7 September 2020

A risky circus enterprise makes beautiful theatre at Belco

| Genevieve Jacobs
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L'Enterpise du Risque

L’Enterpise du Risque will open the new Belconnen Arts Centre Theatre. Image: Supplied.

There’s no longer any need to run away to the circus. Instead, you can make your escape from this pandemic-riddled world at the newly opened Belconnen Arts Centre theatre which presents L’Enterprise du Risque this week.

L’Enterprise du Risque is an eclectic and electric mix of acrobatics, clowning and theatrical performance that will baptise the theatre with a collaboration between several internationally acclaimed circus performers and Canberra’s Warehouse Circus.

Director Sammy Moynihan says the show is born directly from the perception that the world is a very risky place.

“As artists and creators, we are always living in a world of risk, pushing boundaries and challenging various forms of performance art. And circus is always a risky art form,” he says.

“So we really wanted to dive into what is risk – what does it look like? Why do we take risks? And to look at the freedom that comes with risk. Each performer explores their own personal idea of risk.”

For aerial expert Bernard Bru, the chance to work with emerging young performers was part of the challenge in making this work. He’s onstage with world-class performer Jake Silvestro and Imogen Drury and Clare Penngryffin from Warehouse.

“It’s so exciting to work with teenagers who are passionate about this,” he says. “You feel they will do everything in their lives to be part of the circus world.”

Bru worked with the students to develop their skills on the air and on the ground. They begin by playing with the apparatus, then the circus tutors suggest movements, give direction and intention. Clare and Imogen will perform solo and duo pieces onstage.

It’s a far cry from Bru’s early years as a performer when joining the circus meant piecing together lessons from older performers and making up the rest wherever possible. Warehouse is one of Australia’s oldest established circus schools, a not-for-profit organisation that’s provided social circus classes in Canberra since 1990.

“Warehouse is a very well established, well-organised circus company,” Bru says. “Forty years ago there was nothing like this, but now circus schools are a big thing in Canada and Europe.

“There’s a very strong development of skills in Russia and China where they learn more tricks at a very high level, but not necessarily integrating the theatrical elements.”

Bru will use two new apparatus in the show including an aerial moon made of plywood and rock climbing holes, and a miniature trapeze with a bar of just 20 cm that forces him to adapt traditional aerialist moves over a much smaller area.

Sammy Moynihan says the Belconnen production melds theatre and circus, taking the conventions of circus and using them to tell stories and create spectacles.

He says of the Warehouse collaboration that “there was a real sense that we were fostering and continuing a circus culture and conversation”.

“The professionals really mentored the emerging artists and then it became clear that it was a co-mentorship because the emerging artists had such fruitful things to say.”

Contemporary circus developed in late 1970s and early 1980s, building a close relationship between the dance, theatre and circus worlds to find a common language. Moynihan believes L’Enterprise du Risque will change many people’s perceptions of the art form.

“The way I see it, it’s not so much a circus show but a theatre piece that uses elements of circus. There are lots of beautiful, deep and poignant stories being told,” he says.

“I come from a strictly theatre background and I was quite surprised to see how similar circus is to more straight theatre – it’s the same idea of telling a story but using movements.”

Sammy Moynihan says having the first opportunity to work in the new theatre is the culmination of months, and indeed years, of waiting for the space, which includes a 400 seat theatre, a state of the art rehearsal studio, a cafe and bar and green rooms for artists.

Unusually, the theatre itself has windows onto Lake Gininderra, providing some logistical challenges but also brilliant opportunities.

For now, COVID-19 restrictions mean the space can only accommodate 72 people in the audience but the theatre is completely versatile and seats can be spaced.

L’Enterprise du Risque opens on Wednesday, 9 September at the Belconnen Arts Centre. Book your tickets here.

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