Circus Oz investing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander circus

Circus Oz BLAKflip 2016 photo by Rob BlackburnCircus Oz has thrown open its doors in Collingwood for the sixth BLAKflip masterclass for ten, new and returning, deadly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists – brought together to further solidify their circus and performance skills over a two week period with this year’s BLAKflip Guest Director, Natano Fa’anana (Casus Co-founder and Director).

The Circus Oz BLAKflip program offers professional circus development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists selected from across Australia and this year’s cohort also includes one internationally based artist. Generously supported by Annamila, BLAKflip plays an important part in elevating and revolutionising the idea of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander circus in Australia.

Over five years BLAKflip has made significant inroads into the recognition of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander circus with the first professional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander circus production of Corked Up in The Melba Spiegeltent (2014) and the inclusion of three performers in the Circus Oz ensemble, including Dale Woodbridge-Brown (2012 – present), Gheona Gela (2012) and Mark Sheppard (2013).

Davey Thompson, Circus Oz BLAKflip Program Manager, explains that there is a real hunger to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture into contemporary circus.

“Circus is a fusion of dance, theatre, music and athleticism – these are skills that are naturally prevalent in the storytelling of the oldest living culture in the world,” said Thompson. “BLAKflip is creating an amazing foundation to develop artists – in circus there are no rules, so the possibilities are explosive.”

From its beginning, Circus Oz has been visibly and vocally committed to land rights and reconciliation with Australia’s First Peoples. There are powerful links between the irreverent humour and physicality of Circus Oz’s work and the natural talent of so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members and artists. These links provide a unique point of connection and an opportunity for collaboration through the Circus Oz BLAKflip program.

Dale Woodbridge-Brown, BLAKflip alumni and Circus Oz ensemble member, comments, “I don’t know why Indigenous people haven’t tried circus more. It’s in our blood. Circus is storytelling, it’s physical and it’s what we were meant to do.”

The Circus Oz BLAKflip 2016 participants are:

Rose Chalker-McGann (UK)
Making a journey from the UK to join BLAKflip, Rose is a skilled aerialist and a vibrant visual artist.

Lara Croydon (QLD)
Returning to BLAKflip, Lara has developed her circus technique while teaching, training and performing at festivals, camps and events in Australia and America.

Ally Humphris (QLD)
A Brisbane based dancer, gymnast and aerialist, Ally returns to BLAKflip to hone her growing circus skills set.

Munnawarra King (NSW)
A Sydney-based dancer, Munnawarra is keen to explore his Aboriginal culture combined with contemporary circus.

Harley Mann (NSW)
An emerging aerialist, he returns to BLAKflip to develop skills to propel himself into the next phase of his circus career.

Jairus Riley (QLD)
After 10 years training with Blackrobats in Kuranda, Jairus is coming to BLAKflip to further develop his acrobatic technique.

Jack Shepherd (VIC)
A Melbourne-based actor and physical performer, Jack returns to BLAKflip and is looking forward to incorporating more circus into his skill set.

Dylan Singh (VIC)
An accomplished juggler and tumbler, Dylan returns to BLAKflip valuing the connections built with his fellow participants.

Elsie Smith (NSW)
An emerging aerialist from Byron Bay, Elsie returns to BLAKflip so she can continue to develop her circus skills in hula, aerial, juggling and acrobatics.

Pearl Thompson (QLD)
Pearl studied dance at the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts and trained at trained at Vulcana Women’s Circus in Brisbane – she aims strengthen her circus technique during BLAKflip.

Circus Oz Artistic Director, Rob Tannion, questions, “How can we call circus in this country truly ‘Australian’ if we don’t have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander circus artist’s voices and stories deeply embedded into the very fabric of the art form?

“BLAKflip is our program that actively engages in breaking the barriers to professional circus development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artists. Combining forty thousand years of culture with unique, irreverent humour and the excitement of contemporary circus makes sense to us – we’re looking forward to seeing what these incredible artists cook up over the next few years,” said Tannion.

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Image: Circus Oz BLAKflip participants 2016 – photo by Rob Blackburn