Circus in a teacup

‘Circus in a Teacup’ // Vulcana Circus and Micah Projects

‘Circus in a Teacup’ was weighty.

With a diverse ensemble cast, most of whom were making their stage debut, ‘Circus in a Tea Cup’ provided space for survivors of gender-based abuse to tell their stories through contemporary circus performance. The production was physical – at times tense; at times joyful. It brought to mind the notion that life is lived without a safety net, but a strong support network can catch you if you fall. 

Women’s arts company Vulcana Circus partnered with Brisbane Domestic Violence Service as part of Micah Projects to create the hour-long show, which played at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre for three nights. The collaboration involved circus workshops for this community of women so they could learn new skills, share experiences and “explore an empowering physical language that builds self-esteem and confidence,” according to Vulcana. 

Co-directed by Celia White and Michelle Grant-Iramu and described as telling “true stories of recovery, resilience and triumph,” the show was a series of solos, duets and group numbers interspersed with projected videos recorded by individual women (with videography by Paris Owen). Some spoke of comforting objects bestowed by loved ones or favourite hobbies that allowed them to be themselves; one powerfully and metaphorically described the violence she survived as an “unpredictable Queensland storm”.

The mix of new and experienced performers was evident in the range of facial expressions on stage, but the amateurs should be commended for their courage in taking their stories to the QPAC spotlight. Vulcana told Theatre Haus the choreography was the result of a collaborative process with all of the women, which may explain some of the simpler, sometimes repetitive movements. While there were occasional missteps and lack of synchronisation, the overall sense was of singular performers bravely taking turns to express themselves, while a community of women remained in the background to support and encourage as needed. 

Circus rigger Helen Clifford should be commended for the flying furniture: a portrait that doubled as a swing, two chairs and a table that all featured in various numbers.

While the soloists were impressive with their many shapes and contortions around the portrait and bottomless chair, the stand-out number was a duet on the kitchen table, raised high above the stage floor. Watching the pair balance while holding each other as the table swung side to side had the audience holding its collective breath and garnered much-earned applause. This physical display of trust – and what you can achieve when you have a community you can trust – was a powerful theme throughout.

Featured performers included: Anja Kapelski, Liz John, Tess Raby, Kiki Devgun, Maddie Henaway, Claudia Baxter, Sarah Murphy, Crystal Kowald, Sally Walker, Colleen Odendahl, Grace Law, Chloe Callistemon, Ash Jones, Natalie Lazaroo, and ensemble member Louise de la Haye (with child care credited to Pei Ying Chen).

Costume design by Lil Crump saw each woman in their own brightly coloured outfit; some with flowers pinned to their shirts or wearing multi-patterned scarves. Lighting design by Sarah O’Neill gave a sense of intimacy, mostly low with blue spotlights during the aerial numbers. There may be an opportunity to explore adding some light, as it was a bit difficult to discern facial expressions at times (particularly in the opening group number). 

Set design and props showed how everyday, “safe” domestic objects could also signal danger: teacups that rattled as the women’s hands shook and binders of legal declarations that fell from the rafters with a startling thud, seemingly inches from hitting a performer as she walked across the stage. The set and prop symbolism was effective and thought-provoking.

‘Circus in a Tea Cup’ was weighty in the sense of serving as an important vehicle for participants to learn and experiment with what Vulcana called the “celebratory experiences of circus.” It offered audiences a glimpse into some of the issues around living through–and moving on from–domestic and family violence.

‘Circus in a Tea Cup’ performed 16 to 18 December 2021 at QPAC. For more information, visit Vulcana Circus.

Photos by Jade Ellis Photography.

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