Circus Oz celebrate 40 years with 'Precarious'

“It’s a celebration of the past and where we are right now. It’s not a nostalgic look back by doing a best of, it’s about where we are right now.”

Roll up, roll up. This year marks a huge milestone for Circus Oz as they celebrate 40 years as Australia’s premiere, ground-breaking contemporary circus. They’re out to share their unique live performances as widely as possible, with a huge schedule of programs all over the country all year long.

“There’s definitely a lot going on,” says artistic director Rob Tannion. “What better way to celebrate our 40th anniversary than to create a whole series of shows.”

Back in 1978, Circus Oz was formed from the members of two existing groups to create a new kind of show that would encompass rock‘n’roll, theatre and satire. A fresh, original voice in circus, the company was a hit with Australian audiences – and it still is. In the time since its inception, Tannion says Circus Oz has adapted and evolved to be more than it was originally intended. “For the period of time it started out, it was a massive influencer in contemporary circus,” he says. “It was gender equitable, very ensemble-based and very much coming before those ideas and values became buzzwords now.

“All the works were very inventive and had a lot to say on stage – what was wonderful was a real strong ensemble of individual characters that came together to create really creative works, and I think that strength pushed to the forefront over many years and influenced a lot of other companies around the world.

“It’s a big deal – it has a historical value not only in the Australian arts scene but on the contemporary circus scene on an international level.”

Circus Oz’ brand new production Precarious is the major event in their yearlong celebrations and isn’t just a marker for the company’s future, but also celebrates their past. “There’s definitely a phrase we use at Oz a lot, ‘Make sure you acknowledge the shoulders upon which you stand,’” says Tannion. “Which is a very literal metaphor in circus. None of us would be here if that initial group hadn’t gotten together and said, ‘Let’s do something, circus will be our medium.’

“It’s a celebration of the past and where we are right now. It’s not a nostalgic look back by doing a best of, it’s about where we are right now.”

Demonstrative of that development, Precarious is also intended as a reflection of current times. Tannion and company will set up the heated big top beneath the trees of the Royal Botanic Gardens with three weeks of shows packed with extraordinary foot juggling, jaw-dropping aerial rope and tippy ring, mesmerising roué cyr, Chinese pole and hula hoop – all to examine the fragility that exists between humanity and nature.

“The partnership with the Botanic Gardens, for me it was a good moment to change it up a bit – how can we create a show that’s influenced by our surroundings?

“It’s not necessarily a piece about global warming but we are living in very environmentally conscious times right now, and Precarious is a tongue-in-cheek look at nature.

“There’s fantastic original music by Jeremy Hopkins and Sophia Exiner – they’ve got tonnes of sweet sounds and are working a lot with looping this year. The live music element is always great.

“It’s very silly. We’ve got a giant moving wall with revolving doors, blocks that reinform the space, and the acrobatics. There’s everything from really beautiful aerial [acts], great acrobatics, good characters but more than anything, it has a story.”

The premiere season of Precarious is about to begin but Tannion says the show will go on, travelling around the country in the next year continuing the celebration of Circus Oz and offering an opportunity for other major cities to experience the colour and joy of this wonderful performance.

“I think the perception for a lot of people is that circus is antiquated,” says Tannion. “So dare to go out and check out Circus Oz because we’re definitely out there doing things differently.”

Circus Oz will present Precarious at the Royal Botanic Gardens from Friday June 29 until Sunday July 15.