What is it about the circus that intrigues us? As children we are drawn to the carnival atmosphere – the excitement of bright lights strung across a big top, the lingering scent of wild animals, popcorn and fairy floss, the daring, death-defying feats parading above the heads of a nervous crowd – it’s intoxicating. I once took a friend in Dublin, a grown man who’d never been. His reaction was delightfully childlike.
…moving wildly to the soundtrack of Brittney Spears track, “Circus,” it takes me a moment to realise they’re performing a parody of silly girls – a commentary on what one expects from circus women or perhaps how deeply one thinks about them…AMINAH HUGHES
But while we sit with our mouths agape at muscular acrobats and strongmen, what of the circus women? They too are strong, dedicated and focused athletes but they are also mothers, daughters, sisters, who have ridden the rollercoaster of struggle and triumph, injury and healing.
She Is Strong is a unique collaboration between circus performer, Dawn Pascoe, and photographer Rachel Collier. It consists of contemporary circus acts by low trapeze artist, Pascoe, aerial hoop performer, Bonnie Blewitt, and ground hoop performer Crystal Stacey, alongside a photography exhibition by Collier, capturing the performers’ lives outside of the ring.
We are treated to the photography first, invited into a small gallery space to sip wine and mingle among a series of images that depict passion, empowerment, beauty and flaws, grace and irreverence. Collier’s photographs are intimate, inspiring, cheeky and honest. When the performers suddenly emerge in the gallery space in brightly coloured garb, moving wildly to the soundtrack of Brittney Spears track, “Circus,” it takes me a moment to realise they’re performing a parody of silly girls – a commentary on what one expects from circus women or perhaps how deeply one thinks about them. But as the music fades and Pascoe, Blewitt and Stacey remove false eyelashes, wipe away makeup, strip down to their underwear and wheel away the gallery partitions to reveal a larger room, it becomes apparent that the intention of this show is to physically and metaphorically invite us into a deeper space. And so the show begins.
The artists in She is Strong have a strong presence in the WA Circus Scene and throughout the world. They have won numerous awards, including internationally, and their experience shows in their bodywork. They incorporate an audio/visual aspect that includes elements of shadow work, live recorded loops of mouth music, R&B style singing and freestyle rap.
There’s something about the sound of women’s voices singing in unison, a ‘Capella that’s almost primal – it makes me want to go deeper – and this is where She is Strong falls short.
As each performer tells their story through pre-recorded monologue, the artists, along with the audience, sit on the sidelines, listening. Each monologue, seemingly innocuous and rambling at first suddenly become quite poignant, as the women discuss their journey into performing and some of the challenges they have encountered along the way. Winding tales of motherhood, sustained injuries, emotional distress, these are all stories of resilience, of survival. However, although they touch on some serious issues, the delivery stays safely in the realms of the fun and playful and the women stay safely off stage. I can’t help but feel there is a lost opportunity for the performers not only to go deeper into talking about their personal journeys, but to interact with these narratives through movement and really drive the emotional impact home.
Pascoe, Blewitt and Stacey all get a turn in the spotlight, with solo performances that highlight their area of practice and it’s lovely when they join forces, playing off each other, depending on the strength of each other’s bodies. That Stacey plays the part with her wrist still in a support bandage after a nasty injury, only leans credence to the main theme of resilience.
Although I challenge them to go deeper still, there is a courage, strength and softness to this show that will inspire and delight many.
Beautiful, gentle and family friendly, She Is Strong will play at FRINGE WORLD Festival in January.
Tickets available now via: https://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/she-is-strong-fw2021
About this event
‘She is Strong’ is an intimate and immersive journey that welcomes you into the hidden world of circus women.
Fusing circus, photography, and dance; multi-award-winning artists will present the unbiased, honest stories that have inspired their strength.
They will show not only their flaws, but they will celebrate them.
Poignant. Honest. Beautiful.
From the Winners of the WA Circus Award at FRINGE WORLD Festival (twice) and Winners of Toronto Buskerfest (one of the largest Street Arts Festivals in the World).
Natural Wings and Rachel Collier Photography