Circus Oz: "From the Ground Up"
Circus Oz presented "From the Ground Up" at UCLAʼs Performing Arts Center. The Australian circus troupe features daring acrobatics, cheeky humor and a solid social message. Founded in 1978 by the consolidation of Australian circus group Soap Box Circus and the New Circus, Circus Oz combines stunts from traditional circus acts.
These include Hazel Blockʼs brilliant juggling act, where she tosses around five balls with her feet, and Pitching & Tossing, which features Kai Johnson-Peady being thrown high into the air for a triple backflip, with rock nʼ roll music led by award-winning Musical Director Carl Polke and hearty satire performed by Aboriginal Australian Ghenoa Gela.
"They wanted it to be funny, irreverent and spectacular, a celebration of the group as a bunch of multi-skilled individual women and men, rather than a hierarchy of stars," said the troupe. "Above all, they didn’t want to take themselves too seriously."
Circus Oz gained immediate popularity in Australia, where it was welcomed as a fresh voice. Within a few years, the group began touring internationally. They have performed for over three million people in 26 countries, and set numerous box office records.
The current production "From the Ground Up," is named for the troupe’s new home base in Melbourne, Australia. A steel construction beam dominates the set, celebrating the construction phase of their new home.
The show features amazing stunts from incredibly talented performers. Mason West rides the Rola Bola, "a plank on cylinder on which a person balances." Balancing on one cylinder is hard enough, but Mr. West doubles down and stands on a plank that rests on two crossing cylinders. He succeeds despite being totally off balance from all 360-degrees.
Fantasia Fitness, a "totes co" fitness instructor who boasts her gymnastic prowess, but who keeps landing her tricks with her roller skate in her mouth.
The audience is brought back down to Earth by Flip Kammerer, who is described as a "born and bred bush baby from Albury." She does a comedy act where she portrays Fantasia Fitness, a "totes co (totally coordinated)" fitness instructor who boasts her gymnastic prowess, but who keeps landing her tricks with her roller skate in her mouth. Watching her land a back flip while wearing a pair of roller blades is in itself well worth the price of admission.
Other highlights include the Sway Pole, a 24-feet-high tower that waves to and fro while performer Luke Taylor does a handstand, as well as the Magic Tricks conjured by Jeremy Davis, who is doing his second tour with Circus Oz.
In addition to extraordinary stunts and clever wit, Circus Oz is also dedicated to social justice, most prominently, animal rights. "The Circus Oz show features animals that are 100 percent human," said the troupe. The audience learns that lesson early on, courtesy of two performers dressed as kangaroos that meander the orchestra section and swing their costume tails into the heads of circus-goers.
Circus Oz supports a plethora of social causes: AIDS relief, the plight of indigenous Australians, supporting homeless shelters, protecting victims of domestic violence and helping families who reside in public housing. Collectively, they have raised over $392,000 for organizations such as the Red Cross, the Royal Children’s Hospital, and Anglicare Kids in Crisis.
The troupe is currently partnered with "Variety," which is dedicated to providing special needs children "opportunities that able bodied kids may take for granted," said the troupe. Circus Oz also raises money for the Asylum Seekers Resource Center, which "aims to protect and uphold the human rights, well being and dignity of asylum seekers by providing aid, empowerment, justice and community programs" and Plan Australia, the world’s largest children’s development organization, with projects in 49 countries around the globe. Plan Australia is a non-political, non-religious group whose goal is to empower communities and help children reach their full potential.
The performance was hosted by the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA. CAP UCLA is a new program that takes UCLAʼs 75-year history of presenting live performances and adds a renewed dedication to performing arts of all forms. Not only does the center promote traditional performing arts such as dance, music, spoken word and theatre, but it also promotes emerging digital, collaborative and cross-art platforms.
While visiting UCLAʼs Royce Hall, Circus Oz gave a free demonstration for nearly 2,000 elementary school children as part of CAPʼs Design for Sharing (DFS), a K-12 arts education program. Over 16,000 students participate in in the program annually. DFS students attend performances and take part in interactive arts residency programs.
"Circus Oz" runs through Feb. 17 at the University of California, 2200 University Ave. in Berkeley, and through Feb. 23 at The Smith Center, 361 Symphony Park Ave. in Las Vegas. For tickets or info to the Berkeley show, call 510-642-9988 or visit www.calperfs.berkeley.edu. For tickets or info to the performance in Las Vegas, call 646-223-3010 or go online to www.thesmithcenter.com.