Oscar Wilde once said, “When the gods want to punish us, they answer our prayers”. Not so for Brittannie Portelli, who is currently living her childhood dream – she has joined the circus.
“Circa is an incredible circus company based out of Brisbane, currently touring both nationally and internationally. They have created awesome circus work and I am now fortunate enough to be part of it,” she confesses. “Circa was my dream company to work with as a circus performer, so I would like to be here as long as I can, for as long as my body holds out. Who knows what the future holds for me. I am very fortunate, I have worked for this for nearly ten years now, so to be living the dream is really something quite special that I don’t take for granted. That is the thing, everyone goes, “You are so lucky to be living the dream.” I don’t really put it down to luck, I put it down to hard work and focus and working myself in the right way, being around people who do support me, and that’s why I have ended up where I am now.”
It is very strange to chat with someone who casually admits they are currently, actually, living out their dream. That never happens, people aren’t meant to be happy and fulfilled! Digging a little deeper, as you can probably guess, there is a lifetime of very hard work behind Brittannie’s current good fortune.
“When I was six-years-old I started at the local gymnastics club, and from there got picked-up to be part of an elite program and did that for around five years – I was training 24 hours a week as a ten year old,” Brittannie explains of her acrobatic beginnings. “From there I went on to compete in aerobic gymnastics for the next decade. I travelled internationally and had amazing experiences, I also dabbled in synchronised swimming. But at the same age when I was doing all the elite training I saw a circus show and turned to my mum and said, ‘Mum. That is what I am going to do’, and she said, ‘Okay let’s do it then’. So once I finished year 12, I was accepted into NICA, which is the National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne. I trained there for three years, five days a week, nine till five and created a great foundation for all my circus skills. From there I got a full time contract to work with Circa as one of their ensemble members.”
That circus she saw as a ten-year-old was Saltimbanco, which is a Cirque du Soleil show. Only French-Canadians could take something as fun as a circus and turn it into the pretentious, annoying mess that is a Cirque du Soleil show. Which is very strange, because Circa couldn’t be more different from that. “Circa is the opposite,” Brittannie laughs. “I guess when I was ten I thought, ‘Wow these people are making a living out of using their bodies in such extraordinary, physical ways’. When I was at NICA, I looked at all the different genres of circus and I came across Circa on a YouTube clip. I was really, really intrigued by them and was lucky to see one of their shows in Sydney, half way through my third year. What stuck out to me was the way they made it so humanly raw and stripped back the “ta-das.’ The audience still laughed and still clapped but it was just the complete human, onstage, showing the audience what they are capable of doing is such an incredible thing to witness as an audience member. Eighteen months later, I am now on stage doing that same show that I saw as a student.”
So rather than costumes, pretention and obscure narrative, what you see at Circa is humans operating to honed perfection. Skilled performers move from highly-connected acrobatic and tumbling sequences to fast-paced intricate scenes aerial displays, acrobatics and bodies pushed to extreme. “To put yourself out with such venerability on the stage is amazing,” Brittannie says. “Most of our work is improvised, so we put so much risk into what we do everyday that we find little places in the show to inject with thrill and delight where the audience doesn’t expect it. So that’s were you get the ‘ooohs and ahhs’ and gasps, because we have found unexpected places for them. After a 75 minute show of watching these seven human acrobats, it really gets the audience to realise – we have the same bodies as they do but, rather than playing a character or a superhuman being, we have stripped that back to show them what a simple human being is capable of doing. Circa has been performed by many different ensemble performers but, our director, rather than replacing acts, he finds what is unique about you are a person and puts that on stage, rather than trying to replicate what someone has performed previously.”
BY JACK FRANKLIN
Circa will be taking your breath away at the Malthouse Theatre from Tuesday May 29 through Sunday June 10. Visit malthousetheatre.com.au for more info.