The dreams of young people wishing to run off and join the circus have become a step closer, with Circus Oz offering internships to budding Indigenous circus performers. Each year, the internationally-renowned circus company runs a masterclass from which two interns are selected.
This year a bunch of talented Indigenous performers attended the Circus Oz masterclass in Melbourne and were thrown into the ring with lots of clowning, acrobatics, pole dancing and hula-hooping.
Some of the participants in the week-long masterclass were Kevin Kropinyeri, Sean Choolburra, Matty Shields, Mia Stanford, Ghenoa Gela and Ursula Yovich. They received guidance from the expert trainers at Circus Oz.
Circus Oz Koori Program Manager Josh Bond says the circus company was keen to have Indigenous people involved in its Blakrobatics program.
“Everyone we had here this time were mostly working professionals who are interested in the crossovers between their chosen profession and the circus,” Joshua says.
“It was an introductory week into circus skills, but some of these people already use these skills, maybe without realising it. The whole week was full of laughter.
“Matty Shields with his pole dancing instantly adapted to the Chinese Poles. He was straight in there as well as learning other skills in acrobatics.
“Two young dancers (Tyrell Dulvarie and Dale Woodbridge) also had incredible skills. It was an eye opener for them to realise they could apply those skills creatively that maybe weren’t applicable in dance to the extent they would be in the circus.”
Joshua says stand-up comedians like Kevin Kropinyeri and Sean Choolburra already incorporated aspects of clowning in their show anyway.
“Some may have a conception that clowning is about white faces and red noses and baggy pants, but it is a physical form of comedy,” he says.
Joshua says this was a one-week masterclass that Circus Oz wants to extend to two weeks next time and run annually. From this, two people will be selected to do an internship with Circus Oz, which will include developing a project over 18 weeks.
“This project was more about a shift that Circus Oz is making within the organisation at a fundamental level in terms of it wanting to be a true representation of Australia by incorporating more Indigenous performers and tapping into the wealth of talent that is out there,” he says.
“The community’s involvement and support, combined with the commitment to this project, will bring two great mobs together. I’m confident this will lead to a fantastic collaboration owned by everyone involved.”
Joshua has spent many years in the circus himself and he is especially keen to see more blackfellas in the circus.
“There haven’t been too many blackfella circus performers to date purely because we don’t see them in the circus – we see them in the footy and other sports – these are the areas that the role models are in so it is about expanding on that and building that awareness and interest in developing the sector,” he says.
“I worked 14 years in the circus and I wanted to go and work with my mob – got sick of working with white fellas – so I went back into physical theatre and dance. This has been an exciting opportunity to come back to the circus, but have all my mob in the room.”
Joshua was involved with many other circus companies before joining Circus Oz.
“I started as a little kid, tumbling on the beaches and practicing acrobatics as a kid on the beach. Later in life I realised I could make a living out of it, something I didn’t realise then,” he says.
One of the reasons he joined Circus Oz was to coordinate the Indigenous programs.
“The first step in all of this was Circus Oz employing me to pull it together,” he says.
“The second step was putting together an advisory panel so that one person did not become the standards bearer for all things black in the organisation.
“This panel is made up of senior Indigenous artists including musicians, writers, directors, producers, dancers and performers to ensure the vision and trajectory of the company is shared with the community and is something that can be realised.
“Circus Oz has demonstrated a real commitment to the shift in the organisation by being willing to have these conversations.”