Circus with a conscience comes to Fringe

Stories of race and queer culture are tumbled together with risky acrobatics, aerial thrills and handstands in three genre-bending circus shows debuting at the Adelaide Fringe.

Jan 21, 2019, updated Feb 15, 2019
Chasing Smoke shares Indigenous stories through physical theatre. Photo: Rob Blackburn

Chasing Smoke shares Indigenous stories through physical theatre. Photo: Rob Blackburn

“There are people that write us letters and send us emails saying ‘thank you’ because we make shows that represent a lot of people who might find it difficult to find their place in this day and age,” Casus Circus director Natano Fa’anana tells InDaily ahead of the Adelaide Fringe debut of the company’s shows Chasing Smoke, You & I and DNA.

“But we also have people go, ‘Well, why do we need to hear that story? Or, ‘Why is that important?’

“The reality is, maybe to that person it’s not important, but for others at least we are making it accessible.”

Fa’anana, a Queensland-based independent cabaret circus performer, teamed up with two friends from Circa Contemporary Circus in 2011 to create his new company, Casus Circus.

He says it was initially an experiment to create a show that melded his traditional cabaret skills with Circa’s contemporary style.

“We got into a room and devised over two weeks to make a shell of a show and before we ended that process we were getting bookings, which was great,” Fa’anana says.

“It evolved to a point where we were invited to Edinburgh Fringe and then the rest is a bit of a fairytale.

“It just grew and grew and grew rapidly, so much so that we’ve now got five shows under our belt that have toured the world with a cast of 16.”

This year’s Adelaide Fringe program includes three “vastly different” Casus shows, with each production following a unique narrative with varied acrobatic thrills.

Chasing Smoke was originally produced by Circus Oz and features Australia’s only all-Indigenous contemporary circus ensemble. The show tells the backstories of the six young performers, who explore what it means to grow up as Indigenous people in modern-day Australia.

“All the stories were gifted to me by the six performers, which was quite a big task, but it was an honour to be allowed to tease it out of them and put it into an art form,” Fa’anana says.

“Obviously you can’t go into a great deal of depth with all of their stories, but I asked them one question, which was, ‘What do you want to tell the audience in a one-minute moment?’

“There are strings and moments where the audience gets a glimpse into the mind of the individuals and it’s not so much about saying, ‘I’m going to tell you sadness and I want you to fix it for me’, it’s just literally them saying, ‘This is what I’ve had as a child, this is where I’m going as an adult’.”

Like Chasing Smoke, You & I also carries a social message and is aimed at challenging the mainstream view of queer culture.

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Fa’anana describes it as a “queer show that’s not a queer show” – a performance that delves into the lives of married couple Jessy and Lachy to present an alternative view of same-sex relationships.

“It’s not a queer show that has feather boas and it’s not a queer show that talks about the coming-out angst and the depression that can come with that,” he says.

You & I. Photo: Hamish McCormick

“Our show, You & I, is more about the community and the love of a family – Jessy and Lachy will always be accepted as queer people from the day dot and so it’s a testament to the communities that are totally accepting.”

Fa’anana says the third show, DNA, will equally “push the boundaries” of what is considered a traditional circus performance.

“The storyline or impetus around it is really more about answering who we are today,” he says.

“It’s also quite an ambitious show – there are seven of us on stage as opposed to the usual five that we have for most of our other productions.”

Thrill-wise, the shows aim to modernise the trapeze, aerial stunts and ground acrobatics of yesteryear.

“One thing that I’m really proud of is that we do want to make sure that we adhere to what is commercially viable, but knowing that, we need to make shows that are true to ourselves as people,” Fa’anana says.

“We use our art for social commentary and to tell the stories of the understated or unheard and that’s something that’s just as important to us as our art form.”

Casus Circus will present three shows at this year’s Adelaide Fringe: Chasing Smoke at Gluttony from February 15 to March 3, DNA at The Vagabond at The Garden of Unearthly Delights from February 15 to 25, and You & I at Gluttony from March 5 to 17.

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