NICA FAMOUS photo by Cameron GrantFamous is the ensemble show devised and performed by the 3rd year students at NICA, the National Institute of Circus Arts.

Director Carita Farrer Spencer has woven a slew of influences together with her ensemble to create a jazz-age fever-dreamed cautionary tale of Busby Berkeley, paparazzi, and cupid bow lips.

Showcasing a range of circus disciplines – clowning, contortion, juggling, acrobatics and aerial – Famous is a magic realist tale about the pursuit of fame and the cost of ascending to such heights of stardom.

Tim Rutty’s excellent set design presents as literal an ascent as you can get. An imposing staircase runs along the back of the stage, climbing up to the most exclusive of VIP areas and allowing those permitted to be immortalised and take their place amongst literal stars, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves

It’s an unassuming setup at first: at the side of the stage a campfire gently glows in front of a small caravan-turned-cabin, more Outer Wilds than Carnivàle. Then Gabriel Walker jaunts in, dressed like some combination of Ben Hawkins and Ulysses Everett McGill, swinging his suitcase by his side, until suddenly he isn’t.

Isolated seemingly on all planes, Gabriel walks around the now floating suitcase in a brief but wonderful display of contact juggling. There’s a silent promise in these opening moments of Famous: The story will be told by the performers with their bodies, spectacle will never come at the expense of that story, and there will be surprises.

Not all the surprises are visual. Darius Kedros’ glorious sound design not only glues the world of Famous together (such as the thumping club music changing from inside to outside) but also helps propels story and theme forward.

The sound of photographers flashbulbs – a refrain supported by an exceptional lighting design by Spencer Herd – are desired and sought after at first, but soon become belligerent and unrelenting. Similarly at one point a cyr wheel becomes the spotlight, danced and exulted in until it’s not and gets brutally torn away. It’s one of many captivating moments.

There’s a beautiful shape to what unfolds, from a lone performer, to two artists (including some fantastic diabolo juggling), to the ensemble, then return back to the individual, now making a better choice – connection and community over celebrity.

Famous is mesmeric storytelling that leaves you walking out with no small amount of wonder.

National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA), 39-59 Green Street, Prahran
Performance: Friday 14 June 2024
Season continues to 22 June 2024
Information and Bookings: www.nica.com.au

Image: 3rd Years Students in FAMOUS – photo by Cameron Grant

Review: David Collins