astonishing acrobats. Rather than having everyone do a bit of everything well, we’ve become used to specialists who do one thing superbly. A girl juggling 5 rings pales in comparison to specialists like the Flying Karamazov brothers. Here in New York the bar has been raised too high to feel any amazement by the acts accomplished by the hardworking, multi-focused company of Circus Oz. Now, all that being said, I am an adult who has seen a wide variety of circus, magic and juggling shows. To a child who has not experienced the thrill of a trapeze or the amazement of having 14-people pile onto one bicycle, the experience is sure to be much more enrapturing.
In the show’s most original scene, onstage drummer Bec Matthews is encapsulated in a large ball hanging from the ceiling. As she drums on all sides of the ball, a rigger swings it around. With a smart shift in lighting, we suddenly see the silhouette of the giant ball and realize Director Mike Finch has created a wrecking ball onstage. This was the best inclusion of the construction site theme and a very creative representation. Another highlight was the large seesaw, which saw every performer, cheered on and supported by the rest of the ensemble flying through the air.
All of the characters are very fun and big crowd pleasers – from Fantasia Fitness, a mohawked woman incessantly trying to sell her new workout DVD, to Neville, the perpetual sidekick forever putting up with and often inadvertently outdoing his glitzy magician partner. Our host is performer Ghenoa Gela, a highly affable Aboriginal Australian, who entertains the young audience with jokes and humorous dance moves as well as provides a very sweet monologue about acceptance using the analogy that we are all different types of fruit.
Will children enjoy this show? Certainly! Are there more professional-feeling and awe-inspiring circuses in New York City? Yes. Do any of those circuses have such a clear, positive message of tolerance and understanding? I rather doubt it.